*Note: Use care when handling nettles. Their little stingers are not terribly dangerous, but they can cause a great deal of discomfort. I like to wear rubber gloves or use tongs to handle them...
How did Thanksgiving turn into such a scary holiday? Dry turkey, a stressed out hostess, overcomplicated family rituals, charts and timers and how-to guides popping up everywhere. You’d think we were planning a wedding or orchestrating a 10k charity run.
In truth, Thanksgiving doesn’t need to be any more complicated than a nice meal. Sure, you want to go the extra mile and invest more time than usual, but all you need is honest food. Good, simple, honest food. To make this happen, we put our faith in the details.
Perhaps the best way to ensure a flavorful Thanksgiving is homemade stock. Don’t whine. You knew I was going to say that. The good news is, thanks to a gadget our grandmothers used, stock-making is a lark. Consider the pressure cooker.
Pressure cookers are not scary devices. The newer models will not blow up on you, splattering your kitchen and everything in it with shards of chicken bones and carrot pulp. They are safe, quiet, and very straightforward. With a pressure cooker, you can have a fabulous chicken stock within an hour.
Simply save the bones from any chicken-based meals you prepare. If you don’t have enough after one meal, put the bones and any leftover meat and skin into a bag and freeze it. Add to the bag until you have enough to make stock (one chicken carcass is approximately what we make stock with—the bones of one chicken plus any bits of meat clinging to the bones). Of course, with a pressure cooker, you can make small amounts of stock. However, we prefer to make a larger batch.
You may also choose to round out your chicken pickings with chicken feet, wings, or necks. At our local Asian supermarket, we can easily and cheaply get these items on any given day. They add tremendous flavor and gelatin to stocks.
Throw the bones in the cooker, and add your vegetables—carrots, celery, onion, leek greens, fennel tops, bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves, etc. Any of the above are appropriate for stock-making, including any vegetable scraps you see fit to throw in. Just bear in mind that the flavor of your stock will reflect the vegetables you put in it.
This brings me to another reason why pressure cookers are wonderful—they create delicious stock in less time and at a lower temperature than just making stock in a pot. It’s so simple, we often make stock late in the evening after dinner with the freshly roasted chicken carcass. As it only takes an hour, that’s one episode of Downton Abbey or whatever your particular television vice is.
After the stock has cooked, you’ll want to strain it—we do this once through a pasta strainer to remove the bones and large particles, then through a fine mesh sieve to get all the small particles. We don’t tend to worry too much about making clear stock. After all, the more you clarify the stock, the more flavor you’re stripping out. Besides, we use stock in a variety of different preparations, and most of them really don’t benefit from clear stock.
Refrigerate the strained stock overnight. The fat in the stock should come to the surface and solidify. Scrape this off the top and discard to avoid a greasy stock. Then, simply measure the stock into labeled, freezer-safe, zip-top bags (we use quart size bags) and freeze flat on a baking sheet.
We don’t consider stock to be a Thanksgiving-only extravagance. Making stock makes sense. It’s frugal—what else are you going to do with those chicken bones? As an aside, I urge you never to buy boneless skinless chicken breasts again—not only are you getting the least flavorful part of the bird, but you’re missing out on so many other lovely things. When you buy a whole chicken—whether you roast it whole or cut it into pieces and cook them some other way—you’re getting a lot more for your dollar. You get a variety of cuts of meat, skin that you can leave on or take off, bones, a neck, and giblets for better stock than you can hope to buy, and you get the added bonus of paying less per pound.
As with so many things, making stock is about getting in the habit. It seems very complex and difficult until you actually start doing it for yourself. Homemade stock is liquid gold. It will take your dishes to another level, and having a freezer full of stock will ensure a less stressful Thanksgiving.
Place in a pressure cooker:
1 chicken carcass, neck, and giblets plus any scraps of meat still clinging to the bones
(1 pound chicken feet)
2 carrots, cut into chunks
2 stalks celery, cut into chunks
2 large onions, cut into wedges, skin and all
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
2 whole cloves
(Additional herbs such as thyme, rosemary, savory, marjoram, oregano, etc.)
Add cool water to cover the chicken and vegetables. Over high heat, bring the water to a boil. Turn a second burner on medium to medium-low heat. Secure the pressure cooker lid and wait for it to come up to pressure. If you have the option, select 15 psi (pounds per square inch) on your pressure cooker. Some pressure cookers don’t give you the option—for instance, ours automatically pressurizes at 15 psi. This is okay.
Once pressurized, move the cooker to the burner set on medium-low. Cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours depending on how much time you have.
Turn off the burner and allow the pressure cooker to lose pressure naturally. If you’re in a hurry, you can place the whole cooker under cool running water (with the lid still on, of course). It will release steam, so stand back a bit. Remove the lid and allow the stock to cool slightly.
Strain out the bones, vegetables, and herbs and cool the stock completely. Refrigerate overnight. In the morning, skim the solidified fat off the surface and discard. Ladle the stock into labeled, freezer-safe, quart-size, zip-top bags. Lay flat on a baking sheet and freeze until solid.
To thaw, set a bag under warm running water for a few minutes to loosen it. Remove the frozen stock to a saucepan over medium heat and thaw completely.
*Note: For an even more flavorful stock, roast the bones and vegetables at 400 degrees F for 30 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Proceed with the stock as directed above.