It's only Day 10, and already, I can't tell you how many times I've earmarked my next recipe to tackle, only to realize that I need Basic Chicken Stock as an ingredient. Meanwhile, I have five containers of Pacific Natural Foods Organic Chicken Stock gathering dust in my pantry. I am tempted to just use the packaged stuff, but I wasn't comfortable doing it until I could hold my own taste test to determine firsthand how much is lost by going commercial.
Basic Chicken Stock (p. 41)
Martha suggests using the kinds of chicken parts that many stores in NYC don't even carry: wings, necks and backs. Necks and backs? Not at Whole Foods, Martha. My chicken stock will be featuring wings and legs.
The stock is really basic - boil the parts, reduce to simmer, add the vegetables, skimming all the while. It's really easy, but it's a little smelly, and it's a smell that lingers. Is it worth it? Wait and see.
Once the stock is done, it gets put through a cheesecloth-lined sieve, and the solids are discarded. (FNBF and I had a mini-feast of carrots and chicken, and there's still enough chicken left for two or three lunches. By the way, the chicken was falling off the bone tender, but flavorless. A little salt fixed that right up.) Next, the stock is supposed to cool completely before going into the refrigerator, but I made this stock too late in the evening to do that, so it cooled a little, then I put it in tupperware containers to cool some more and ultimately put them in the fridge.
This AM, I skimmed the fat off the top. Interestingly, there was little fat to skim. It seemed so oily last night... The stock, refrigerated, had become completely gelatinous, which came as a surprise to me. I repackaged it in 2-cup containers and put them in the freezer for use in later recipes. I ended up with about 12 cups of broth! That should keep me in broth for a while!
Now, for the taste test:
When I tasted the stock last night, still warm, it didn't taste like much. There's no salt in there, just whatever flavor the chicken, carrot, celery, onion, bay leaf and peppercorns impart. Martha doesn't want me to add any other seasonings until it goes into the next recipe, which I completely understand. But chicken stock without salt just seems blah.
However, this morning, I tasted Martha's stock and the Pacific Natural Foods stock side by side. It was impossible to do a blind taste test, because they looked so different. Martha's stock is clear and light, PNF's stock is darker and cloudy. To even the playing field, I salted Martha's stock, and I heated them both.
And as much as I would love to say they are interchangeable, they most definitely are not. Salted, Martha's stock completely comes alive. All of a sudden, you can taste all the freshness of the mirepoix (carrots, onion, celery). And the visual clarity of the broth is matched by a truly startling flavor clarity. Next to that, the PNF stock didn't have a chance. It tasted dull and unspecific. Serviceable, I guess, but not very chicken-y, or flavor-y for that matter.
In conclusion, what I'm saying is - I will make best efforts to use Martha's Basic Chicken Stock when it's called for in her recipes, acknowledging that it really does make a difference. Argh. :-)
Until we eat again...