Thomas Keller’s Chicken Broth

from The French Laundry Cookbook

Thomas Keller, of the French Laundry and Per Se, can do very little that is wrong, in my opinion. Yes, the ambience of the French Laundry in Napa resembles a little too closely the reverential hush of a church. There’s no question that the price of a dinner will equal what a well-to-do shopper spends on groceries in a month. And it’s not just that we ought to have a place in world for experiences like dining in one of his establishments (even if we wish more people could partake of them just once).

I mean, Keller knows how to cook better than anyone whose food I’ve ever tasted and he knows how to teach. Contrary to my expectations, his heavy, forbidding cookbooks contain much more than unrealistic recipes for home-cooking. Let’s face it, I will never make “Oysters and Pearls” well enough to justify plunking out that big a chunk of my weekly budget. His recipes make for entertaining reading, like travel writing about destinations I know I’ll never visit. I let Keller be my culinary sherpa and try to apply his technique on familiar terrain closer to home.

I’ve learned more about cooking from about ten pages in The French Laundry Cookbook and his other book, Bouchon, than from any other book or source. Want to know how to braise? You’ll absorb all you ever need to know about braising on page 186 of TFL Cookbook. Would you like to roast a chicken to crackily, juicy perfection? Read page xii in Bouchon. Read his guiding principles at the head of each section and you will learn techniques that will transform your cooking.

What Keller has to say about chicken stock changed forever the way I make broth. I only make it in my modified Keller-way, trying to be true to his principles but ruefully aware that I will always fall short of perfection.

Note: I take on faith Keller’s assertion that reducing carrots, leeks, and onions to small dice (mirepoix) maximizes the vegetable’s flavor by exposing the maximum amount of cell surface to the water.

Here’s what he writes:

5 pounds chicken bones, necks, and backs
1 pound chicken feet (optional)
4 quarts cold water
2 quarts ice cubes

1 3/4 (8 oz) carrots cut into 1-inch mirepoix
2 heaping (8 oz) leeks cut into 1-inch mirepoix (white and some light green parts only)
1 1/2 cups (8 oz) onions cut into 1-inch mirepoix
1 bay leaf

Rinse the bones, necks, backs, and optional chicken feet thoroughly under cold water to remove all the visible blood. Remove any organs that may still be attached to the bones. (The rinsing of bones and removal of any organs is an essential first step in the clarification of the stock, as blood proteins are removed that would coagulate when heated and there will therefore be less chance that impurities will cloud your stock.)

Place all the bones and the feet, if using, in a 14- to 16-quart stockpot. Cover with the cold water. Slowly bring the liquid to a simmer, beginning to skim as soon as any impurities rise to the top. (It is important to keep skimming, because as the stock comes to a simmer, impurities could otherwise be pulled back into the liquid and emulsify and cloud the finished stock.

Once the liquid is at a simmer, add the ice and then remove the fat. (The ice will chill and thicken the fat and turn it opaque, making it easier to remove.) Skim off as much of the impurities as possible. (Once the vegetables are added, skimming will be more difficult.)

Add the aromatics and slowly bring the liquid back to a simmer, skimming frequently. Simmer for another 30 to 40 mins, skimming often. Turn off the heat and allow the stock to rest for 10 mins; this allows any particles left in the stock to settle at the bottom of the pot.

Set a chinois or fine-mesh strainer over a container large enough to hold at least 6 quarts. Use a ladle to remove the stock from the pot and strain it into the container. (It is important to ladle the stock rather than pouring it, as the force of pouring it out all at once would force impurities through the strainer.) Discard any stock toward the bottom of the pot that is cloudy with impurities.

Fill a sink with ice water and place the container in it to cook the stock rapidly. Stir occasionally until there are no traces of steam. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 days, or freeze in several containers for longer storage.
Makes about 6 quarts.

Here’s how I make it:

1 4- to 5-lb organic chicken
1 3/4 cups (8 oz) carrots, cut into 1-inch mirepoix
2 heaping cups (8 oz) leeks cut into 1-inch mirepoix (white and some light green parts only)
1 1/2 cups (8 oz) onions cut into 1-inch mirepoix
1 bay leaf

Chop up all the aromatics (vegetables and bay leaf), place in a bowl, and have them at hand.

Rinse the chicken inside and out under cold running water. Put in a big stockpot and cover with 4 quarts water. Turn the heat to medium high; the point is to slow down the process of bringing the water to a boil so that you may remove as much of the impurities beforehand. As the water heats, keep an eye on the surface of the water. As foam and particles appear on the surface, skim them off. The ratio is simple: the more you skim, the cleaner the taste. Stay within range of the pot. Continue to skim.

When the water finally boils, pour in the aromatics. If you’ve a slacker in the skimming, you’ll still see brownish foam — although the vegetables, too, give off impurities. Skim as well as you can without scooping up the aromatics. Simmer the stock for 40 mins.

Let the stock settle and cool. Strain the soup through a very-finely meshed sieve or a not-so-finely meshed sieve lined with either a paper towel or cheese cloth. Place in refrigerator until fat solidifies on the surface. Remove before using or freezing.

Last Thoughts:

Even though Keller’s frequently use of “impurities” smacks of “our precious bodily fluids,” his point is palpable: the flavor of well-skimmed stocks and well-strained sauces is more vibrant than otherwise. The two friends of mine who followed these directions agreed. I used to make chicken stock from roasted chicken, but now I have come to agree with Marcella Hazan, who notices a bitter taste in heavier stocks. A light stock like this has a clear, chicken flavor and is more suitable for the wide range of uses to which I put my stock. This one, for instance, is perfect for risotti. Standing by the pot certainly is more labor intensive but the the entire process takes less time than many other stocks.

11 thoughts on “Thomas Keller’s Chicken Broth

  1. Pingback: Paula Wolfert’s Red Beans with Pork and Carrots « Shadowcook

  2. joyce

    I totally concur with your observation about using chicken bones vs. a fresh organic chicken. I like the flavor of stock better when you start with an uncooked chicken.

  3. miconian

    But what do you do with the chicken when the stock is made? Do you throw it away? That’s the dilemma I face whenever I make stock starting with a raw whole chicken. By the time the stock is done, the meat is a weird texture and has had the hell cooked out of it.

    Also, your cooking time here is very short compared to that recommended by, say, Michael Ruhlman. It’s interesting that Keller doesn’t seem interested in spending much time drawing the gelatin out of the bones.

    1. shadowcook Post author

      To tell you the truth, since I posted this, I’ve been simmering the stock for an extra hour. In Keller’s book, he explains that he’s seeking a very lightly flavored broth that will complement a wide variety of uses. Gelatin is exactly what he doesn’t want. I like his light broth. It works for some risotti, especially ones that involve shrimp or another delicately flavored ingredient. But, I now use broth mainly for soup and for that I want a bolder flavor. So, an extra hour.

      I should say, however, if you let the water come to a boil slowly, as Keller recommends, the simmering time is a lot longer than the 40 minutes at a full simmer. When I follow his instructions, the total time is well over an hour.

      I don’t throw the chicken away, but I don’t eat it either. Most of the flavor has been leached out of the meat. So, I supplement my dog’s food with it.

      Eat well.

      1. Ariel

        i have thought about giving the chicken to my dog as well, but since it has been cooking with onions and they are poisonous to dogs, I shy away from that and reserve it for a chicken salad mixed with some mayo.

      2. Shadowcook Post author

        I hear the same thing about chocolate and other things. When I had dogs, onions only made them flatulent, which was more of a problem for me than for them!

    2. Richard Shewmaker

      I remove the bigger clots of meat from the breasts, thighs, and drumsticks, and set aside before beginning the broth. While the bones and aromatics are simmering, i chill the chicken meat in the freezer until firm, dice it, then grind it very fine in the food processor. When the stock is nearly done, I whip four egg whites until stiff and fold them into the ground chicken. This preparation is stirred into the simmering broth and the simmer is allowed to continue until a ‘raft’ of the egg/meat floats to the top of the pot. I use a ladle to make a hole in the top of the raft, and ladle the broth through a fine strainer, then through a gold coffee filter. The result is clear enough to be called a consume.

      1. Shadowcook Post author

        One question: can you say why you add the egg white? Does the raft of chicken, aromatics and egg white decrease evaporation? Does the egg white act like flypaper?

  4. Randall

    Perhaps in a commercial kitchen where you are constantly stripping the birds of meat for other uses… purchasing bones and backs can be expensive.

    Our local stores sell the backs and necks for $1.19 per pound, but I buy my whole chickens for 59 cents per pound and throw them in the freezer. so for those more budget conscience, here’s my adjustment:

    Use whole hens. Be sure to reach inside and strip the kidneys out, as that’s where most of your blood is.

    Stay true to all of the other directions, but at the 25 minute mark, pull each bird out (I do two at a time) and with tongs and a fork, pull the perfectly cooked and juicy breasts and thigh meat off the bird… bag it and set aside for other uses.

    This way I end up with basically bones to finish my stock. I also end up with perfectly, gently cooked chicken for salads, sandwiches, etc.

    Miconian: After the results of the stock are strained, I allow the leftovers to cool, and go through it with my fingers for the proteins… bag this overcooked stuff chopped fine for a tasty addition to your pet’s mealtimes.


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