No matter the final technique, good stock is the foundation of many delicious and nutrient-rich meals. Keefer says, "It's healthy and nice to know that you're in control of what's in your cooking and what's going into your body."
In Baltimore, home cooks can often find bones at low prices, or for free, at local butcher shops. Matthew Daly, the corporate manager of Ceriello Fine Foods in Belvedere Square, recommends calling the shop a few days before making the stock to make sure he has bones on hand.
"You should never show up the day you need them," he warns. "Your butcher might not have them. Call three to four days beforehand, so they're ready for you."
Helpful advice, when the pantry is fresh out of bones for the caldron.
Basic chicken stock with star anise
Birroteca chef de cuisine Cyrus Keefer compares making great stock to making tea, saying the focus should be on extracting as much flavor as possible from the bones without muddying up the works with additional ingredients.
"Stocks are very simple," he says. "Some chefs get a bit crazy and overwhelm stocks with too many ingredients. I think the more you put in with the bones, the more away from the actual flavor of the bones you get."
He recommends a simple combination of bones, mirepoix (celery, onion, carrots), and star anise. Keefer also suggests seasoning the stock with salt throughout the cooking process "to build the flavor while the cooking is in progress."
Makes: approximately 2 quarts of stock
5 pounds chicken bones
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
4 celery stalks, roughly chopped
3 carrots, cleaned and roughly chopped
3 star anise pods
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Clean the chicken bones, leaving as little meat on them as possible. Place them on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan, in one layer. Roast for about 45 minutes or until the bones are golden brown.
For a lighter stock, reduce roasting time.
Place the bones, vegetables and star anise in a large stock pot. Add water until the pot's contents are covered.
Slowly bring the water to a boil, then turn down to low heat. Let the stock simmer, uncovered, over very low heat for 45 minutes to one hour (see note), occasionally skimming the froth or foam that comes to the surface.
Taste and lightly season with salt at several points while cooking. Be careful not to overseason — adjust the salt to your personal preference.
After removing the stock from the heat, let cool for 30 minutes to one hour. Remove the chicken bones, vegetables, and star anise, and discard.
Strain the stock through a fine sieve, discarding any solids remaining.
Cool the stock in the refrigerator overnight to allow fat to rise to the surface. Skim the fat before freezing.
The stock will last for two to three months in the freezer.
Note: Keefer recommends only one hour of simmering time for smaller batches of stock, explaining that cooking for too long will result in a stock that's "cloudy and muddy." However, larger batches of stock require more time simmering.
Every stock is different, and every chef — whether cooking at home or in a grand restaurant kitchen — has personal preferences. To get the most out of homemade stock, consider these suggestions:
•Clean up. "Clean as much meat as you can off the bones," says Clementine's Jill Snyder. It will make roasting easier.
•Roast first. Roasting the bones before covering them with water to simmer will bring out their flavor and add depth to the stock. The longer the roast, the richer the flavor.
•Use the bits. Oft-forgotten pieces like chicken feet and pig knuckles add flavor and nutrients to stock.
•Experiment with liquids. Try adding wine or small amounts of vinegar to amp up the flavor and nutritional value. According to Mercy Medical Center dietitian Kelly O'Connor, "Adding a small amount of an acidic agent, such as apple cider vinegar, helps bring the minerals out of the bone."
•Play with spices and seasonings. Try adding different spices to the mix — garlic, bay leaves, star anise and other dried herbs will subtly shift stock's flavor. Experiment with salt, as well, adding it early in the process or later.