By Lehni Wickes
Good day Blowhard readers! Lets just dive right into it. Last week I discussed my half-assedly decorated Halloween gingerbread house, but on the same day I finished the house up I was working on a much more important project. Chicken stock!
Now chicken stock might not sound all that exciting, but when you are nerding out as hard as I am about food these days, believe me, it is very exciting stuff. You see, recently I got two Bourdain cookbooks (the obsession continues), and I have been trying to really dive into some more authentic cooking. When I say authentic, what I mean is actually going the extra mile to make things from scratch, not cheat on ingredients, and just generally put some more time and effort into dishes. At this point it is kind of turning more into a (gasp!) hobby than solely trying to feed my face.
Anyway, a good chunk of the recipes in both of these cookbooks (Appetites a Cookbook and Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook) require stock. I haven’t gone so far as to insist that I make a stock for each type of dish I might potentially prepare (lets face it, veal stock, lamb stock, and octopus stock are not likely in my future), but a dark chicken stock seemed like a good place to start! For the purposes of my cooking at this particular point in my life, chicken stock should pretty much do the trick. It is the most common stock used in the recipes I am interested in, and it is generally very versatile. Plus, acquiring chicken bones is a little easier than say a large stash of veal or lamb bones . . .
That being said, it is still certainly a process. Making a chicken stock from scratch requires a shit load of chicken bones and a shit load of time. Let's walk through this a little bit. I got the Les Halles Cookbook probably about a month ago, and I have yet to make a single recipe from it. In order to make one of the first recipes I wanted to try, I would need chicken stock. In order to make chicken stock, I needed a decent number of chicken bones. In order to get a decent number of chicken bones, I needed to eat a crap ton of chicken. So, over the last few weeks I have made a number of trips to Costco for rotisserie chickens (I have been eating a LOT of chicken lately). Generally speaking that process was pretty easy. The only tough part was eating chicken fast enough to get all the bones I needed. For each chicken I pulled all the meat off and used it throughout the week (with rice, sandwiches, etc.), and put all of the bones back in the plastic cartons and kept them in the freezer.
After I accumulated bones from three full chickens, I scheduled a day to be dedicated to making my stock. This is a full day affair because after you roast your bones and vegetables (total roasting time was approximately 1 hour), the stock needs to simmer for 8 to 10 hours on the stove. Being my usual self and not getting started as early as I would have liked, I was sifting chicken stock through cheesecloth at about 11:30pm last Saturday. I don’t care. I had fun.
Quick side note: I got the Les Halles Cookbook first, and Appetites actually just came out on October 25th this year. All of my chicken stock prep and knowledge came from the Les Halles Cookbook, which had great instructions for preparing the stock but did not include exact measurements (e.g. “a wad of tomato paste”). About two hours after my stock was simmering away, my Appetites book came in the mail. In this cookbook (which is supposed to be a little more user friendly/less complex) he gives specific measurements for several different types of stocks (my estimate of “a wad” was a lot more than he recommends by the way). If you are looking for more variety, more user friendly, more home-style recipes get the Appetites book. If you are looking for recipes that are a little more involved and specific to classic French bistro cooking get the Les Halles Cookbook.
Now I have this glorious chicken stock all sealed up in my refrigerator. The problem? It didn’t yield as much stock as I was hoping, and the fact is that I am probably going to have to use almost all of the stock on one recipe. Therefore, I have been kind of taking my time because I want to choose my recipe wisely. Making a batch of stock isn’t exactly something that I will be doing on a regular basis, so I want to make sure I use it where it counts. Plus, my husband is out of town for school this month, so I want to wait until I can share a good meal with him too. I do, however, have a large number of recipes I really want to try, so I guess that means that I am going to be buying a lot more bone-in chicken and filling my freezer with bags of bones and scraps.
In the mean time I’ll likely be making a lot of meals that lend to my collection of bones as well as shells of shrimp and other seafood. In the Appetites book, there is a recipe for shrimp bisque that I really want to try. Guess what? I need to make a shellfish stock for it. Since I am kind of chicken’d out right now, I focused this week on collecting shells for a shellfish stock and made a couple of shrimp recipes. A couple of times I just sautéed some shrimp with olive oil and a lemon pepper mix that I bought. Unbelievably fast, easy, and very tasty. My other meal this week was Shrimp in Thai Coconut Sauce.
This recipe was pretty quick overall. Not a lot of prep time, cooking time isn’t bad either. Total (because I still don’t prep very well) it took me about an hour, but I wasn’t entirely focused either. This dish is fun because it has colorful ingredients, and I was really happy with how the flavor turned out. Basically there are 5 steps:
1. Sautee peppers and onions
2. Sautee shrimp
3. Make sauce
4. Reduce sauce with peppers and onions
5. Stir in shrimp with basil and cilantro
I served this over rice noodles. Because I love rice noodles.
**Very important side note** if you do try this recipe you are going to be overwhelmed with worry in step 4. The sauce in this recipe uses fish sauce as one of its ingredients. Obviously fish sauce doesn’t smell the best, but when you mix it in with the coconut milk, lime, peanut butter, etc. it doesn’t seem too bad. When you pour the sauce in and bring it to a boil, it is going to make your entire kitchen and possibly apartment or house SMELL LIKE HOT GARBAGE. Do not be alarmed!! Believe me it is going to smell awful for about 5 minutes, but then as you continue to simmer, the sauce you will basically cook off some of that smell, and the end result is really great. It doesn’t smell or taste like fish, I promise you.
Anyway, you can pretty much guarantee that I will be eating a lot of chicken and shrimp for a while so that I can build up my stock collection and possibly even make some demi glaze. When it is time to bust out the big guns and actually make something that one of these stocks goes into, I will let you know. Hopefully when I finally do make one of the recipes I don’t screw it up. That would be a bummer.