So...in our last installment, the rice became rice pudding. Now? The chicken must become Chicken and Dumplings of course. This recipe is not hard but there are a lot of moving parts, so I have broken it down into two segments to hopefully minimize the confusion. What do you make first? Why, the chicken stock of course...which is a very versatile component that gets quite a lot of mileage in our house. Typically after Thanksgiving I gather all the bones and spend a lazy Sunday making stock which will get frozen for use throughout the year. I always quietly hope my stash lasts till the following Thanksgiving...it never does. I love my stock.
Another reason why I chose to isolate this portion of the recipe is because of the aforementioned versatility. There will be recipes to come that will call for stock in large or small quantities, or places where I suggest swapping water for stock to get more flavor out of an otherwise bland element. Rather than repeat the recipe again, or have you schlog through the Chix and Dump recipe to fish out the stock directions, I have decided to let it be its own thing. Hopefully, though, once you've made it you will never have to look at the recipe again. It's not rocket science, but it is delicious.
Here we will be using the remnants of 'last night's' chicken to brew up this particular pot of liquid wonderful. First thing first, strip that bad boy of all usable meat and set aside. If you are terribly efficient you can chop the meat in preparation for the eventual dumlinging, but I don't really do efficient. Everything else will be detailed under the heading.
Look at this picture.
Beautiful eh? Yeah, I know baby. This pot is literally where the magic happens, but if you notice there is also nothing complicated about this little arrangement.
1) Chicken Bones. Add them to a stock pot. When using a previously seasoned bird I like to add the remaining skin as well to catch as much of the original seasoning as possible.
2) Water. Add enough water to submerge your bones, about six cups or so...but that varies.
3) Smell Goods. Open your fridge and empty it of all aromatics. What does that mean? The chunk of onion in your vegetable box, the remaining cloves of garlic that have been rolling around, a shallot if your super fancy. In this pot I used garlic which I smashed with the broad side of a knife, and a leftover green onion which I split in half. In a pinch (read: lazy) I have also used dried garlic and onion which, while not as powerful, still pretty tasty.
Station Break: Some recipes suggest tying everything into a bit of cheese cloth or stuffing it into a spice ball to prevent you from having to strain the stock when it is done. I have tried the spice ball and did not get as much flavor from the herbs as I would have liked, so I just toss everything into the water and let everyone be free. Besides, I strain my stock to get rid of the random debris and sediment that comes from boiling bones which is not prevented by the use of a spice ball. I like clear stock...it is...one of my -things-.
4) Herbs! Fresh herbs always make a better stock in my opinion, but that is because I have them growing on my deck so they are easily accessible. I have made many a batch using dried herbs and the stock was plenty tasty. In this pot I added the classics; sage, rosemary, thyme, and oregano. I also tossed in a palm full of black peppercorns. Use whatever you have on hand, but be mindful of what was originally on the chicken you are working with. Pick herbs that compliment your base, but also herbs that compliment your cooking style. The flavors in the stock should not be overpowering, that is not where we are going, but sometimes a subtle hint of the wrong something can throw off an entire dish.
5) Salt. Add it. How much depends on personal preference and base. What does that mean? I typically prefer a saltier stock because I use it as a flavoring agent. It keeps me from having to add as much salt to the dishes I use it in. If you are sensitive to sodium or just prefer a more basic stock, a tablespoon or two should do. Also, keep in mind the amount of salt your base skin and bones are adding to the pot. I typically taste the water after everything is mixed before getting out the salt.
6) Heat It Up. Bring everything to a boil and then simmer covered until you just can not take it any more. I have made a decent stock in an hour, I have made a brilliant stock in six. My average is about three or four hours; I essentially put it on the stove and forget about it. This is not something that needs TLC or constant babysitting. Once you cut it down to a simmer, put the top on and let the stock mind its own business while you mind yours. You will be rewarded for your patience with liquid Panacea; it will make everything better.
7) Use or Freeze. Use the stock for...whatever and once the rest has cooled, split it up into usable portions and freeze it. This batch went into a quart jar and is almost gone. I have kept stock in an airtight container in my fridge for a couple of weeks and it was fine, but I looked up the official word on how long it should be stored. 4-7 days seems to be the general recommendation, so it would be irresponsible of me to suggest keeping it longer. However, as in all things, I suggest you use your senses and your best judgment. If it looks and smells off, toss it out.
Next you will learn how to use this stock to make one of the very best comfort foods known to man...in my humble opinion. Stay tuned for Chicken and Dumplings (finally).