Chicken Stock, Soup and a Science Experiment

Yesterday, I did an experiment. Having heard conflicting information about how to make a proper chicken stock, I decided to make two separate batches of stock in two totally different ways, taste-test them, and see which was better, settling the debate in my head for once and for all.

I’ve been making my own chicken stock for about 2 years now, and I tend to always have a stash of stock in my freezer, stored in Ziploc bags in 2-cup portions. This storage method works perfectly for my needs. I store my bags of liquid gold, stacked up nicely, on a little shelf in the freezer. Also, when I make my own stock from the bones & picked-over bits left as a result of a whole-roasted chicken (something I make all the time), I feel like I’m getting as much use out of that poor chicken as I possibly can, not only to honor its short, genetically modified, probably miserable life but also to get the most out of the $5 I paid for it at Kroger. (I did the math – which is difficult and time consuming for this liberal arts major: if you make stock out of the bones, the chicken ends up paying for itself.)

My typical method for making stock is to dump the leftover carcass of a whole-roasted chicken, including its skin, any aromatics (lemons & garlic are my 2 standbys) that I stuffed inside the cavity, and the little leftover bits of meat that didn’t get picked off, into a large stock pot, cover it with water, and let it simmer for 3 hours. You can even freeze the carcass until you have a day to devote to stock-making, which tends to result in a nice, gelatinous stock. That’s always worked just fine, but the main problem with that method is that the stock absorbs so much olive oil, that it becomes cloudy and a little greasier than I’d prefer. I douse my chickens in plenty of oil before roasting them, and that means the chicken is tasty, but the stock… eh. It’s just homemade stock, and nothing really spectacular.

A few weeks ago, however, Laura talked me into going to a soups class with her at the Irwin Street Market (which I highly recommend, and not just because they give you free Jake’s Ice Cream at the end of the session). Chef Jake taught us how to make a chicken soup from scratch. His stock method was to take whole, raw chickens, dump them into water, and voila. 30 minutes later, you’ve got stock. The soup was tasty, so I figured there was something to this method. Plus, Ina Garten’s chicken stock method, from what I recall (of course I didn’t look it up before I started) is similar, and if there’s one chef I still trust on Food Network, it’s Ina.

I found myself yesterday with a few hours at home and enough time in the evening to deal with the consequences of the stock making process (you must build time in your day to portion out the stock and store it properly – the 3 hour simmering process is only the start of it). And, it was one of those days that I just needed to be doing something in the kitchen in between work stuff. Sometimes, the fact that I have nothing tangible to show for a genuinely productive workday gets to me, so I feel unproductive, and then I go on what I call “kitchen binges,” where I overdo everything (click here for more information about the psychology behind that line of thinking).

My experiment went like this: Pot 1 would be my traditional stock, involving a whole roasted chicken carcass, and nothing else. Pot 2, however, contained the raw carcass of the leftover chicken I hacked up to make fried chicken a couple months ago, and some aromatics. I would taste them, and see which was better. I thought that surely the roasted chicken stock would be much better, since roasting chickens gives them so much flavor. For those of you who like research, I even made up a hypothesis:

H1: Roasted chicken stock yields substantially better tasting stock than raw chicken carcass stock.

And, the hypothesis was not supported.

The raw stock was sublime. Perfectly clear and golden. Now *this* was homemade chicken stock. Complex without being complicated. I could drink it by itself. The roasted stock, by comparison, had a tartness to it. I didn’t love it after comparing it to my clear stocky goodness. The funky taste could have been due to the lemons, and not necessarily the chicken (we’d call that an extraneous variable), but it also tasted more “cluttered,” if that makes any sense. And it was fattier, due to the extra oil that was left on the skin. And, the raw stock wasn’t any more difficult than the roasted stock. I mean, you can see the difference for yourself in the finished versions:

Picture on the left is “roasted” stock, and on the right is “raw” stock.

So, I’m a convert. Now I have to figure out what to do with my leftover roasted chicken bones… perhaps just pick the skin off and use the bones in future stocks? I’m open to suggestions on what I might be doing incorrectly with the roasted chickens.

Chicken Stock

1 uncooked chicken or chicken carcass

1 stalk celery, rough chopped

1 carrot, rough chopped

1/2 onion, rough chopped

1 clove garlic

salt & pepper to taste

Place carcass in a stock pot. Cover with cold water. Add vegetables. Bring to a boil quickly, then reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours. Strain vegetables, and store stock in fridge or freezer.

I had originally planned to store all the stock, but I only had storage bags and not freezer bags in my pantry. So, I had to use some of it up immediately. What better dish to highlight the flavors of the stock than making a traditional chicken noodle soup? It’s a cinch to pull together, and will store perfectly in my freezer until we’re in dire need of a quick lunch or dinner.

Chicken Noodle Soup

8 cups chicken stock (homemade, preferably)

3 stalks celery, chopped, including leafy parts at the top

4 carrots, diced

1 onion (I used purple yesterday because it’s just what I had on hand)

2 chicken breasts

about 1 1/2 cups cooked egg noodles

salt & pepper

Heat a large stockpot with some olive oil. Salt & pepper the 2 chicken breasts. Cook them in the oil about 5 minutes per side, until almost cooked through. If they’re not cooked through completely, throw them in the oven at 350 until they are. Set aside, and shred or chop into chunks – whatever you prefer for your soup.

After the chicken’s done cooking in the stockpot, add some more olive oil and add in the onion, celery, and carrot, salt & pepper. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 6-7 minutes. Add the stock. Add the chicken. Salt & pepper again if needed. Add the noodles. Enjoy.

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Fried Chicken

Dave never requests that I make specific meals. So a few weeks ago when he asked, really nicely, if I would pretty please sometime when I’m not really stressed out and maybe after the semester’s over and my life calms down please pretty please take a stab at making some fried chicken? – of course, I said yes. I would attempt, for the first time in my life, making fried chicken.

I’ve always been sort of terrified of frying things. It just seems like a generally bad idea. I’m accident prone, so big vats of hot grease on a gas flame are probably not what I need to be dealing with on a regular basis. We all know it’s unhealthy. And it makes the kitchen (or entire house, if you live in a small house like we do) smell like old grease, which is gross. And what, exactly, do you do with all that leftover grease? Is it worth the effort, setting up and cleaning up, for fried deliciousness?

As it turns out, sometimes the answer is yes. Like tonight. When I made fried chicken.

I’ve been thinking about how I’d approach this for several weeks. I’ve researched recipes. I’ve talked about it all week and asked for pointers from anyone who’d share them. I even called my mom tonight for one last perspective on the correct cooking of fried chicken. She had lots of advice for me regarding her strategy for good fried chicken, and as usual, I ignored most of it. But the one piece of advice I took – make sure to salt the chicken before you dredge it in your seasoned flour – I think was what set this fried chicken over the edge in the deliciousness category. It was salty, crispy, and flavorful. My pan was too small for the entire batch of chicken, so as I was waiting on batch 2 to finish up, I “taste tested” a wing that had just finished cooking. One bite led me to basically attack the chicken wing like I hadn’t eaten in 2 weeks. I’m not gonna lie – I did a little happy dance while I was chowing down. It may have been because my expectations were set so low for this adventure – you never know with frying things; it’s tricky – but the fact that it tasted better than decent made me really excited.

Before I began, though, I had to decide whether I was purchasing pre-butchered chicken, or if I was going to woman up and just hack a whole chicken into pieces myself. I know how to correctly carve poultry once it’s cooked, but something about trying it pre-cooked was intimidating. I did it anyway, after watching this super helpful video about 5 times to memorize the process. Buying a whole chicken is much cheaper than buying its individual parts, and it’s strangely rewarding to say you hacked up a chicken into 8 parts all by yourself.

Regardless of how you obtain your chicken parts for frying, here’s the recipe.

Fried Chicken

Obtain 8 pieces of chicken (breasts, thighs, wings, legs). Prepare a marinade of about 1 cup buttermilk, 2 teaspoons salt, and about 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper. Soak the chicken in the buttermilk mixture for at least 3 hours.

Prepare the flour for dredging while the chicken marinates. I used 1 cup flour, 2 teaspoons salt, plenty of freshly ground black pepper, about 1/2 tablespoon of paprika, and a dash of chili powder.

Heat up some vegetable oil in a heavy skillet (I used a cast iron skillet that belonged to my great-grandmother, Mama Mable, and was passed down to me from my grandmother Shirley… wonder just how many chickens have been fried up in that thing?).

You’ll need enough oil to come up at least 2/3 of the way to the top. Heat it to 325 degrees. Use a candy thermometer to keep track of the temperature as you’re cooking – keep the oil somewhere between 325 – 350 by adjusting the heat. This is an important step to ensure you don’t over-brown the skin before the inside cooks through.

While your oil is heating, prepare the chicken for frying. Remove the pieces from the buttermilk mixture. Liberally dust them with salt. Dredge in the previously prepared flour mixture. Place pieces one at a time into the hot oil. Cook for 5 minutes on each side, turn the pieces over, cook another 5 minutes, and repeat the process once so that the chicken cooks approximately 20 minutes or until the chicken has reached an internal temperature of about 160 (use a meat thermometer!). It helps if your chicken pieces are all about the same size to ensure even cooking.

I served my chicken with biscuits, mashed potatoes, and green beans.

Chicken with Mushroom Cream Sauce

I have no idea why I wanted something so heavy for dinner last night, but the only thing that sounded good to me was a perfectly thin, pan-seared chicken breast smothered in a creamy mushroom sauce.

The only rationale I can think of would be: (a) “creamy mushroom” is the color of the walls in most of my house, and after a year & a half of living with them, I finally caved and decided I like mushrooms, especially if they are creamy, or (b) Lindsey and I were just talking about chicken cutlets and how perfectly delicious they are if they’re pounded out juuuuust right (is it odd that I have conversations with my very best friends about things like “chicken cutlets?”), or (c) I love the smell of mushrooms, onions and thyme sauteing in butter, or (d) I haven’t cooked anything “French” lately, and every once in a while, I get the urge to channel the spirit of Julia Child in the kitchen and whip up something “fancy.”

Either way, this dish turned out pretty good. It was extremely rich – actually, richer than I wanted – but I still ate it. And loved it.

Chicken with Mushroom Cream Sauce

First: prepare your vegetables. Slice 1/2 pound white mushrooms that have been gently brushed with a damp paper towel to remove any dirt. Don’t rinse them; they’ll soak up too much water and be gross. Also chop about 1/2 white onion and a couple cloves of garlic. Set all aside until ready to use.

Next: prepare two chicken breasts for quick sauteing. Place them between two sheets of plastic wrap, on a cutting board, and with a mallet (or drink muddler, which is what I used… hell, you could probably do it with a hammer, too, if your day is just that bad) pound them until they are super thin, about 1/4″ thick. Promise me you won’t ignore this step if you make this recipe. it just tastes better if you use thin cutlets. If you don’t want to hammer down your chicken, just spend the extra cash to buy them already cutlet-sized at the grocery store. I, personally, would rather save that $0.80/per pound and spend it on something else, but to each her own. Dust lightly with flour, shaking off the excess. Sprinkle each side with some salt & pepper.

Heat a saute pan with 2 tablespoons butter & 1 tablespoon oil over medium high heat. When pan is scorching hot, add the chicken. Cook for 3 minutes per side; only turning once. Remove, set aside and cover with tin foil to keep warm.

Immediately return the pan to the heat, adding 2 more tablespoons butter. As soon as it’s melted, add your mushrooms. Do NOT salt the mushrooms immediately. Coat them in the cooking fats and let them turn golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add the diced onion, and then add salt, pepper and some dried (or fresh) thyme. Sautee about 4 more minutes. Add the garlic, cook for another 2 minutes. At this point, most of the liquid in the pan should be evaporated and any little brown bits that were leftover from the chicken should be starting to come off the bottom of the pan.

Add in about 3/4 cup white wine and simmer aggressively until the sauce has reduced by at least half. Scrape up those last remaining brown bits. Mmmm. Flavor. Add in about 1/2 cup of heavy cream, stir. Add the chicken back to the pan, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for 3 minutes. Turn the chicken breasts over, and simmer another 3-5 minutes.

Enjoy. Serve with a side salad and a piece of crusty French bread to soak up the creamy sauce.

Mmmmm… creamy mushrooms…

Coconut Curry Stir Fry

Before the recipe: I must report that Chloe the Cat is thoroughly enjoying her summer. She’s exhausted from chasing chipmunks and protecting her backyard from stray cats, though.

Now, back to the recipe story: I don’t own a wok. Don’t really care to, either, at this point in my life, since I feel like it would just clutter up an already cluttered pots & pans cabinet. I know that a wok is pretty much crucial for successful, authentic stir fry dishes, but I’ve made do just fine with my trusty, most favorite, All-Clad stainless steel saute pan that I wouldn’t want to live without. I use it multiple times every week, and have for years. It’s an investment, for sure, but it should last a lifetime or two.

The only problem with using that particular pan for stir fry, I have found, is that I can’t just dump all my veggies into it at once and expect greatness. Stir fry veggies are supposed to have a little crunch to them, and in the past when I’ve overloaded the pan (i.e. all the time) for this particular dish, the veggies end up sort of steaming and getting kind of mushy. I finally figured out this week that if I saute the veggies just a little at a time, the results are much better.

I also tend to make a different stir fry sauce every time I make stir fry. Back in A-50, I tried my hardest to recreate Steve’s “best stir fry ever” for Rose, but with no luck. And finally, one night, we convinced him to make it for us. Not only was it crazy spicy (I never could quite get it spicy enough for Rose, I’m afraid!), it was deee-licious. I had to admit: it was the best stir fry ever. When I asked for his recipe, he spouted off a list of ingredients that amounted to “whatever I happen to have on hand that sounds like a stir fry.” So, I took a cue from him and started just playing around with ingredients whenever I wanted to whip up stir fry. This particular dish relied on coconut milk and pre-made red curry paste, since I wanted a shortcut. But I’ve been known to blend up exotic combinations of Sriracha, vinegars, peanut butter, coconut milk, cilantro, garlic, ginger, orange juice, brown sugar, honey, and soy sauce so that no two sauces are exactly alike anymore.

This stir fry was good – filling, healthy and simple – but after eating, I realized it needed more acidity to balance out everything. Some lime juice or rice wine vinegar would’ve done the trick here, so add it in if you make it.

Coconut Curry Stir Fry (4 servings)

First: bake some chicken. Preheat an oven to 350. Cook one chicken breast that’s been covered with oil, salted, peppered, and dashed with Chinese five spice seasoning until it’s done. Set aside to cool down enough so that you are able to dice it into small chunks.

Preheat a sautee pan to medium high heat. Add some oil (vegetable is best). Saute a sliced onion and 3 carrots, peeled and cut on the bias, with salt & pepper until just cooked, about 8 minutes. Remove from pan; set aside. Return pan to heat, add more oil, cook some broccoli florets & cauliflower for about 2 minutes, then add a tablespoon each of diced garlic and diced fresh ginger. Cook about another 2 minutes; add a couple tablespoons soy sauce, cook for about a minute, then add back the onion and carrots. Then add the chicken. Stir in 2 tablespoons prepared red curry paste, a sprinkle of brown sugar, another glug of soy sauce and a 14 ounce can of coconut milk. Bring to a simmer, and remove from heat. Serve over white or brown rice.