Recently there was a chicken stock thread underway in the CL message boards. I find these conversations heartening.  Rich, fragrant, gelatinous homemade stock can make the difference between a good dish and an outstanding dish, and I’m always happy to learn of home cooks eager to make a batch.  It’s easy to prepare, and though it simmers for hours, the hands-on cooking time is minimal. Stock recipes vary widely, but a few simple guidelines will guarantee great results:

Use the right amount of water to bones/meat. CL message board user Canice says she likes her recipe, and she should: she uses 4 pounds chicken backs, necks, and wings to 3 quarts (12 cups) water, which follows the classic ratio of three parts water to two parts bones (two cups of water weighs one pound). This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but it’s helpful to know this proven formula, and that more water may lead to bland, watery stock, while using less will boost the stock’s flavor and body. (For more on cooking ratios, I urge you to pick up Michael Ruhlman’s forthcoming book, Ratio, at bookstores near you in April.)

Skim. Remove the foam and fat that floats periodically to the liquid’s surface. This will keep the stock pure and clean-flavored.

Watch the heat. Once you first bring it to a boil for a moment, immediately take the stock down to a bare simmer, producing a small bubble every few seconds or so. This will keep fat from emulsifying into the stock and weakening its taste.

Strain well. Leave out the particulates—they contribute nothing to the taste. Cheesecloth helps.

Message board user Sneezles says she like our Brown Chicken Stock recipe; roasting the chicken and vegetables first gives the stock deep color and rich flavor.

Photo: Courtesy WordRidden on Flickr