The Alchemist

20 Feb

I was (lightly) chastised last week for being a chicken blogger who had never made her own chicken stock. It was fair, I definitely portrayed myself as someone who had never made chicken stock before, which, I’m sorry to say, is a big, huge fat lie.

I have made chicken stock before, in fact, I’ve made so many hundreds of gallons of chicken stock that the volume probably rivals the amount made by all the home cooks who have ever blogged about making chicken stock. But, the stock I made wasn’t made in my teeny tiny kitchen and it was never consumed by me.

Perfect Chicken Soup

Years ago during a bout of endless unemployment I had a friend that was going to culinary school. She was doing her externship at a Kitchen that was in desperate need of help, so she called me up and asked if I wanted to get off my self-pitying, Harry Potter-reading, swimming miles and miles at the YMCA, eternally depressed ass and hone my cooking skills by working for free as a prep cook at a really good restaurant in The City. While it wasn’t the ideal situation for a seriously broke and jobless exile from the music industry, it was better than doing nothing, so I jumped at the opportunity.

Our most important tasks each day were: killing the lobsters, cutting salmon into teeeeeeny tiiiiiny perfect little cubes for tartar (the reason you will never see salmon on this site, the smell lingers for weeks and still to this day turns my stomach), roasting beets, washing greens, making sauces and dressings, peeling can after can of roasted red peppers, and yes, making chicken stock.

Perfect Homemade Bread

Our last task each day was to call Chef down to clarify the stock and then create the staff meal with stuff we could scrounge from the pantry and whatever was about to turn in the walk-in. Chef was amazing at helping us think creatively about the staff meal, to think around the globe and to re-imagine ingredients. Apple butter became mustard for duck croque-monsieurs, clam chowders were given a Moroccan twist and chicken wings were elevated far above game-time food with an elegant curry-flecked crust.

That staff meal was often the only meal I would eat each day. My unemployment checks had run out, I was living off my meagre savings, but I was happy. I applied for kitchen jobs but didn’t get them. At one place (which I am happy to say has since closed) the all male kitchen did not speak to me once. At another place I was told I was too pretty to be hidden in the kitchen and offered a position as a waitress. I needed the money so badly I agreed despite the fact that I am the world’s klutziest person. It was a disaster, but I had to do it. Finally a friend took pity on me and talked her boss into hiring me where I am now. I went from working with food, to working with words, to, on my free time, working with food and words. Aha! That’s how this story comes full circle!

Perfect Dinner

And so it was with full confidence that I approached my stock yesterday. My stock. To be eaten by me. It was a good feeling. I remembered all the hints Chef had passed onto me years ago. Leave the skins on the onion. Don’t peel anything. Start with perfectly cold water. Let it go low and slow. If you want a darker stock, roast the chicken bones before making the stock.

I watched the pot go from murky chunks of nothingness to pure gold. Ah alchemy. Turning nothing into something precious.

For my final alchemical turn, I treated the stock simply. Just some onions, garlic and greens with a loaf of freshly baked bread. The stock was astounding, as I’m sure anyone that’s made their own stock can tell you. There’s so much depth and subtlety and comfort and love and care in one simple bowl. I’m not sure I can ever go back to canned again.

(And yes, I am such a child of the Empire State that I use a New York State tea towel as a makeshift table cloth).

Head below the jump for Ann’s Stock and Green & Gold Soup.

Ann’s Chicken Stock

prep time: 15 minutes ~ cooking time: at least 3 hours

  • the carcass of 1 Roasted Chicken
  • 1 packet Chicken Necks or Chicken Wings
  • 2 Onions, cut in chunks, roots cut off but skins on
  • 1 head Garlic, roots removed, cloves smashed, skins on
  • 1 bunch of Carrots, un-peeled, cut in chunks
  • 3 parsnips, un-peeled, cut in chunks
  • 1 bunch Celery, leaves and all, cut in chunks
  • 1 bunch of Parsley Stems (reserve the leaves for something else)
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 10 Peppercorns
  • Cold Water

Place all ingredients in a large stock pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and partially cover. Cook at least 3 hours, stirring occasionally. When it begins to look like stock, taste it. Season with salt. When the flavor has attained your ideal flavor, turn the heat off and carefully strain the stock into another pot or into containers to chill or freeze.

Green & Gold Soup

prep time: 10 minutes ~ cooking time: 1 hour

  • 1 Onion, thinly sliced
  • 6 or 7 cloves of Garlic, thinly sliced
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • scant 1/4 cup Vermouth
  • splash of Lemon Juice
  • Chicken Stock
  • 1 bunch Kale, washed and torn into bite size shreds
  • 2 bunches Arugula, washed and torn into bite size shreds
  • 1 cup frozen Green Garbanzo Beans (I got mine at Trader Joe’s)

Place a sauce pan over a medium-high flame, add a small glug of olive oil and cook the onions and garlic until just becoming golden. Season with salt & pepper. Add the vermouth and lemon juice, allow to cook until nearly evaoporated. Add enough stock to feed the number of people you are serving. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a bare simmer. Cover and allow to cook 15-2o minutes. Add the kale. Allow to cook 30 minutes. Add the arugula. Allow to cook 10 minutes. Add the garbanzos. Allow to cook until heated through. Ladle into bowls and serve with a chunk of still warm homemade bread. Sit back, bliss out.


14 Responses to “The Alchemist”

  1. Lisa (Homesick Texan) February 20, 2007 at 10:55 am #

    What a great story! And thanks for the tips. I’ve only made stock once, but have been thinking it would be a good time to try it again. Nothing beats the flavor.

  2. jenblossom February 20, 2007 at 1:59 pm #

    There must have been something in the air this weekend… I made chicken stock, too!

  3. Lydia February 20, 2007 at 3:03 pm #

    Definitely something in the air — my chicken stock is simmering at this very moment!

  4. Glenna February 20, 2007 at 6:06 pm #

    Loved hearing about your background. I’m always curious where we all come from, what we’re doing now, and why we cook. Very cool!

  5. sher February 21, 2007 at 4:06 am #

    LOL!! And I made some too a few days ago! I loved your post! It let us know a little more about you. Lovely bread and soup!!!

  6. ann February 21, 2007 at 7:44 am #

    Ha! Must be the winter doldrums! I hope the liquid gold made you guys as happy as it did me.

  7. hungrygirl February 21, 2007 at 9:45 am #

    I can’t wait to try this stock!

    A tip from my ma…she makes her stock in a crockpot (ie slow cooker thingy), claims that makes the clearest broth….

    I don’t have a crockpot (who does?) so …I’m just sayin’.

  8. Anne February 21, 2007 at 11:29 am #

    This will definetly cure what ails me these days.

    I must say, I’m impressed that even while you were in an unemployment funk, you stil managed to get exercise. When I’m in a slump I can barely move a muscle!

  9. Toni February 21, 2007 at 6:41 pm #

    Great story! I laughed and recognized a little part of a younger me. When I lived in NY, which is where I came from originally.

    Didn’t know about roasting the bones first – Thanks!! But I always make stock whenever I’ve got a chicken. I’m incapable of throwing out a perfectly good carcass without squeezing every last bit of nutrient out of it! And yes, it bears no relationship really to that canned stuff.

  10. lee February 22, 2007 at 9:08 am #

    Sam harrassed me until I made stock out of the roast chicken bones the other day. Sadly, I’m heading out of town so it’s going straight to the freezer.

  11. ann February 22, 2007 at 10:02 pm #

    Lisa — Anytime! I get tips from you too… I still need to make my own tortillas…

    Jenblossom — Yours looks SO good. The leek greens must be awesome!

    Lydia — I hope it was awesome.

    Glenna — To get to the actual heart of it would take years and years ;-)

    Sher — Thanks :-)

    Hungrygirl — I bet you could replicate a crockpot with a dutch oven in the oven on really low. That would be amazing.

    Anne — Have I ever mentioned that OCD runs in my family? just kidding, but seriously, the swimming was the only thing that kept me sane until I landed that gig.

    Toni — Thanks for saying you laughed. That makes the whole post worth having written :-)

    Lee — Absence only make the heart grow stronger ;-)

  12. lobstersquad February 27, 2007 at 8:23 am #

    wow. you´re like George Orwell, from the kitchen to the writing. Have you read “down and out in Paris and london”?

  13. ann February 27, 2007 at 9:18 am #

    I haven’t yet, but it’s SO on my list! That’s the nicest compliment anyone’s ever given me. Thanks Ximena!

  14. Julie March 11, 2007 at 10:50 am #

    I’m trying to do a little catching up on my blog reading and I’m late, late, late to this party.

    I had no idea you’d ever worked in a professional kitchen and no idea that green garbanzos were available. The things you learn by reading food blogs!
    I enjoyed the story and think the soup looks wonderful. And all those leafy greens are so good for you!

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