By SHANNON WATKINS
I really meant to run something springier this week, but the weather keeps refusing to spring properly, so we may as well take on a rainy-day project that yields useful results.
That sounds like drudgery but it’s honestly not much work and you can accomplish the bulk of it while doing whatever version of spring cleaning you prefer, such as dusting off the seat of a comfy chair with your pants while curled up with a library book. Just shift position every so often and voila! Clean chair. (That particular cleaning tip, like this week’s recipe, works well year-round.)
Chicken stock is great stuff, but perhaps you, like me, don’t really care for the uniformly processed and overly sodium-laden taste of commercial varieties (the afterburps are awful, pardon my indelicacy). And bouillon cubes are just depressing and smell like chicken-flavored salt. You deserve better.
Which is where Ina Garten comes in. Her Barefoot Contessa cookbooks are like illicit literature for ladies of a certain staid but gastronomically keen bent (i.e., me); what’s more, her recipes are usually pretty good. Admittedly things like Lobster and Potato Salad are outside your reach unless you can afford to live in the Hamptons like she does, but a good many of her dishes are eminently workable even if the ingredients you’re using came from Walmart. Plus her TV show will make you want to cook for days, or at least wish she’d come do it for you.
Which leads us to her chicken stock recipe, one that’ll serve you well in the coming weeks and months. Homemade chicken stock is fifty times better than the best commercial brand; it makes an excellent sauce and gravy base and a great soup starter. A pint thinned with water and used to boil chopped carrots and celery along with egg noodles makes a welcome antidote to a summer cold.
A few notes: scrub the veggies good; if you don’t have a stockpot big enough you can use a smaller one and just halve the amounts of everything; as long as your total weight of chicken is around 15 pounds (or 7.5 if you’re doing a half-recipe) two larger poultry are OK; parsnips are optional but will make it a bit sweeter; stick to the herbs listed if possible but don’t put anything like rosemary in or it’ll be too strong; and don’t be tempted to add more salt because this is a base for other things you will add more salt to later.
The Barefoot Contessa Homemade Chicken Stock
3 5lb. whole roasting chickens, giblet packets and pop-up timers removed
3 large yellow onions, unpeeled and quartered
6 carrots, unpeeled and halved crosswise
4 celery stalks with leafy tops intact, cut into thirds crosswise
4 parsnips, unpeeled and halved crosswise
20 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
15 sprigs fresh thyme
20 sprigs fresh dill
1 whole head garlic, unpeeled and cut in half crosswise
2 Tbsp. coarse kosher salt
2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
After the de-gibleting and scrubbing and chopping, put the chicken and then everything else in a 16 to 20 quart stockpot and add 7 quarts of water. Bring to a boil (this will take several chapters of your book to accomplish); then lower the heat to a simmer and let it keep simmering uncovered for four hours (finish that book and start another). Then turn off the heat and allow it to cool to a reasonable degree (several more chapters).
Now for the part that’s the most work you’ll have to do: at this point I usually pick out the solids with a handheld strainer and then pour the liquid through a cheesecloth-lined colander into another pot (or a series of them); you do it however you like. You’ll be tempted to keep the chicken bits out of a desire to not be wasteful, but one bite will tell you that’s pointless. The chickens have given their all to the broth and have no nutrients left in their flesh, much less any taste.
Put the stock in the fridge and cool it a few hours or overnight until the fat has risen to the top, then skim that off and you’re ready to freeze it. I like pint and quart sized freezer bags myself. It keeps up to four months.
My one regret is the amount of dish detergent it takes to clean up the greasy pots and cooking implements, but what else is a dishwasher for? Or you can use a quart of your efforts to bribe a neighbor into washing them up. Or you can wait ‘til later; you just cleaned a chair and made chicken stock from scratch, so clearly it’s time for you to go sit down with a good book.