Stock making is often a bone (ahem) of contention. Cooks from one school of thought say that you’re missing out on one of the best parts of a roast chicken if you don’t make your own stock. The other believe that life’s too short to be bothered.
I must hold my hand up here and admit that I – like my mother and grandmother before me – am a regular stock maker, bones fished off people’s plates and stashed in the freezer until I get a chance to load up my biggest saucepan. Homemade chicken stock is undoubtedly the best addition to soups and risotti, lending them a silky unctuousness that you just can’t get from anything else. My stock of stock never lasts too long.
There are easy – and tasty – ways around that job. If I’m poaching a chicken, the broth is used as stock, a few ladlefuls reserved for pouring over the basmati rice and lentil dish that often accompanies the chicken. The other day, faced with some random chicken thighs – too much for one, not enough to feed the brewers for dinner – Allegra McEvedy came to the rescue with a recipe that turned the thighs into stock and then used them in a soup.
In my hands, with added barley and spring cabbage, this turns into a stew. Think of it as an ultra tasty way of making three pieces of chicken feed six – and a lighter kind of stew for these capricious summer (ha!) days.
Chicken, Mushroom and Barley Stew with Spring Greens
This is a recipe that really repays every cent you spend on free range chicken. Better bones = better stock.
Free range chicken thighs – 3
Carrot – 1, cut in half lengthwise
Celery – 2 sticks, broken in half
Onion – 1, cut in half
Garlic – 3 cloves, peeled
Bay leaves – 2
Whole peppercorns – 3
Olive oil – 2 tablespoons
Onion – 1, sliced
Garlic – 3 cloves, peeled and sliced
Carrot – 1, diced
Bay leaves – 2
Pearl barley – 250g
Dried mushrooms – 10g. I use dried shiitakes from Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms
Spring cabbage or similar greens – 1/2, shredded
Butter – 1 tablespoon
Button mushrooms – 250g, cut into quarters
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Put the chicken thighs, the carrot, celery, onion, garlic, bay leaves and peppercorns into a large stock pot.
Cover with 1.5 litres of cold water and place on a medium heat. Skim if necessary and simmer for approximately 60 minutes until the chicken is falling off the bone. Allow to cool until you can manage to fish out the thighs without burning your fingers, pull off the flesh and chop into small chunks.
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan that will be able to take all everything later. Throw in the sliced onion and garlic and allow to cook slowly over a low heat, for about 20 minutes, until soft. Add the diced carrot, pearl barley and bay leaves. Strain the liquid from stage 1 directly into the saucepan.
Meanwhile, soak the dried mushrooms in 1 tablespoon boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove, chop and add, with the soaking water, to the pot.
Simmer gently for about an hour, until the barley is cooked.
About 10 minutes before you want to eat, add chopped chicken and shredded cabbage to the pot. Heat the butter in a frying pan and cook the quartered button mushrooms on a high heat until golden. Scrape into the soup, season well – this needs lots of black pepper – and serve in shallow bowls. A grating of parmesan over the top wouldn’t go amiss, especially if you’re trying to persuade a Little Missy to eat up.
Adapted from Leon by Allegra McEvedy.