Easy Homemade Chicken Stock

A couple of weeks ago I had a lovely lunch at a new rôtisserie shop and restaurant in my neighborhood called Solyles.

The name reads like sot-l’y-laisse, the charming French word for the “oysters” of the chicken, those two flavorsome morsels of flesh that sit in the small of the bird’s back, on either side of its spine. Sot-l’y-laisse literally means “it’s a fool who leaves it in”, allowing you to feel all kinds of smug when you know to claim them.

At Solyles we shared an excellent organic “pattes noires” (black-footed) chichen from Challans with our friends, and as we scraped our plates clean I pondered that I should have brought a container to take the bones home for stock*.

At the mention of bouillon de poulet, one of my friends got curious about how to make it. It reminded me that, however many the benefits of homemade chicken stock, it remains one of those things that too many home cooks perceive as complicated or involved, when it is, in fact:

Quick

Although it takes several hours of slow cooking to extract all the goodness from the chicken bones, it is in fact a “dump, simmer and strain” proposition that boils down (ha ha) to 10 minutes’ active work, tops. The rest of the time, your mission is to stay out of the way, and simply check on the water level from time to time.

Frugal

I know some people go out and buy ingredients — even whole birds! — to make chicken stock, but it always seemed to me like a backward way to proceed.

To me, the beauty of chicken stock is that it can be made in large part from kitchen cast-offs, things you would otherwise have thrown out: not just the carcass of that delicious chicken you roasted for Sunday lunch, but also onion skins (it is so much easier to peel onions when you don’t insist on wrestling with that outer layer that’s half flesh half papery skin, and simply set it aside for stock), carrot and mushroom trimmings, leek and fennel tops, herb stems, and miscellaneous flavoring ingredients that you have in large quantities and/or might go to waste. (Avoid using vegetables from the cabbage family or bitter greens, as they are too strong-flavored.)

And I learned just recently that you can actually reuse the bones (!!) for up to three batches of stock — this is called remouillage in French, or “re-wetting” — and still extract flavor and nutrition out of them, so this is what I’ll be doing from now on.

Flexible

Although the basic trio of onion, carrot, and celery is classically associated with the making of chicken stock, the truth is the only ingredient you really need is chicken bones. For the rest, you can delete or substitute at will to compose your own unique formula, using what you can spare from your vegetable drawer that day, or what’s stashed away in the stock box I recommend you keep in the freezer. And I take great joy in that improv moment when I plop the bones into the pot and start piling on the flavorings, plucking this thing or that from my stash and thinking about the balance of the ingredients.

If it also flexible in terms of timing. There is absolutely no obligation to make your stock as soon as you have bones available: you can just freeze the carcass and bones (break the spine in two so it will move around more easily in your pot) and get them out a few days, weeks, or months later. In fact, I like to wait until I have two chicken carcasses, to make the most of my stock-making time and get a more strongly flavored stock.

Health-promoting

When cooked slowly and made with good ingredients — most important, the bones should be from a healthy animal, not a factory-farmed one — chicken stock is a nutrient-dense food that is thought to boost the immune system, reduce inflammation, and improve digestive health, among other benefits. And because it contains gelatin — when chilled, a well-made chicken stock should have the consistency of softly set jelly — it is also very good for your skin, teeth, hair, nails, and bones.

Delicious!

You can drink the stock as is, in a cup or bowl, with a scatter of snipped chives and possibly some tiny pasta shapes or Dauphiné ravioles (miniature cheese ravioli) you’ll have poached in it. You can also add a splash to deglaze the pan when you’re sautéing vegetables, and of course, it is a transformative base to use for your soups, risotti, curries, and other stews.

Join the conversation!

Do you make chicken stock or other kinds of stock as a habit? What’s your method like and how do you typically use the stock?

* Yes, I would actually do that, though discreetly, and not without a slight counter-cultural tremor.

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Black Sesame Panna Cotta

I have been enjoying Kaori Endo‘s food for years, from when she was cooking at Rose Bakery, to her charming book Une Japonaise à Paris (accessible, family-style Japanese cooking) and then to the opening of her wildly successful restaurant Nanashi*.

There she serves a short selection of dishes of Japanese inspiration, with three different bento-style meals — one with meat, one with fish, one vegetarian — that each feature a mix of whole grains, and three seasonal(ish) vegetable preparations combining the raw and the cooked.

It is all fresh and tasty and healthful — you can view pictures on their Facebook page — and it usually leaves a little bit of room for dessert, and that a good thing because you don’t want to pass up Kaori Endo’s delicate creations.

Les Bentos de Nanashi So when I received her freshly released book Les Bento de Nanashi, I was of course interested to read about her kakuni pork, her ponzu dressing, and her fried tofu with nori sauce, but I was also very happy to reach the dessert chapter and see that she had included a recipe for the restaurant’s black sesame panna cotta, which she credits to pastry cook Megumi Takehana.

You see, I had an open jar of black sesame paste in my fridge for which I’d been trying to find cool uses — including a delicious ice cream and a psyllium mochi I’ll write about sometime — and I knew this would be just the thing to showcase the uniquely irresistible, nutty notes of black sesame.

Besides, I was long overdue for a fresh batch of panna cotta (blast from the past: this strawberry panna cotta) after tiring of it when it became ubiquitous on restaurant menus ten years ago.

A few thoughts on this outstanding recipe:

  • The book recommends you make a muscovado syrup to serve with the panna cotta. I admit I wasn’t sure there was a point, but the complex and sap-like notes turn out to be the perfect complement to the black sesame flavor. You’ll have lots of syrup leftover, but it will keep forever in the fridge and you can put it to awesome use on plain yogurt or drizzled over a strawberry salad.
  • Once the panna cotta mixture is ready, the recipe has you cool it over an ice bath until slightly thickened. Although it doesn’t explain why — French cookbooks are notoriously laconic about those things — I suspect this allows the black sesame to remain suspended in the mixture, otherwise the sesame paste would separate and fall to the bottom. I am making a note of this technique, as it should also solve the maddening issue of vanilla seeds sinking to the bottom when you flavor rice pudding or tapioca pudding with real vanilla beans.
  • Look for roasted black sesame paste at natural foods stores and Japanese markets (kuro neri goma). Jean Hervé makes a fine one that is distributed at most organic stores in France. If you can’t find it, you can try the recipe with another, boldly flavored nut or seed butter, or you can grind your own toasted black sesame seeds using a high-speed blender.
  • I had leftover crème fraîche that needed using so I substituted it for about one third of the whipping cream. We loved the refreshing tang that brought, so I’ll consider it again next time. Yogurt would be lovely too.
Muscovado syrup to serve with the black sesame panna cotta.

Muscovado syrup to serve with the black sesame panna cotta.

Join the conversation!

Have you ever cooked with black sesame paste, and what are your favorite uses for it? And do you like to make panna cotta, or did you tire of it when it was all anyone would serve?

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May 2014 Desktop Calendar

At the beginning of every month in 2014, I will be offering a new wallpaper to apply on the desktop of your computer, with a food-related picture and a calendar of the current month.

As a new feature this year, the desktop calendar is available in two versions: a US-friendly version that features Sunday as the first day of the week, and a French version (shown above) that complies with international standards, featuring Monday as the first day of the week.

Our calendar for May is a picture of radishes with beurre maître d’hôtel, a classic compound butter flavored with shallot and parsley, for which I’ve included a recipe in my upcoming book on French idioms, EDIBLE FRENCH.

Instructions to get your calendar are below.

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Meal Planning Tips and Tricks

I never dreamed I would one day become a meal planner.

For years and years, planning meals sounded achingly dull to me, and also pointless: I just kept a well-stocked pantry and fridge, and spontaneity was my middle name. In truth, I did formulate a plan for the fresh stuff I bought, but it was a fluid, unwritten one that was often altered or nixed when something came up, or I changed my mind, or I was short on time, or we felt like eating out.

And then, I had a kid.

I stuck to the same non-system for months, until I eventually realized it was no longer working for me. Rather than enjoying the delicious freedom of improvised cooking, as I had since my early twenties, I was feeling stressed trying to find time for meal preparation between work and child, and worst of all frustrated that I always seemed to be in a rush, cooking basic things that required no forethought and gave me no sense of accomplishment.

My cook’s soul was shriveling up, and meal planning was the obvious solution. A few months later, I am a much happier and more serene cook. I don’t plan our meals in writing every week — sometimes the mental plan is enough for me to wing it — but doing so regularly enough has helped me regain a sense of peace and control in the kitchen.

How I Do It

First of all, I only plan for meals I take with Maxence — my lunches are either simply assembled at home or eaten out — and in my household, breakfasts, desserts, and snacks can be trusted to happen satisfyingly without the need for planning.

I draw up my meal plan on Mondays, after I uncover the contents of my weekly vegetable delivery, and I also take into account:

  • A quick inventory of pantry or freezer items that I feel like (or need) using, plus leftover ingredients or dishes from the previous week (say, a container of homemade stock, some pesto, a few scraps of dough…),
  • The current list of things I’m inspired to cook,
  • A rough schedule for the upcoming week, to know when we’ll be eating in or out or having guests over, on which nights I’ll have time to cook, etc.

I give it a think, look through my recipe collections online and offline, do some research as needed for extra information or inspiration, and come up with:

  • A list of dishes and the days on which I plan to cook them, factoring in leftovers nights and wildcard meals (see below), and outlining what part(s) of those menus should work for our two-year-old,
  • A list of advance prep steps that can or should be done the day before (cleaning vegetables, soaking chickpeas, mixing the dough for a pizza or quiche crust, taking an item out of the freezer to thaw…),
  • A shopping list of missing ingredients, with the days I’ll be needing them so I know when to go to which shop.

This gives me a clear picture of what I need to do and when, so I can squeeze prep steps wherever they most readily fit in my schedule.

Read on for more on the 9 benefits and 7 “Yes, buts” of meal planning.

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April Favorites

A few of my favorite finds and reads for April:

~ How to juice without a juicer (as illustrated above). I plan to try this and strain the pulp using one of my mesh produce bags.

~ Should you name your kid Mizuna, or maybe Sriracha?

~ Paris will soon get its very first micro-distillery.

~ I am honored to be included in this Gastro 30 list of thirty 30-somethings that make the French food scene.

~ Les Gueules cassées, a French initiative to distribute imperfectly shaped fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be thrown out.

~ The April/May issue of Vegetarian Times includes three recipes of mine for vegetable tagines: spicy eggplant and egg tagine, spring vegetable tagine, and sweet potato and pomegranate tagine.

~ This freegan restaurant in Paris recycles unsold produce from the Rungis central market.

~ I shared Paris insight and inspiration for Ten-Q Magazine.

~ The 30-million-euro project that could change the face of Paris for food enthusiasts.

~ The zero-waste restaurant, coming to you from Chicago, and the zero-packaging grocery store, coming to you (soon) from Berlin.

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