A reader, Bill, asked if I could do a column on making chicken stock. He said that during the pandemic, more people are cooking at home and they — and he — would appreciate some ideas for making stock to enhance the flavour of homemade soups.
It’s a fine idea. So here are my tips for making chicken stock, a recipe for it and a soup recipe that uses stock.
The bones, vegetable and aromatics
Chicken bones to make stock are sold at many supermarkets and butcher shops. Sliced, bright and fresh-tasting vegetables, such as onions, carrots and celery, and aromatics such as spices and herbs are simmered with the bones to enhance the stock’s flavour. When making stock, don’t view it as a way to use up old, off-tasting and smelling vegetables, or your stock will have those undesirable qualities, too.
Simmer that stock
When making stock, don’t vigorously boil it or it will evaporate too quickly and become unappealingly cloudy. Instead, once the stock has come to a boil, lower heat until it very gently simmers, where tiny bubbles just begin to break the surface, gently flow around the bones and flavourings, delicately extracting flavours and building a full and balanced flavour.
Don’t cover the pot
When making stock, don’t cover the pot, as steam needs to rise up and out of it, causing the stock to reduce a bit as it simmers and concentrate in flavour. If you covered the pot, that steam won’t escape. Instead, it will hit the lid, drip back into the pot and cause your stock to become watery tasting, even when simmered a long while.
Taste before straining
To determine whether your stock is ready to be strained, ladle some into a small bowl, season with a bit of salt and pepper and taste it. If it has an appealing taste, it’s ready. If not, simmer it a while longer. You could use the stock right after making it, but my preference is to cool it to room temperature and refrigerate it overnight, since that makes it easier to remove any fat on the surface, as it will have solidified.
Homemade chicken stock you can use in such things as stews and soup, such as the Asian-style one below. The recipe could be doubled if you want to make a larger batch of it.
Preparation time: 10 minutes, plus overnight chill time
Cooking time: two hours 15 minutes
Makes: About seven cups
2 1/2 to 3 lbs. (about 1.1 to 1.4 kg) chicken bones, such as backs and necks
1 small to medium onion, halved and sliced
1 medium carrot, sliced
1 medium rib of celery, sliced
1 large garlic clove, sliced
1 bay leaf
12 black peppercorns
a few sprigs of fresh parsley (see Eric’s options)
10 cups cold water
Place ingredients in a tall, not overly wide pot (mine was seven inches wide). Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat until liquid very gently simmers (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Gently simmer stock, uncovered, two hours. Ladle some of the stock into a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. If it has nice chicken taste, the stock is ready. If not, simmer the stock a bit longer until it does. Strain stock, cool to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight. Remove solidified fat on the stock and it’s ready to use and/or freeze for another time.
Eric’s options: Other herbs, such as a pinch or two of dried thyme, or a few fresh sprigs of it, could be added to the stock, which you may wish to do if using the stock in a European-style recipe, not an Asian-style soup.
Asian-style Chicken Noodle Soup
Here’s a comforting and filling main-course soup rich with sweet, sour and spicy Asian-style flavours, perfect for a rainy winter day.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: about 15 minutes
Makes: two servings
2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, or 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into small cubes
• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tsp vegetable oil
4 cups chicken stock
1 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger
2 tsp granulated sugar
1 Tbsp mirin (see Note)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp Asian-style chili sauce, such as sriracha, or to taste
2 to 3 baby bok choy, trimmed, separated into leaves, washed, and coarsely chopped
1 or 2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 (200 gram) pkgs. nama (fresh) udon noodles (see Note)
• furikake seasoning, to taste (optional; see Note)
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Pour oil into a skillet set over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add chicken and sear and brown it until cooked through, about four minutes. Remove chicken from heat and set it aside for now.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil to cook the noodles. While it comes to temperature, make soup by placing stock, ginger, sugar, mirin, soy sauce, vinegar and chili sauce in a second pot, set over medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer for five minutes.
When soup has simmered five minutes, add noodles to the boiling water and cook until tender, about two minutes, gently pulling them apart with tongs as they cook. While the noodles cook, add the cooked chicken and bok choy to the soup and heat thorough a minute or two.
When cooked, drain noodles well and divide between two large soup bowls. Ladle the chicken soup over the noodles and top with green onions. Serve the soup, if desired, with furikake seasoning, for sprinkle on the soup at the table.
Note: Mirin, mama (fresh) udon noodles and furikake seasoning are available in the Asian food aisle of many grocery stores. You’ll also find them at Asian food stores. Mirin is a sweet, sake-based condiment. Furikake is a Japanese seasoning, made with such things as sesame seeds and nori, that you sprinkle on things, such as salads, rice and soup.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.