Stocking up on stock is smart

At this time of year, soups and stews really hit the spot, and a well-structured chicken stock is a delicious place to begin.

Every winter, I pull from my frosty cache of liquid gold and spin it into fabulous fare.

The problem with most homemade chicken stocks is that they’re pretty tame. Not much genuine chicken flavor. So over the years I’ve worked on that. What I discovered is that the simple act of sauteing the chicken and onions in a tiny bit of oil before adding water produces a golden, caramely glaze on the bottom of the pan and a rich and gentle sweetness in the onions. That makes all the difference once the final simmering is complete.

My recipe has evolved in other ways, as well. I’ve never seen one that calls for garlic, but a few years ago, I decided to give it a try and found it contributes a delightful depth of flavor without overwhelming. When fresh garlic is cooked for the hour-plus that it is here, in a huge amount of liquid, only a gentle essence remains.

What I haven’t altered is the notion that chicken stock truly is a matter of convenience. You don’t have to use fresh and perky vegetables from your vegetable bin. You can be accumulating them over time and tossing them into a container in your freezer until the thought of making chicken stock strikes your fancy. You can also save up chicken bones in your freezer for extra flavor, but they won’t replace the 3 pounds of chicken parts called for in this recipe. That’s where a good portion of the flavor comes from. Additional bones from your freezer are simply a bonus.

Really Good Homemade Chicken Stock

Makes about 8 cups of stock

3 pounds of chicken pieces (1 whole or cut-up roasting chicken), preferably a free-range bird

2 yellow onions, coarsely chopped into 1-inch chunks (include skin and root end)

1 tablespoon Canola oil

1 head of garlic (see note below)

1 (¼-inch thick) slice of fresh lemon

9 cups water

3 ribs celery (including the fluffy leaf portions), cut into 1-inch chunks

2 carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks

About 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (stems and leaves)

1 to 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

Salt to taste

If using a whole chicken, cut into traditional parts (2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 breasts, 2 wings, and a back). Using kitchen shears or a cleaver, cut the “cut-up” chicken pieces into smaller chunks (for instance, cut each piece into two pieces). Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the cut up chicken pieces and the onion chunks and reduce the heat slightly. Slowly saute the chicken and onions until the onions become soft and slightly golden and the chicken produces a caramelized glaze on the bottom of the pan. This will take about 15 minutes.

Add the water, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to scrape up all the cooked-on bits of meat and onion. Add the coarsely chopped head of garlic and the lemon and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken from the liquid and place it on a platter so you won’t lose any of the juices; let it sit for about 10 minutes, until it’s cool enough to handle. Separate the meat from the bones (it will be tender enough that it almost falls away from the bones) and set it aside for a moment.

Return the bones, juice and skin to the pot. Of the boned meat, return about half of it to the pot and reserve the rest for another meal. You could return all of the meat to the pot, but keep in mind that from this point on, any chicken used in this final phase will have too much flavor extracted to be used in another way down the road.

Add the celery, carrots, thyme and peppercorns to the pot. Bring it to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for an additional 40 or 50 minutes. Every now and then press the veggies and chicken bones/meat against the side of the pan with a large spoon to encourage more juices and flavor to be extracted from ingredients.

Remove from heat and let cool. Strain the broth into a large, shallow bowl (so it will cool quickly), pressing down on the vegetables and meat with the back of the large spoon to extract even more flavor; discard the vegetables, meat, bones and skin. At this point, you don’t have to season with salt, but I generally add just a little to really bring out the flavor of the stock.

Cover and refrigerate until well chilled so the fat will rise and thicken on the surface. I usually chill the stock overnight in my refrigerator. Once chilled, scrape off the fat with a large, shallow spoon and discard. The stock can keep, covered, in the refrigerator for 3 days (including the first chilling-down phase) or up to 3 months in the freezer.

NOTE ON GARLIC: I know that a whole head seems like a lot of garlic. But trust me, it mellows dramatically during the cooking process and really lends a wonderful depth of flavor to the stock. To prepare, lay the head of garlic on its side, then slice through at its plumpest spot with a very sharp chef’s knife. Coarsely chop each half into 2 or 3 pieces then toss it all in the pot along with the rest of the veggies.

Jan’s One-Pot Chicken with Noodles, Ginger and Lemon

Makes 2 servings, but can easily be doubled.

2 chicken breast halves, bones in, skin off (about 1½ pounds, including bone)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

4 cups good-quality chicken stock

¾ cup chopped green onions (about 5 or 6 medium-sized onions, using all of the white and pale green portion and about 2 inches of the green)

2 slices from a whole, fresh lemon (about ¼-inch thick, or slightly thicker)

2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger root

2 teaspoons commercially prepared chili-garlic sauce (sold in the Asian food section, usually near the soy sauce)

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Salt to taste

1 (7.7-ounce) package yakisoba noodles (also called stir-fry noodles; check the refrigerated section in produce department of most supermarkets)

Using kitchen shears or a very sharp knife, cut each chicken breast half into two portions (since you’ll be cutting through rib and breast bone, shears are very effective). Cut through each breast at the meatiest portion, so you end up with four relatively equal-sized portions. In a deep-sided, heavy-bottomed pot, brown the chicken pieces in the oil over medium-high heat, turning once to brown on both sides (note: skinless breast meat can be tricky to fry, tending to stick to the bottom of the pan if you flip it too soon; be patient, once the meat has browned sufficiently, it practically releases from the pan bottom by itself). Reduce the heat slightly, remove the chicken pieces to a plate, then pour in the broth, stirring and scraping with a flat-sided utensil to dissolve all of the caramelized chicken juices.

Return the browned chicken pieces to the pot and add the onions, lemon slices, ginger root, chili-garlic sauce and black pepper. Cover, and cook just until the chicken is tender and cooked, about 40 minutes. Adjust the seasonings, adding salt if desired. The chicken may be prepared to this point up to 48 hours ahead and refrigerated.

Five or 10 minutes before serving, bring the mixture to a boil, then remove the chicken pieces with a slotted spoon. Add the yakisoba, breaking the soft block of noodles apart with a fork or spoon so they’ll cook evenly and quickly in the broth (about 3 minutes). When the noodles are cooked, return the chicken pieces to the pot and heat through. Adjust seasonings. If you remember, fish out any remaining pieces of lemon (it will be almost disintegrated by now, though) before serving. Serve in large soup bowls or pasta bowls.

— Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

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