Wednesday November 13, 2013 | 07:00 AM

To the food purist, having homemade stock on hand is essential.   For some home cooks, though, commercially made stocks are just fine and are readily available on the grocery shelves, from 7-Eleven's to more rarefied food emporiums.  In fact, more and more specialty food stores offer their own brand of this kitchen brew.   At Whole Foods, for instance, they have store-made chicken, beef and duck stocks frozen in pint size containers.  Rosemont also makes their own chicken, beef and fish stock as does Auroroa Provisions.  But they’re expensive.

Yet there’s something very satisfying—and economical--about making your own.The most commonly called for is chicken stock, a staple ingredient in many recipes. I offer two all-purpose chicken  stock preparations—one that is quick and easy to make and the other  requires a longer cooking time and will yield a rich stock good for  complex sauces, soups and other preparations.

A rich, dark chicken stock

Having a variety of strainers is essential; a fine- or medium-meshed strainer lined with cheesecloth works well to strain the stock, removing any impurities

A few pointers for good stock should be followed.   Do not let it boil; this will make the stock cloudy. Let it come to room temperature before chilling or freezing.  And if you want a darker stock, do not peel the onion; this will give a deeper color to the liquid. Another vegetable that figures prominently in the brew is carrots.  You don’t need to peel these if they’re the freshly dug varieties that you find at a farmer’s market.  Merely, scrub with a vegetable brush until clean.

Stocks will keep in air-tight containers for 3 days in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezer. For convenience store the stock in 1-cup and 2-cup containers since you’ll generally need smaller amounts that are called for in a recipe. Defrost quickly in the microwave or put into a small pot over low heat until thawed.

Quick Chicken Stock
Servings: about 1 1/2 quarts

1 pound chicken wings
1 medium onion, peeled, studded with 2 cloves
1 large carrot, scrubbed, if freshly dug or scraped
1 stalk celery, with leaves
2 bay leaves,1 sprig thyme andseveral sprigs parsley
6 black peppercorns, lightly crushed
Sea salt (or kosher), to taste

Put the chicken wings into a 4- to 6-quart pot and cover with water by at least 1 inch.  Over medium high heat, bring the liquid to a very lively simmer.  As it cooks the scum and impurities will rise to the top; skim this off.  The liquid should run clear in about 15 minutes.   Add the remaining ingredients.

 Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook, partially covered, for about 30 minutes.  Strain through a sieve lined with cheesecloth into heat-proof bowl or large glass measure.  Let cool to room temperature, skimming off the fat that rises to the top.  If you don’t need the stock right away, refrigerate overnight.  The fat will rise to the surface and can be skimmed off easily.  Keep refrigerated for 3 days or freeze up to 3 months in air-tight containers. 

Rich Chicken Stock
Servings: 3 quarts

3 pounds chicken backs (see Note)
2 onions, unpeeled, studded with 2 cloves
2 large carrots, scrubbed or peeled
2 stalks celery with leaves or 1 small celery root, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 leeks, white part only, cleaned and left whole
Bouquet garni (1 sprig thyme, several sprigs parsley,1 clove garlic, 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns)
Sea salt (or kosher ), to taste

Put the chicken in a large stock pot and cover with water by at least 1 inch.  Bring to the lively simmer.  Meanwhile prepare the bouquet garni by putting the ingredients into a piece of cheesecloth.  Roll it up and tie with string. Bruise lightly with a rolling pin or mallet to barely crush the peppercorns, herbs and garlic.

Use chicken backs for a rich-tasting stock; they're also very inexpensive

Skim the surface as scum rises to the top until liquid is clear, about 15 to 30 minutes.  Add the remaining ingredients, lower heat to simmer very gently, partially covered, for at least 2 hours.  Strain through a cheesecloth-lined strainer, cool to room temperature and store as directed above.

During the initial  lively-simmer stage (do not let it come to a full boil) the scum and impurities will rise to the top; skim this off with a fine-meshed skimmer

The skimmed stock, with aromatics, ready for long, slow simmering

Note: chicken backs are generally available at butcher shops, through poultry vendors at the farmers markets or at Whole Foods, in the freezer case.




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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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