Good cooking, I’ve come to learn, is very much a matter of mastering simple techniques. It’s one of the reasons I’m so keen on Richard Olney’s brilliant Time Life Cookery Series. Stock making is a case in point; in my salad days I would chuck a few chicken bones, a carrot or two, onion and a sprig of parsley into a large pot of water and call it ’stock’. The finished brew (cooked on a rolling simmer for about half an hour) was okay-ish; Up to a Point Lord Copper, but lacked that certain something. Far too cloudy for a start, and slightly greasy too. Probably better than one of those over-salty factory produced stock cubes you buy in the supermarket, but definitely not one of Mr Aitch’s better efforts. Cinq Points. So back to the drawing board I went.
First stop was that culinary bible, the Larousse Gastronomique. It breaks the different types of stock down into four: White Stock, Brown Stock, Fish Stock and Vegetable Stock. To quote:
White stock is used as liquid in white sauces and stews and for poached poultry. Brown stock is used as a liquid in brown sauces, for braising large cuts of meat and for dark stews. Fish stock is used in the preparation of special fish sauces, such as Normandie sauce, a white wine sauce or a thin white sauce to be served with fish.
Richard Olney gives a recipe for a simple chicken (ie white) stock in his excellent Good Cook’s Encyclopedia:
You place a chicken carcass into a large pot of cold water and bring it very slowly to a near boil (this might take up to an hour). Foamy scum will appear on the surface as albuminous proteins in the meat are drawn out and float to the top.
Carefully remove the scum with a ladle. Now if you allow it to boil, the turbulance, apparently, prevents the scum forming on the surface so just before the liquid starts to boil add a dash of cold water. This will bring the the temperature down, to just below the boiling point and will allow more scum to rise.
When you’ve removed all the scum and white froth, you should have a clear-ish liquid. Now is the time to add the vegetables: carrots, onions (one stuck with three cloves), a whole unpeeled head of garlic and a bouquet garni (bayleaf, thyme and fresh parsley tied in with a piece of leek and a celery stalk).
And now is the time to add salt. No pepper, notice. Richard Olney adds a relatively small amount of sea salt to the mix, as the salty taste will concentrate as the stock reduces.
Bring the stock back to the near-boil, skimming as before. You’re looking for a ‘near simmer’, so that the surface, as Richard Olney rather poetically puts it "is rippled only by a continuous gentle murmer of bubbles”. Cook for two hours, skimming off any surface fat from time to time.
The stock is then strained off through a colander, and then strained again through a muslin cloth.
The final stage is a cinch. Put the stock into the ‘fridge and leave it there for eight to twelve hours. You’ll end up with a lovely, very professional looking light brown jelly, with a layer of white fat on the top. Scrape this off with a spoon, and dab away the last particles of fat with a cloth. Finis.
And that’s how to make a proper, authentic, bona-fide white chicken stock. Remember- add cold water to stop it boiling, don’t add the vegetables at the beginning, go easy on the salt, and leave the finished stock in the ‘fridge for several hours. And before I forget, there’s another technique I read about in Robuchon, which funnily enough Olney doesn’t mention. When you’re bringing the stock to a near boil, place the pan to the side of the heat and let the scum form to the side of the pan. Oh, and take an afternoon off work. If you’re interested I might cover making a brown stock in a subsequent post. But that’s for another day.