THE DOMINO EFFECT: DAY TWO, BACK TO BASICS
I have never been a patient person. I am all about instant (or quite quick) gratification. I want to achieve something without always wanting to go through the natural process of doing it or learning about it. I have always wanted to play guitar or to sew without actually having to learn how to do it. I just want to be able to play and sing a song tomorrow, or to sew a dress by next week. I am not interested in the chords, the patterns.
That is maybe why I also usually skip the "Basics" chapter in cookbooks which deals with stocks, sauces and other basic components. I go straight to the pictures to see how things will look and choose the recipes which will inspire me to do something similar. That is also probably the reason why I haven't managed to bake bread from scratch, nursing that sourdough starter day in and day out. I have started a couple of times, I have researched, I know a bit of the theory behind the whole process, but when it comes to putting it all into practice, I forget about the jar of water and flour in the kitchen or I just give up.
Things are changing because I now feel more drawn to those mother recipes that can be the building blocks of other dishes. I don't know what I will eat it with, but I want to make romesco, salsa verde, bone broth. I also want to make bread, and I mean really make bread, but I still haven't gotten out that jar, in which to mix the flour and water. AGAIN. I can't face the risk of the disappointment of giving up again unless I really commit to it and keep going this time. For now, I will stick to other basics which require less commitment from my part.
Chicken stock. That is where I am starting my basics repertoire. It is more like making jam and I have made jam plenty of times, so I am in comfortable territory. It is a one day process. Probably even a "few hours" process. Most of the time you won't enjoy the fruits of your labour that same day, but at least your labour will bear some kind of fruit and the process will take, lets say, one morning. There is also something quite satisfying in getting out your biggest pot, your glass jars, in making something in a big batch, knowing that, after filling all those jars, they will keep you going for quite some time. Jam jars will lighten up any dull breakfast and chicken stock jars will open up a range of possibilities for future meals. As I said, if you measure time spent doing something by the results produced, you will be happy to chop a few vegetables, put them along some meat in a pan, cover it all with water, season it and wait. The result, thanks to the magic the heat provides will be a golden liquid to be stored in a lot of small jars.
There are a lot of recipes for chicken stock out there. I actually think it is one of those things you can make depending on what you have at hand, but it also seems like some rules must be followed and respected. You can't just throw anything into the pot (especially if you want it to be versatile enough to be used on anything). Onions, leeks, celery and carrots seem to appear in most recipes. Herbs are quite optional, but adding them also seems absolutely necessary. A few peppercorns (I should underline the word few because I got carried away when tilting the spice jar), some salt and you need little else.
Everybody seems to agree that the longer you cook this mixture (within reason), the better your stock will be and it makes sense: the longer you let all your ingredients provide all the goodness to the water, the tastier the water will become. Another step not to be skipped is the skimming, but that is really very little work. Apart from these basic steps, I have written down the recipe I loosely followed when making this. It is Alice Waters' chicken broth recipe in "The Art of Simple Food".
This book is perfect because even though it is mostly focused on simple dishes that we have all made at least once, it focuses on the details and the reasons for those details, so by reading it, you might end up learning something you didn't know about a dish you thought you had mastered. Or you might feel really empowered in the kitchen if you find that you are already doing all those little things Alice is telling you to do.
I didn't measure out my ingredients and used the chicken carcass left over from the roast chicken weekend lunch instead of using a fresh chicken. You can do both.
(makes around 4.5 litres)
• 1 whole chicken
• 5.5 litres of water
• 1 carrot, peeled
• 1 onion, peeled and halved
• 1 head of garlic, cut in half
• 1 celery stalk
• 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
• 1 bouquet garni of parsley and thyme sprigs and a large bay leaf
1. Put the chicken in a big pot, pour in the water and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low. Skim the broth.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer the broth for about 4-5 hours. Strain it. If using immediately, skim the fat and season with salt to taste. Serve hot, or allow to cool and then refrigerate or freeze.