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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