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The best of the recipes, techniques, and methods practiced by our large extended Italian-American family - with emphasis on the legacy handed down to us by the original immigrants.

This is a cookbook-in-process project. If you try any of these recipes please let us know how they turn out, whether or not you had any difficulties, and any clarifying improvements you might recommend to make them foolproof. We will of course acknowledge genuine "test-kitchen" assistance.

Family Secrets #25

Chicken Stock and Chicken Broth

By CeCe Dove, La Lama Mountain Ovens

Now that winter has its solid grip upon us, we turn our attention to the most basic and warming of foods. Home made soups, in all their variety, have nourished generations unknown through the short, dark days of the year. When the wind bites and the snow flies there is nothing to rival the comfort of a steaming bowl of home made soup. Italian cuisine is not alone in knowing the benefits of soup. While every good Italian cook knows how to make soup, every cook from every nationality that I can think of can make the same claim. It is universal in its appeal.

When we were growing up the first sign of a sniffle or cough would bring out the soup pot. In addition to the standard chicken soup that was sure to bring relief from these minor aches and pains, we ate soup every single Monday that I lived at home. The type of soup varied with the seasons, but most all were based on my mother's "money in the bank", her home made chicken stock. About once a month she would make up a large pot of chicken stock and stash it away in the freezer for everyday use. She also made beef stock, though less frequently. Chicken stock was the mainstay of most of our soups. All four of us kids learned to make it from watching her. We make it for our children and they for their children. There was never a written recipe because amounts varied with the size of the pot - you just used your head and your sense of taste and smell.

We grew up in a small Pennsylvania town where the houses all had utility alleys running behind them. This is where the garage was located and where the various delivery people serviced your needs. Mama bought live chickens and stewing hens brought to the back door once a week by the chicken man, then slit their necks in the back yard, hung them by their feet to drain, and plucked them fresh. As kids we thought nothing of this and often got drafted into the plucking job.

The old-fashioned way:
To pluck a freshly killed chicken or stewing hen first dunk and hold in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds to loosen the feathers. Then remove feathers by the handful, and finish by individually extracting the few remaining pin feathers.
Out on our own, with the advent of canned broth, we thought that the all day process of simmering, straining, and freezing the base chicken stock was over. We tried all the different brands, and while today I keep a couple of cans of the stuff for some very specific use, we all came to realize that you cannot make a decent bowl of real soup from canned broth. No problem, the urban supermarket accommodates us with a wide variety of poultry.

Funny how the old ways come in handy some times. After we left the big city for the mountains of New Mexico we found that stewing hens, or old red hens as they are called sometimes, are not part of the available poultry; and a flavorful broth needs an aged fowl. Fortunately for us a neighbor has laying hens. When they get too old to lay, their intense flavor is ideal for the best broth, though their tough old meat is inedible even after hours of cooking.

The basic differences between a broth and a stock lies in its "properties". For example, a chicken broth will react differently when deglazing a sauté pan than a chicken stock. The reason for this is that the chicken stock will contain more gelée than chicken broth and will bind up the pan drippings into a pan sauce as the stock is reduced, replacing the alternative of cream or butter to aid in this process. The type of chicken parts used in the pot and the amount of extraction of gelée depends on the length of reduction. These are the key factors to consider in determining whether you are making chicken stock or chicken broth. Let us take a moment and review these key factors in chicken broth and chicken stock.

Chicken broth is usually made with chicken meat and chicken parts, with a high flesh to bone ratio. Whole chicken or assorted parts can be used. Fryers and roasters, both readily available at your local supermarket, do not produce satisfactory results. Stewing hens produce the best broth and are often available in the poultry section in your market. If you cannot find them do not hesitate to ring for assistance - the poultry manager will usually order them for you. For the more adventuresome, you may be able to locate someone who has a small flock of laying hens that are past their prime for egg production. Purchase one or two of them to slaughter and dress yourself. The reduction time for chicken broth at sea level is about 3 hours.

Chicken stock is made mostly of chicken parts that have a very low flesh to bone ratio. Backs, necks and breast bones produce the best stock. These boney parts are also readily available at your local supermarket, either in the case or by special order. It is also advantageous to buy whole chickens and cut them up yourself for other recipes. You can then freeze backbones, wing tips, and other parts not used in your original recipe until you are ready to make your stock. To achieve the maximum extraction of gelée from the chicken bones the reduction time at sea level is 6 hours. Water, vegetables, herbs, and salt are ingredients that are common to both stock and broth.

Chicken Broth

Total Ingredients:

  • 2 stewing hens about 5 lb. each
  • 3 medium onions cut in half
  • 4 large carrots trimmed and peeled
  • 1 root end of a whole celery stalk, 4 inches long
  • 3 medium fresh tomatoes cut in half
  • 1 cup parsley, stems only
  • ½ cup salt
  • cold water to cover ingredients by 2 inches

Step One: Cook the broth

Combine total ingredients into a 20 qt. stock pot. Place over high heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat to hold a medium simmer for three hours. Use a large spoon to remove residue floating on surface. This residue is coagulated protein and will occur at first boil and decrease after you skim it for the first 15 minutes.

Step Two: Strain broth and de-bone chicken

Pour the broth through a large fine strainer. Save the chicken and de-bone while it is still warm. Discard extracted vegetables. Taste and adjust for salt. Refrigerate broth overnight. You can use the chicken for chicken soup or chicken salad.

Step Three: De-fat the broth

The next day, remove all of the solid fat on the surface of the refrigerated broth with a large spoon.

Chicken Stock

Make the following changes to the above recipe when making chicken stock:

  • Use 12 to 15 lb. chicken bones instead of stewing hens*
  • Increase the reduction time to 6 hours

The vegetables listed in the recipes for both stock and broth are the essential vegetables. While loading the stock pot, do not hesitate to gather some additional odds and ends from your refrigerator and freezer. Extra pieces of almost any root vegetable can be included such as a spare turnip, a piece of fennel root, a piece of jicama, etc. I save the rinds from Parmesan cheese and other aged hard cheeses and they make a wonderful addition to the stock pot. A small piece of beef knuckle bone is also a pleasant addition. When making the stock recipe, bear in mind the vegetables will give up their flavor in 3 hours of reduction, therefore it is not necessary to start your stock pot with the vegetables at the start. They can be added at any point you desire as long as they remain in the pot for the mandatory 3 hours.

I have found that making a large 20 qt, pot of stock or broth is easier to deal with than making it more often. I freeze this in one and two quart containers and keep a good size, non-reactive bowl in the refrigerator. To keep stocks and broths fresh in the refrigerator, you will need to put it in a sauce pot, bring to a boil, and hold at a full boil for ten minutes every third day. I like to keep the sauce pot covered to prevent further reduction. Use a clean non-reactive bowl when ready to refrigerate again. By following this schedule you can keep stocks and broths fresh for a long time. The only noticeable difference you will find is that the color of the stock or broth will darken slightly after repeated boiling but the flavor will remain intact.

Wonderful clear chicken soups can be made from the broth, and by adding a little water to lighten up the stock a very satisfactory soup can be made from this as well. No matter which you choose to use you can be assured that either is vastly superior to anything you may purchase in a can or cube. I prefer to use stock to de-glaze a sauté pan rather than broth. The stock also makes a great velouté which is one of the mother sauces that most serious cooks use frequently. Velouté is a great addition to a pan sauce, gravies and heavier soups. Its uses in the kitchen are endless and it is quite simple to make and stores very well under refrigeration.

Sauce Velouté

Total ingredients to yield two quarts:

  • 5 oz. butter
  • 5 oz. all purpose flour
  • 2 qt. Chicken stock

Step one: Make a roux

Melt butter in a heavy bottom sauce pan. Stir in flour and keep stirring with spatula until smooth. Cook gently over low heat for five minutes until barely golden. Do not brown.

Step two: Finish the sauce

Slowly whip in the stock which must be hot. When all the stock has been incorporated bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and pour through a fine strainer. Refrigerate until used.

Altitude Adjustment: At 8,000 feet add 30 minutes to the broth recipe, and one hour to the stock recipe. Prorate accordingly.

©1998-2006 CDove - Attributed Copies Permitted for Small Quantity Non-Commercial Use Only.
Commercial and Quantity Reproduction Requires Written Permission
La Lama Mountain Ovens, 2055 Lama Mtn., HC81 Box 26, Questa, NM 87556, Tel: 575-586-2286

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