John Fink’s Saturday Stock-Take
Makes 4-5 litres
Wake up. Take a breath. It’s Saturday. Open the blinds. Turn off all computers and phones.
After splashing your face, take yourself to the local organics market and pick up any manner of things you might need for the week. Grab a coffee and a bite to eat. Make sure you speak to at least one person you have never met before (from a distance, of course). Buy a copy the Big Issue – it’s a great read. While you are there, grab the ingredients for a chicken stock.
Chicken frames, necks, feet, giblets. Quantities depend on what’s available, but make sure it is more than enough to pack tightly into a ten litre pot. While organic is best, kosher chickens are by far the tastiest.
Carrots, celery, onion, garlic. Maybe a leek, if you think.
Herbs for a bouquet-garni.
Peppercorns and bay leaf if you don’t have any to hand.
When you get home, pull everything up onto the bench and arrange neatly. Place the new flowers in a vase, open some windows. Pop the radio on. I like Eastside radio (89.7fm).
Throw all the necks feet and giblets into a heavy bottomed ten litre pot. If you cut the frames into smaller pieces with a cleaver, you can fit more frames in the pot. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil.
While you are waiting for the pot to boil, prepare the vegetables. Peel one or two carrots and the onion. Cut the garlic clove, the onion and carrots in half. If the celery head is too big, cut it in half lengthways. Make sure to give the celery a thorough washing. When the pot comes to the boil, there should be a raging sea of scum on the surface after leaving it to boil for no more than a minute. Carefully drain the whole lot in the sink, and wash the stock parts thoroughly two or three times with cold water. Wash the pot out.
Place the carrot halves on the bottom of the pot. This stops the chicken parts from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Throw the chicken parts in, along with the garlic, onion, bay leaf, peppercorns and a smattering of salt. Stick the whole or half-celery head in tops-down. Fill with cold water, and put on a low, low, low heat.
Now is the most important part of the whole process. Find a favourite corner and read the paper, or do some gardening. Potter about the house. Listen to music. Talk with your partner and your family about something, or nothing, or everything. Now more than ever is the time to connect with the people you love.
This time in isolation is difficult for a lot of people, perhaps this is the perfect time to reach out to someone you would not normally talk to. I usually turn my phone off on a Saturday, but at this time, it is a good thing to call someone you know who might be feeling a bit lonely, or a bit blue. Often a call for a chat makes all the world of difference for someone on the other end of the line. I personally know of cases where it has quite literally saved a life from suicide. My strategy is to potter about the garden with the headphones on so I can listen to someone talking endlessly on the phone while I am doing something productive. Why not give it a crack.
After about an hour have a look at the pot. Is it simmering very slowly? Just a few bubbles at a time is good. Don’t stir or poke the stock ever. This way you will get a good clear broth.
Have a taste. Don’t be tempted to season at this stage. At around the two hour mark, pull the celery head out, chop off the cooked part, and place the butt of the celery in the pot. Be careful not to disturb the contents too much.
In the last hour, take your array of herbs – parsley, thyme, fresh oregano, a wee sprig of rosemary and a fresh bay leaf – and tie off into a section of muslin. This is your bouquet-garni. Pop that into the pot on a piece of string to fish out later. If you want, you can put the white part of a leek in whole towards the end of the process as well.
In terms of cooking time, the longer and slower the better. I like a really slow cook over about four hours. This usually yields about 4-5 litres from 10 litres.
If you are game, grab a bigger pot. These days I use a 60 litre pot to cook about 40 litres of water down to 10-15 litres of stock. My stocks are a bit more forceful in flavour than the restaurant stocks, not for any other reason than that is the way I like to cook. Some people prefer a more blank canvas to play with down the line.
Taste your way through the process, lightly seasoning toward the very end. Once you are happy with your stock, cover with a clean cloth and let it sit to cool for a bit. Set up two pots – one large, and one small. When the stock is at a cooler, more manageable temperature, carefully strain the stock through a colander into the larger pot. Leave the last 300-500 mls and pour this remainder into the smaller pot through a cleaned colander.
The large pot should have a golden clear liquid. The smaller pot should have the same liquid, but with small particles from the bottom of the stock pot. Strain this through a colander lined with muslin. I usually use the smaller pot of stock that night.
Pour the stock into tupperware containers. I like to use different sizes, from 2 litre containers down. Some people like to freeze their stock in ice cube trays, but I find this gives a ‘flavour of the fridge’ to the cubes, and prefer the little sealable single portion containers. Pop the whole lot in the freezer.
When you pull the stock out of the freezer, you might find a layer of chicken fat sealing the top. Don’t let this go to waste! Scrape this off and reserve for cooking. I use this fat for frying eggs in the morning, or instead of oil or butter when making a soffrito for a risotto.
At the end of this process you should have had a very relaxing day, and your house will smell like heaven. Maybe make some matzo balls and have a healthy chicken soup for dinner, using the carrots from the stock.