Continuing on my theme of soup (as the weather is still pretty chilly here in Anjou), I wanted to shout out the virtues of decent stock. Of course I realise that a lot of the time life is too short to be fiddling around in the kitchen making stock and a decent quality stock cube/powder can be absolutely fine but, it does make a difference when you use the real thing.
I'm sure many of you will look at the picture and think it looks pretty disgusting but this is my home made chicken stock that I used today to liven up a simple leek and carrot soup. Earlier in the week I served up a poached chicken for dinner. This old fashioned dish is something that takes me back to my childhood and is real comfort food. You place a whole chicken in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Add a couple of bay leaves, a sprinkle of sea salt and some whole black peppercorns and then slowly bring to the boil - turn down to a gentle simmer. Depending upon your chicken it takes between an hour and an hour and a half to poach. About 30 minutes before it's done I add little turnips, large chunks of carrot, a whole onion per person (peeled) and leave them poaching alongside the chicken until everything is tender. I then take out the cooked veg and keep it warm, remove the chicken and keep that warm and then make a sauce by reducing some of the cooking stock to concentrate its flavour, adding double cream and a little cornflour to thicken. I season generously with ground black pepper and some sea salt and it's done. Served with some buttery mashed potatoes it makes a simple dinner that is creamy and gentle in flavour and is just delicious.
Back to the stock. The great thing about poaching a chicken in this way is that you have a large pot of ready made stock as a by-product. I removed the meat from the carcass and returned the bones to the pot after dinner and then reduced the stock by about half. At this point you could almost use it as a soup on its own it has so much flavour but it's also fantastic for risottos or for adding to sauces. It keeps in the fridge for a few days or can be popped in the freezer for use another time.
There's something very satisfying about creating something delicious for nothing and as unappetizing as you may think it looks - trust me, a good jelly stock is the business.