February 9, 2011 § 2 Comments
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the day I make the perfect chicken soup, I’ll feel I’ve succeeded in my culinary adventures. Well, ok, maybe start to have succeeded because let’s be honest here – I’m one of those “never can be pleased” individuals so truth is when I master it, I’ll probably have the itch to conquer some other culinary challenge like soufflés or something. To make the perfect chicken soup I think you need the perfect broth. I’ve never attempted home made broth because to me it was kind of like mission impossible.
So, Sunday was a nice lazy day and while at the grocery store stocking up for the week, I figured it was as good a time as any to give home made broth a go. I had made roasted chickens recently and had the carcasses in my freezer waiting for the day I wanted to embrace this endeavor. (I do want to point out here that I know “carcass” doesn’t build up your appetite – but it is what it is.) This “itch” to create chicken broth from scratch has been building up the last few weeks. I recently bought a new cookbook, “Salt to Taste” (perfect name right? more on that one later) which goes to great length explaining the need to prepare certain things in advance to really elevate your everyday cooking – one of those things being home made broths and stocks. I was also surprised to learn that stock and broth are not one in the same. I always used them interchangeably and thought they were the same but in fact stock comes from boiling bones while broth comes from boiling bones with meat. As my chicken carcasses had bones with just some meat still on them, I guess what I attempted was a half broth, half stock. For the sake of sanity here, I’m going to refer to it as broth even though we now know it wasn’t a pure broth!
I researched many recipes before beginning – I have a tendency to never stick to one recipe, probably why I have so many flops! In the end I pulled from recipes from several sources including my new cookbook. I put the two chicken carcasses in a huge pot and covered with water until they had about 4 inches of water above them. Some recipes called for putting all ingredients in together and others said to “clarify” the broth first before adding the vegetables, which meant boiling until the broth was clear and fat removed. I decided to give the ladder a try and the one recipe I was following even called for pulling the pot half way off the burner to create a circular clarifying motion – I did this for about 45 minutes but it really didn’t result in much. That recipe called for a whole chicken though and since most of the meat was gone from my chickens perhaps that’s why it didn’t work. So, next time, I’ll just throw everything in the pot at once and call it a day.
After the broth was as clear as it was going to be and I skimmed off all the fat, I gave it a taste just to see what it was like and….wait for it….nada – it was very hard to taste the difference between this and plain ‘ol water. I was quite surprised as this chicken had been roasted with so much intense flavor I was at first worried it might be too overpowering to make a broth from – clearly that wasn’t the case. At this point I started worrying this was all for nothing (and I shouldn’t have wasted my nice lazy Sunday for this) but I had already begun so might as well keep trekking along. I was ready to add the veggies – recipes I found called for the traditional onion, celery, and carrot but in varying amounts. Some called to add parsnips too. I went with 3 ribs of celery, 3 carrots, and 1 large onion. To season I added 2 cloves of garlic, a handful of fresh parsley, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, 1 dried bay leaf, 1½ teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon peppercorns. Surprisingly salt too varied greatly across recipes – some called for none all the way to 2 tablespoons for the same amount of liquid. I went with the smallest amount of salt referenced as I definitely wanted it full of flavor but didn’t want too much with it reducing for several hours and becoming overly salty.
After two hours of simmering over medium heat, the broth had reached a golden hue and was looking promising. I did another taste test and the flavors were definitely starting to come through – see, not all was lost! why do I always have to assume the worst at first? – but it was still missing something so I added a good amount of salt and more peppercorns. At the end of the cooking time, by this time almost 4 hours in total from start to finish, we had to leave to go to my parents’ house for the game. It was finally developing some nice flavor but still not all there. I would have liked to let it go longer but unfortunately that wasn’t an option.
I put it away in the refrigerator and the next day made a nice chicken noodle soup with half the broth (I decided to freeze the other half). I quickly sautéed some garlic, onion, celery, and carrot seasoned with salt and pepper and added to the broth (about half of the broth that the recipe had made). To that, I added some frozen peas and noodles as well as some remaining store-bought rotisserie chicken we had left over. The soup had a nice flavor with all the sautéed vegetables and additional seasonings but I’m not sold. I’m going to continue my endeavor down the chicken broth/soup category and see what else I can come up with. So in the end, good effort, but many more recipes I want to try – maybe I’ll even follow them exactly, well maybe, we’ll see.