Professional Secrets to Making the BEST Stock!

Food author and professional chef, Daniel Gritzer, knows all about it. He's cooked in some of the finest restaurants around the world and says chicken stock is the secret ingredient of ALL exemplary restaurant food. (His information adapts well to turkey-so keep that in mind as you read.)

A good chicken stock should have decent body, along with a mild savory flavor that enhances-rather than competes with-the sauces, glazes, and soup bases you make with it.

If you have one, turn to your pressure cooker. It's wonderful for making stock since it speeds the process quite a bit, and helps seal in flavor that otherwise boils off into the air as the stock simmers and steams.

Gritzer says two factors that affect the quality of a very basic white chicken stock-the most versatile, are:

  1. Body. It should have more body than water. If it gels at least slightly when chilled, that's a sign of good body.
  2. No particularly strong or unconventional flavors. The goal is versatility so it will work with all kinds of recipes. An infusion of ginger or aroma of tarragon may be lovely in certain applications, but these specific flavors may not be wanted in a basic stock. You really don't want the flavor of stock to dominate a dish made with it. Stock should enrich the dish only. It's just a building block that helps in arriving at that final deep and complex flavor.

So the basic structure of stock? It's pretty simple: It's made with water, chicken (or turkey, as is likely the case with this coming Thanksgiving dinner), aromatic vegetables like onion, carrot, and garlic, and then herbs. Some cooks add fennel or leeks, parsley, celery, thyme, and bay leaves. It's up to the cook. (BTW, a bundle of herbs tied into a piece of cheese cloth is called a bouquet garni. You want them gathered together in the cloth because at the end of the cooking you'll remove the herbs and vegetables.)

And there's no right or wrong. It's just a matter of preference and the flavor profile you're after. Stock can be made with a whole chicken, any of its parts, or a combination. Most stock is usually made with the scraps and bones of a chicken that's already been butchered for other uses.

And did you know that each part of a chicken can change the flavor of stock? Gritzer experimented with different chicken parts to see what flavor results there'd be. Take a look at the differences in color of each stock, depending on what was cooked. But don't be fooled by color. Gritzer said that:

· Instead of tasting flavorless and washed out, the chicken breast produced the cleanest tasting stock with the most intense chicken flavor. However, it also produced the thinnest stock, in terms of body.

· The thigh meat also produced a light-colored stock, but it had a muddier, less clean flavor than the breast stock.

· The wings produced stock with the most body, but like the thigh stock, the flavor wasn't as chicken-y as the breast stock.

· Bones also made a stock with less distinct chicken flavor, but they contributed some bass notes that were pleasant.

· Finally the whole chicken: It gave a middle-of-the-road stock.

SO, Gritzer's conclusion? Best flavor or not, he can't really recommend making stock from expensive cuts like chicken breasts, unless money isn't a concern. And since most stock-makers use scraps, he suggests trying to get some white meat in the mix along with bones for bass notes and wings for gelatin.

But if cost IS a big deal for you (it often is for me), then he says to just go for wings as the best option for providing a good flavor balance between rich texture, decent chicken-y flavor, and relatively low cost.

And one last tip: If you do get a thin-yet-flavorful stock, add a little unflavored gelatin to boost the body. One packet unflavored gelatin softened in ¼ cup cold water, and then mixed into 1 quart of stock does a good job of enhancing body without pushing the stock into weirdly sticky, jellied territory.

Ratios are important-you don't want weak flavor. About 8 pounds of poultry to 4 quarts of water is best (or 4 pounds of poultry to 2 quarts of water). These pounds can include the bones, scrap meat, even skin.

Finally, here's Daniel Gritzer's famous and BEST stock recipe. I tried it with a turkey carcass last year and the results were terrific. See what you think.


4-8 pounds chicken parts, such as wings, bones, breasts, and legs (see note above)

4 quarts water

2 large yellow onions, diced

4 large carrots, diced

4 large celery ribs, diced

8 cloves garlic, crushed

2 large sprigs parsley (see note above)

2 packets unflavored gelatin dissolved in 1/2 cup cold water (optional, see note above)

Combine chicken, water, onions, celery, garlic, and parsley in a large stockpot and bring to a simmer over low heat. Lower heat, maintaining a very gentle simmer, and cook for 1 hour 30 minutes. Strain stock through a fine-mesh strainer, let cool, then transfer to containers and refrigerate until completely chilled, about 6 hours. Skim off and remove any fat and scum on the surface. Refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 6 months. If stock is thin even after being fully refrigerated, add optional gelatin solution to stock and bring to a boil until fully dissolved, then refrigerate or freeze.

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    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
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