Taking stock of a chicken
I’ve always been terribly daunted by whole chickens. The first time I tried to break down a whole chicken was a miserable 30-minute affair — and the chicken started to smell after that much fretting, tugging, pulling and chopping.
But, a few weeks ago, I noticed that a whole “happy” chicken at my local grocer cost less than the happy breasts alone. Now that difference in price is not
poultry paltry. Since I made the plunge, it’s been a fun experiment figuring out how to use the whole bird — breasts and thighs are obvious, but the offals have been galling me.
This video tutorial couldn’t break it down better:
If you’re like me, the second time went much better than the first. You may want a sharp pair of kitchen shears, which made a world of difference for me. The video doesn’t mention the pesky presence of the wishbone, but it’s not too difficult to cut it out of the breast as a final step.
I roughly followed a chicken stock recipe from Thomas Keller’s “Bouchon” cookbook, which uses recipes from his French bistro restaurant in Napa Valley. While I liked my version, I could never call it “Thomas Keller’s stock” unless I followed his version to a tee, in the event that I’ve done something sacrilegious to it. Unknowingly butchering a recipe by one of the finest chefs in America is not something I’ve set my eye on.
I had the lovely privilege of eating at Bouchon in January, where I managed to eat my weight in truffle fries (with shaved black truffles, truffle salt and truffle butter, oui oui!), drown my worries in wine and relax in the company of friends. And, turns out, California isn’t so large that you don’t run into a dear L.A. friend at dinner (right, Mark?).
Homemade chicken stock
You can freeze the bones and chicken parts until a good day to make stock. My chicken bone carcass was exactly 1.85 pounds, though I took the liberty of rounding up to 2 pounds. Stock is not an exact science, so don’t worry if amounts or ingredients vary, even significantly, from the recipe below. You can also use parts of vegetables that you don’t normally use, including onion and carrot skins, parsley stems and the dark green outer layers of leeks.
- 2 lb / 900 grams chicken bones and scraps
- 7 cups / 1700 ml cold water, more as needed
- 3 cups ice cubes, optional
- 4 cups packed vegetable scraps: leeks, carrots, onions, parsley
1. Rinse bones and scraps under cold water to remove blood, which will cloud the stock when heated. (This is a little hard to do with frozen bones, so this may be a useless procedure for those who aren’t using fresh bones and scraps.)
2. Place the chicken pieces into a large stockpot and cover with cold water. Bring the liquid to a simmer slowly and skim off the white foam, which are impurities in the meat, as soon as they rise to the top. Keller warns that the impurities can be re-absorbed and cloud the stock if not continuously skimmed.
3. Add ice once the liquid has come to a simmer. The ice should cause extra fat and impurities to harden and become easier to skim. (I didn’t notice much difference, personally, but to each their own.)
4. Add the vegetables to the pot and return to a simmer. Cook for forty minutes, skimming the top of fat and impurities.
5. Remove from heat and allow 10 minutes to cool.
6. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl. Ladle the soup into the strainer; do not pour the soup directly from the pot as small particles and impurities will then be forced through the strainer.
7. Allow to cool. You can speed the cooling time by placing the bowl of broth in an ice bath.
8. Refrigerate the stock so any fat will solidify on top of the stock for easy removal, and particulates may settle out (just don’t use the last bit of stock where the bottom-dwellers are). Freeze the stock if you do not plan to use it within three days.