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Mar 18, 2014 10:37 AM

Chicken stock newbie. A few questions....

Im new to making stock. Its usually quite difficult for me to gather enough chicken bones and necks so I usually buy fresh made stock from the farmer's market. Well the butcher said I can just ask for his bones if I want so I bought myself the Matfer exoglass chinois to start myself off. As a big fan of Thomas Keller, I naturally gravitated towards his chicken stock recipe which is more of a white chicken stock. I also looked to James Peterson who practically wrote the bible on sauces. Made Keller's for the first time and it was definitely very light and I may reduce it by one third next time or maybe make a double stock if I have the time. There are some parts I want to clarify:
1. There is no mention of how one must skim. I felt like I overskimmed with the ladle as it seems a lot went to waste but then again, Keller says you can never skim too much. What is your opinion of a fine mesh skimmer? I would love to buy one but I dont want to waste my money only to find out that the impurities will still slip through.
2. Keller also mentions that one should ladle the finished stock through a chinois but not to press the solids against it as it will cloud the stock with impurities. When deciding on a chinois, I've seen many that included a pestle. While Keller advises against pressing against the solids, others have called for pressing against them to extract the most flavor. James Peterson is in the same camp as Keller and advises against this as well. While I will probably still buy a pestle for use in soups and sauces, im a little torn over which is more accepted.
3. While reading on what James Paterson had to say on the topic, he actually took it a step further and called for straining the stock first through a coarse chinois and then through a fine chinois. Why not just through a fine chinois?Im not sure how the addition of a coarse chinois would be more helpful than the fine chinois alone.
4. Peterson differs from Keller in that in addition to the chicken carcass (bones and necks), he adds a stewing hen. He says that the addition of a stewing hen will prevent clouding. Without it, he recommends sweating the carcass before use. How does using a stewing hen help prevent cloudiness? And can one still use the meat from the stewing hen after use in stock? I feel like I would like to add this next time as Im sure it also adds tons of flavor.

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  1. 1. Mesh Skimmers do not wort well for Stock making a good Ladle is the right Tool
    2. If you want a clear Stock do not press.
    3. Using a course Chinois fist get all the big, heavy, rough stuff out of the way. A Colander or coarse Chinois is what you want to strain the big stuff with, the fine is really for finishing work
    4. I do not think it will reduce cloudiness but it is great for flavor.

    1. You are stressing way too much over this. If you are desiring a very clear consomme then skimming is important. Just use a ladle or spoon. If you are going to use the stock in sauces or cooking or other soups and visual clarity is not a priority, skimming is completely unnecessary. All it does is remove flavor.

      All of this babying the stock is just so much bullshit to make it seem more difficult than it is.

      Just get bones and chicken parts and put them is a pot. You can use anything from a pressure cooker (fast) to a crockpot (slow) and anything in between. Use raw or roasted -- your choice depending upon what color and flavor profile you like.

      We have folks here who insist on only raw, and those who insist on feet, and others who oppose both. It's completely up to you. Relax and enjoy experimenting and decide what you like.

      I never use water in any dish I make except for stock. Then the stock goes into everything else.

      Just have fun. You can't break it.

      24 Replies
      1. re: acgold7

        I agree.

        It seems like you are overthinking it, especially if you are new to making it.

        And I'd go more Best Recipes over TK while you are learning.

        Dump bones/meat and whatever else (aromatics, veggies etc) in a pot. Cover with water and simmer. Don't boil or you'll emulsify the fat and have cloudy, greasy stock. Skim the grey foam.

        To defat, chill and peel it off or use a gravy separator. Or both.

        Do this a few times and then get into the issues of clarity (make consommé) chinois, etc.

        1. re: C. Hamster

          I actually mostly use Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques for any questions on technique. He is of the camp which is against babying the stock and doesn't really skim at all. Turns out he just lets the fat solidify in the refrigerator before skimming it off. Though I believe Thomas Keller, while he is a bit finicky, is still great for those who are learning. He is incredibly detailed in his instructions and provides great pictures to illustrate it. Its challenging at times but I believe the only way you're going to progress is to challenge yourself. And if im going to learn, might as well impress at the same time. :)

          I love the use of the gravy separator though. Im thinking this will help maximize the product I get as skimming tends to lead to a cup of stock gone to waste.

          1. re: ElPsyCongroo

            the first few times I made stock I used this one:


            Kind of a happy medium -- not fussy (it's basically a tea of chicken and vegetables -- not an advanced concept!


            Turns out great, and I can no longer be fussed with a recipe. Chuck stuff in a stock pot, add water, turn the steamer basket upside down over it all (this is brilliant, by the way...) and go away and let it do its thing for several hours.

            1. re: sunshine842

              Why the steamer basket? To make skimming easier? Or Something else?

              1. re: ChrisOfStumptown

                the steamer basket holds everything below the surface of the water, so every last flavor molecule is extracted.

                The fact that it makes it easier to skim is just icing on the cake.

            2. re: ElPsyCongroo

              this one doesn't cause waste the way the ones with the spout on the side do, I love it for defatting braises before I reduce:

              1. re: ElPsyCongroo

                There's no reason *any* of it has to go to waste. The fat you use for cooking, and the stuff you skim is still plenty tasty to use to make rice or sauces or in the worst case, give to the dogs.

                We never waste a drop of flavor.

                1. re: acgold7

                  Will definitely use this advice. Thanks. This was the part that bugged me.

              2. re: C. Hamster

                The only difference I would make to what you said (and only because they told me so at a CIA class I took, take it for what it's worth) is that the veggies should only go in for the last 40 minutes or so, particularly the celery. I tend to cook the chicken parts (I use backs and feet) for about 3 hours, then add some quartered onions (skins and all) for about a half hour, then throw in some carrots, and about a half hour after that, throw in the celery for only about 30 minutes. Nothing too precise, but I don't cook the veggies anywhere near as long as the chicken. I do skim the icky grey stuff, but I don't go too crazy.

                1. re: DGresh

                  I use no vegetables which is heresy :) to some but I want my stock to taste of nothing but chicken. That way I can take it in any flavor direction I choose later. I make huge quantities of it a couple of times a year. As for 'processing' I strain it in a sieve, refrigerate over night and lift off the fat to use for cooking purposes. I also agree that OP is overthinking perhaps. This isn't rocket surgery :)

              3. re: acgold7

                Great post- I wanted to add that I've been using a PC for chicken stock recently, and use the stock for cooking.
                It comes out pretty cloudy and full of particulate.

                1. re: monavano

                  I find the particulate settles out. Still tasty, so I don't care.
                  And I skim with a spatula.

                  1. re: Chowrin

                    My PC stock has been made with rotisserie carcasses and perhaps that affects the mount of solids. It's almost half once settled in my quart containers.
                    I'm just offering what 's been happening in my kitchen, and I still use the stock for flavor.
                    I just wouldn't use the PC for any clear soup.

                    1. re: monavano

                      Interesting. My PC stock actually comes out quite clear. Hmmm.

                2. re: acgold7

                  Reading too much Thomas Keller kind of turned me into a perfectionist lol. Though its my understanding that stock made with roasted or raw carcasses are 2 different animals, making brown or white stock respectively, each having its own specialized use. I dont think a pressure cooker would work well where clarity is desired though as it churns the fat and scum back into the stock and emulsifies into a cloudy mess. From what I've read, the purpose of ensuring a well clarified stock isn't only aesthetic but that it prevents the dull, muddy, greasy flavor that accompanies cloudy ones.

                  1. re: ElPsyCongroo

                    I don't get the sense that Keller's way is better, just fussier.

                    I make stock this way, but in smaller batches:

                    Leaving the onion peels on gives the stock a lovely color.

                    1. re: mcf

                      onion peels are used as fabric dyes -- so they give the stock a beautiful golden-yellow hue.

                      1. re: mcf

                        Definitely fussy - how much of that is on principle and how much so his restaurants can justify their prices, I've no idea.

                        I have never used a recipe for any type of stock, just my instinct and common sense. A few years ago it dawned on me that I'd been splashing hot stock and making more work for myself by pouring the finished stock into a colander over a second pot to strain out the larger solids, when a few feet away I had a pasta pot with a strainer insert (a.k.a. pentola). SO much better! Just lift up the insert and set it on a tilt over the rim for a few minutes so the remaining drops fall back into the pot. I don't skim - I chill, then remove the solidified fat cap, which I save for sautes and frying.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          you know me, no pasta strainer pot! ;-) I use one of those Chinese spider thingies to pull up all the big stuff, then a smaller ladle with strainer holes. Then chill, then strain into small freezer containers. Next batch, I think I'll buy some ice cube thingies since I too often defrost significantly more than I need.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            Exactly. Using a recipe for stock is like using a recipe for a sandwich.

                        2. re: ElPsyCongroo

                          Cook's looked at this and determined that cloudier stocks are just more flavorful, unless you have emulsified the fat into them as well.

                          Clear stocks have much less flavor so unless appearance is more important than taste, they are a waste of time and effort.

                          1. re: acgold7

                            I'm using mine in a recipe, or as a base for soup or stew, anyway -- so clarifying is pointless.

                            I've done it a few times just to show myself I could do it, but meh.

                            1. re: acgold7

                              That's interesting re: CI's proclamation of increased flavor for "cloudy" stock. I tend to use the term cloudy only for stocks that have that greasy (IMO) emulsified fat. They taste dirty to me.

                              I also think "clear" is relative. No one should be making consomme as stock.

                          2. re: acgold7

                            This. Particularly the part about babying being bullshit.

                            Stock is one of the easiest things to make. Bones/meat/meaty bones in a pot (either roasted for a deeper flavour and darker colour, or not). Cover with water. Aromatics/salt/pepper are optional. I like them. Others don't. It's up to you. Bring it all to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook until it looks/tastes right to you (anywhere from 2 hours to 12 -- apparently it takes 24 for all the nutrients to be sucked out of the bones). Add more water if the water gets too low. Don't if it doesn't. I'll skim anything that looks grainy/grey/nasty, but that usually isn't too much. A couple quick swipes when it first starts to boil. When it's done, I pour it through a big colander to get out the big stuff, then through a wire strainer to get out most of the particles (I don't have a chinois). If it's still gritty, I'll line the strainer with cheesecloth and give it another go, but I usually don't bother. I'm also in the skimming-the-chilled-fat camp, but I like to make sure it's fairly strained before it goes into the fridge so that I can save the fat to use for cooking.

                            Just have fun. Experiment. The best stock I ever made involved a dutch oven just used to roast the Thanksgiving turkey. After saving the meat, I put the roasted carcass back into the pot and covered it in water. Left everything stuck to the inside -- onions, stuffing, bits of skin, whatever -- popped it back into the oven and baked it at 250F for most of a day. No skimming at all. Strained and cooled, I had the most flavourful, dark, gelatinous stock. It was amazing. I plan on doing the same thing next year.

                          3. Welcome to the world of home-made stock. For skimming, I use a very wide not-too-deep serving spoon. I skim it and deposit what I've skimmed in a tall fairly narrow glass so all the fat rises. Then using a baster, I recover the broth and return it to the pot.

                            As for the straining through different chinois sizes, I'd guess that it is to prevent spattering and making a mess, at the very least. Strain once to dispose of the big chunks, and then re-strain. I actually strain once to get rid of the vegetables, which usually are cooked to near mush fairly quickly. I then pick out the chicken parts, pick off the meat and set aside, and then return the bones to the simmer for a little longer. I also never press against the solids --it never occurred to me to do so, and as I sit here I cannot think of why you would really need to.

                            Yes you can use the meat, but use it for something like chicken soup, or something where the texture/aesthetics is not such a priority.

                            I should say, mine is the low-frills method. It might not come out as perfect as Thomas Keller's, but gives me very good stock for regular cooking including soup-making purposes, in my opinion. You seem to have put a lot of thought into the details --much more than I ever did. Not judging or anything. I just do not put too much importance on if its a bit cloudy.

                            Also, many if not most meat counters will sell chicken parts for relatively cheap --necks, backs, feet.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: MagicMarkR

                              I just skim with a spatula. Once it's solid, it's easy.

                            2. If I followed TK the first time I made chicken stock, I'd be paralyzed with angst!
                              I've cooked from TK, but he can be challenging due to his meticulous, perfectionism approach.
                              OTOH, some of his recipe are ridiculously easy and approachable.
                              Look to other chefs and authors to simplify your approach at first then work on the fine tuning.
                              That's my advice!

                              1. You've gotten all the advice you need to relax and make great stock from others in this thread, The only thing I'll add is that I use whole chicken and by removing all skin except whats on and just around the wings, I get great flavor and just the perfect amount of fat at the end. strain, reduce, never go beyond gentle simmer whatever you do.