There are some times when life opens up the box in which you’ve been thinking since…since you’ve been thinking. Last week, that happened to me. It wasn’t earth-shattering or life-changing. It was a small, simple idea about a small, simple thing. I love moments like that.
Last week, I wrote about consommé and received a comment from my friend, Iron Chef Leftovers, over at the Cheap Seat Eats blog. He mentioned how his stock never got cloudy because his stock never boiled.
When I read that, I guffawed. Literally. I guffawed. Reason? Because no matter how assiduously I oversee my stock while it’s coming up to the simmer, and no matter how much attention I give it during the long process, it always comes out cloudy. Even when I succeed in keeping it below the boil, there’s always a cloud of particulate matter in the stock.
But this is beside the point, and this was not outside the box of my current thinking. The thing he said that stopped me mid-guffaw was this:
He makes his stock in the oven.
I stared at that statement for a while. In the oven? How could you possibly…? And then the clouds parted, the heavens sang, and it made perfect sense. My problems with temperature control were due to the difficulties of stopping a heating vessel at a precise temperature. It might be relatively easy with an empty skillet, but not with two gallons of cold meat and water. You start pumping heat into that and it’s not going to stop on a dime.
But in the oven… In the oven, I can set the temperature to 200°F, and nothing inside will ever get hotter than that. My stock will never boil.
Yesterday, I tried it. I cooked my broth, in the oven, at 200°F, for a very long time, testing the product at various points. At 6 hours, it was getting to what I normally could produce. At 10 hours, it was like commercial-level saturation of flavor. I let it continue to cook while I went to work and came back. At 19 hours, it was the best stock I’ve ever tasted.
As a bonus, I had exceedingly little loss of liquid through evaporation (I only had to add 2-3 cups of water to keep it topped up). Also, where before the chicken meat always came out of the process bland and dry, the meat I was left with was imbued with all the flavor of the stock, so I could use it in a dish (like chicken enchiladas or chicken salad).
In-the-oven Chicken Stock
Yield: about 3.5 quarts
- 8 quart stock pot
- 3-4 quarts chicken legs and thighs
- 2 onions, halved (skins on…this adds color and flavor)
- 3 hefty stalks celery, with leaves, cut in to 3-4 pieces each
- 4 cloves garlic
- bouquet garni
- 1/4 cup white wine
- Pre-heat the oven to 200°F
- Heat the stock pot on a med-high heat
- Add a squirt of olive oil
- In batches, brown about half of the chicken parts
- Remove the chicken from the stock pot
- De-glaze the pot with the wine and reduce for about 5 minutes
- Take off the heat
- Add the chicken and all the remaining ingredients to the stock pot
- Cover with cold water
- Stick the stock pot in the preheated oven
- Let it cook for a very long time (8-20 hours, the longer the better)
- Top up with water as needed (but it won’t need much)
- Strain, cool, and de-grease
Now, my end result was still clouded with particulate—chicken just has schmutz as well as schmatz—but most of that can be removed by straining it through a couple/three layers of cheesecloth.