Knock wood, Ted and I have escaped the worst of the season.
No cough, no cold, no flu. No swine flu.
Doesn't mean we'll get through the holiday season without a few sniffles, though, so I'm stocking the freezer with homemade chicken stock.
What's the difference between stock and broth?
Stock is made from bones (carcass, neck, wings), long-simmered to release the flavorful gelatin into the liquid.
Broth is made from meat, which gives a less rich taste. You can bump up the flavor of store-bought broth by adding carrots, onions, leeks, celery, fennel, bay leaf or herbs (thyme, parsley, chives) from your garden.
In our cooking, we're always looking for what's fresh, young, new. When making stock, you want the opposite: an old hen will give the best flavor. You want to extract every bit of that flavor into the liquid, so start with cold water, which draws out the juices from the chicken.
Here's my favorite way to make chicken stock: Start with a cold roast chicken; you can use a rotisserie chicken from the market, or roast your own. Remove the breast and thigh meat, and reserve for sandwiches or salad. Place the remaining carcass in a stock pot, and add one medium onion (skin on, cut in half), 1 large stalk of celery (cut in half to fit in the pot), and a few peppercorns. Cover with water by a few inches. Bring to a boil over high heat. Then reduce heat to simmer, and cook for 2 hours. Remove the chicken and vegetables with a slotted spoon, and raise heat to high. Boil the stock until it is reduced by half. Let the stock cool, and pour through a fine-mesh strainer into freezer-safe containers or ice cube trays. Freeze for up to 6 months.
To make Chinese chicken stock, add a slice or two of fresh ginger root, and 1-2 scallions, cut into large pieces, in the final half hour of boiling.
As the best soups are, this is a bit of a fridge dump, so if your fridge holds some treasures that need to be used up, toss them in. If you don't have cooked brisket, you can substitute flank steak, or leftover chicken, or the meat you pulled off the rotisserie chicken you used to make the stock. Or no meat at all. Save your parmesan cheese rinds; they are the secret ingredient in many of my favorite soups. This is a hearty main-course soup that serves 6-8.
2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 large zucchini, ends trimmed, diced
12 oz button or cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed, cut in quarters
1 Tbsp dried thyme
2 tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes
1 15-oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 12-oz can V-8 juice or tomato juice
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups dried pasta (I use Dreamfields rotini)
1 parmesan rind
2-3 cups shredded cooked brisket
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
In a large stockpot, heat the oil. Add the onion, zucchini and mushrooms, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until onions are translucent and mushrooms have given off some of their liquid.
Add the thyme and red pepper flakes, and cook for 1 minute. Then add remaining ingredients, and stir well to combine. Bring just to the boil over high heat; then, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes, until the pasta is done. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Serve hot. (Can be made ahead and frozen.)
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