Saturday, 17 September 2011

Stocking up

If I've roasted a chicken I like to get my money's worth out of it, especially if I've shelled out a tenner for an organic bird. Nothing gets wasted. Nothing.

I count on getting 4 meals out of a 1kg chicken. That's a portion of hot roast meat, plus plenty of leftovers to do interesting things with (more on that another day). And then there's the carcass.

For me, a chicken is always good value for money not just because of the number of meals I can make for myself but because I get to make real stock. Forget stock cubes - they are nasty, mass-produced lumps of grit that when dissolved produce a bland but over-salty liquid. The only bought stock in my larder is Marigold vegetable bouillon, which is very good quality. But for meat stock, it must be home-made.

Home-made chicken stock is both sublime and versatile. Properly brewed, it makes a flavoursome base for soups, risottos, stews and casseroles.

What you need: 
A chicken carcass
Herbs
Assorted vegetables
A big pan
Water


What to do:
Strip the carcass of all the leftover meat and store it in the fridge. Boil a kettle full of water and then get some heat on the hob - put the roasting tin on and pour in a little boiling water, then stir and scrape with a wooden spatula to salvage all the leftover roasting juices and crusty bits from the bird. Pour carefully into the pan. Add the carcass - I usually stuff mine with lemon, garlic and shallots and these all go in the pan with the bones. A couple of bay leaves should join the mix. Depending what else I have in the house, I'll add a quartered onion, a carrot and a celery stalk, and possibly some fresh parsley. Add the rest of the hot water from the kettle and bring the pan to the boil.

What happens next depends on the pan you use. I like to use my pressure cooker as the intensity of the cooking process squeezes every last drop of goodness out of the ingredients - the bones especially will yield all their marrow this way. An hour in a pressure cooker should be enough. If you're using a regular pan, you'll need to keep it on a low simmer once it's come to the boil and put a tight-fitting lid on.This method needs at least 2 hours, preferably 3, and you'll need to check the water level regularly and top up if necessary - you don't want your stock boiling dry. Don't add too much water though - you want a stock rich enough to set to a jelly when cooled, not a dilute, watery one.

When it's ready, turn off the heat and strain through a sieve into a heatproof bowl or jug and let it cool.


Cook's tips: 
You should have about a litre or so of stock - depending on your plans for it, you might want to freeze half. Otherwise put it in the fridge, where it should set to a thick jelly and keep for about 3-4 days.

You can add pretty much whatever raw ingredients you want to the stock before you start cooking. An onion and a bay leaf is the bare minimum to accompany the bones but don't add too many different things - you want the stock to taste of chicken, enhanced with the herbs, onion and a couple of other veg, not overwhelmed by the entire contents of your larder. Be careful about over-seasoning it, particularly if you add the skin from the chicken (unlikely in my house as I love the roasted skin - it's the best bit, in my opinion).