Vince Winik, a tall, lanky 23-year-old bass player and music producer, reaches into his refrigerator and pulls out a bowl of amber-colored liquid. “Check it out, dude,” he says.
I dip a spoon in and take a sip. I let the smoky flavor linger on my tongue for a few seconds before saying anything. It takes time to comprehend a revelation.
“Dude,” I say. “That is amazing.”
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I’ve known Vince a few years fewer than I have known barbecue. He has been one of my son Sam’s best friends ever since elementary school. Now that Sam lives in New Orleans, Vince and his brother, Hayes, are kind enough to hang out with their buddy’s old man. We watch football, have a meal, drink the occasional whiskey together. They are like a second family to me, especially since their father died when they were boys. In the way of the elder, I have wisdom, they have knowledge.
They show me how to deal with things that I don’t understand, like Facebook and PowerPoint and pretty much anything that requires a keyboard. For my part, I’ve always claimed one piece of expertise over them: the arcane ways of wood-smoking food.
But, now, here I was in Vince’s kitchen, and despite all the years and thought I’ve put into smoking, from types of woods to temperature control to a range of food that stretches from apples and eggplant to fish and fowl, my world, at this moment, is rocked. It had never occurred to me to smoke stock – or, more accurately, to make smoked stock, since the smoking part occurs long before the water goes into the pot.
Smoked chicken stock. How could I have not thought of this myself? The child is indeed father to the man, I suppose.
Vince came to the idea easily, once he and his friends started talking about perfecting their jambalaya recipe. “We wanted to make our own chicken broth,” Vince said, “but the only way we ever cooked a chicken was to smoke it.” On New Year’s Eve, they smoked a couple of chickens and decided to use the carcasses to make stock. “It just kinda happened,” he said.
Since I first tasted it a couple of months ago, I have thrown myself (figuratively speaking) into smoked stock. Sometimes I smoke a chicken. Other times I just buy a smoked chicken from a barbecue restaurant. Either way, the earthy, heady flavor all but transforms some of my all-time favorite dishes.
Making the stock is easy. It is the same as making regular chicken stock, except with smoked bones. You can add smoked meat, too, but I prefer to pull the meat from the bones and use it for chicken salad sandwiches or tacos or add it to a chicken noodle soup.
The stock I save to show off. Its flavor is not deeply chicken-y; I assume that’s because I use mostly bare bones, not the meaty, fatty parts that I use to make regular stock. It is closer in spirit to the type of stock you make from the carcass of an oven-roasted chicken – not as rich or brown in color as that but with a pure, smooth, gently smoky flavor.
But what to make with it? When I first started experimenting, my thoughts turned to a trip to northern Italy my wife and I took years ago. Everywhere we went, she ordered tortellini en brodo, which had the restorative clarity of a good broth, the chewy deliciousness of meat-filled pillows of tightly wrapped pasta and the sprightly addition of a few chopped herbs floating on top.
How might that work if the brodo were smoked, I wondered. I bought some tortellini from an Italian import store, brought the smoked stock to a quick boil and added the little beef-filled, button-size pasta. After the tortellini had floated to the top for a minute or so, I ladled the soup into a bowl and topped it with chopped fresh basil and parsley, crushed red pepper and Romano cheese. A single spoonful told me all I needed to know. The second, third and fourth confirmed it: I may never go back to regular brodo.
I’ve tried it, too, with that chicken noodle soup, using the meat along with the stock for a roundhouse of smoke.
And because Vince’s use of smoked stock in jambalaya struck me as genius (since rice carries the flavor of the liquid it’s cooked in), I followed his lead and made my own version. It’s Cajun style (no tomatoes, serious heat) and harkens back to my 1980s Texas days, when we’d pack up the coolers and drive through bayou country, stopping at a particular butcher shop for andouille, at a specific meat market for tasso and at other chosen places, such as a gas station for boudin, a grocery for stuffed pork chops and, always, Fred’s Lounge on Saturday morning for a spin on the dance floor to a zydeco band.
The andouille-and-chicken jambalaya I make has changed only slightly over the years. But its most drastic modification happened just recently, when I added that smoked stock. The smokiness adds an outdoorsy note to the fiery Louisiana dish.
I devoured the jambalaya, marveling yet again at the notion that there is always something new to learn. Even – perhaps especially – if you think you know it all.
Smoked chicken stock
Serves 7 to 8 (makes 7 to 8 cups)
This stock uses pretty much only the chicken’s bones, except for the meaty backbone. You can add the skin if you don’t plan to eat it. The color of the stock will tend more toward amber than toward the lighter yellow of an unsmoked broth made primarily from chicken meat, or the brown of a stock made from roasted bones and vegetables. The flavor of smoke will range from subtle to dominating, depending on how deeply smoked your chicken is.
If you can smoke your own chicken, by all means do it. If you like convenience, buy a smoked chicken from your favorite barbecue restaurant; restaurants generally use a mild smoke, so the resulting stock will probably also be mild.
Make ahead: The chicken can be smoked or purchased a day or two before making the stock. Reserve the meat for another use. The smoked stock can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
From Washington Post columnist Jim Shahin.
1 carcass from a 4- to 5-pound smoked chicken, including the back with the meat on it
1 medium skin-on onion, cut into quarters
6 cloves unpeeled garlic, smashed
4 carrots (narrow ends trimmed), scrubbed well and cut into thirds
3 ribs celery, cut into thirds
1 leek, white part only, cut in half lengthwise and rinsed well
8 sprigs fresh thyme
8 sprigs fresh parsley, with stems
12 whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
10 cups cool water, plus hot water as needed
Combine all ingredients in a large pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Skim off as much foam as possible; cook, uncovered, for 4 hours, adding hot water as needed so the chicken and vegetables remain covered.
Line a fine-mesh strainer or colander with several layers of cheesecloth. Place it over a large bowl.
Strain the stock; discard the solids. Cool for 1 hour before serving or storing; discard any fat that forms at the top.
Per serving: Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.
Tortellini in smoked broth
(brodo affumicato con tortellini)
Serves 4 to 6
Both light and hearty, this dish can be eaten any time of year, but now seems like the perfect time.
This version imbues the broth with a breezy smokiness. The salt and crushed red pepper flakes are understated so as not to overwhelm the other flavors.
From columnist Jim Shahin.
6 cups smoked chicken stock (see accompanying recipe)
9 ounces homemade or store-bought meat-filled tortellini
1 tablespoon julienned basil leaves (stacked, rolled, cut crosswise into ribbons)
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons grated pecorino-Romano cheese
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Bring the stock to a boil in a pot over high heat. Add the tortellini, then immediately reduce the heat to medium or medium-low so the liquid is barely bubbling at the edges. Cook for about 7 minutes, until the tortellini float to the top for a minute. (If they are fresh, they’ll float almost immediately, so cook just until tender.) Stir occasionally.
Meanwhile, combine the basil, parsley, cheese, crushed red pepper flakes and salt in a small bowl.
Once the tortellini are cooked through, ladle the soup into individual bowls, then sprinkle each portion with the basil-cheese mixture.
Per serving (based on 6): 110 calories, 6 g protein, 16 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 460 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar
Smoky chicken and andouille jambalaya
Serves 6 to 8
Using a smoked chicken to make the stock adds dimension to this Louisiana favorite. This is Cajun-style, not Creole: There are no tomatoes, and it is spicy hot.
Serve with crusty bread.
Make ahead: The jambalaya can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
The spiced and smoked pork known as tasso lends an authentic accent to the dish. It is available at some Whole Foods Markets.
From columnist Jim Shahin.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound cooked andouille, cut into 1/2-inch rounds
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, or as needed
1 pound boneless pork loin, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, diced
1/2 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced (1/2 cup)
1 to 2 ribs celery, diced (1/2 cup)
8 ounces tasso, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (see headnote)
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
2 1/2 cups cooked light- and dark-meat smoked chicken (skin on or skinless), cut into 3/4-inch pieces (from approximately 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 wings)
3 cups smoked chicken stock (see accompanying recipe)
1 1/2 cups (uncooked) long-grain rice
6 to 8 small fresh red chili peppers, such as arbol or cayenne
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Tabasco
Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven or deep skillet over medium heat. Add the andouille and stir to coat; cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until browned. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a bowl.
Add the oil to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high; once the oil shimmers, add the pork loin, onion, green bell pepper and celery, stirring to coat. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the pork has cooked through and the onion has softened. Stir in the tasso and cook for 1 minute, then stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
Add the thyme, bay leaves, parsley and cloves; cook for 5 minutes, then return the andouille to the pan and add the chicken. Stir to incorporate; cook for 2 minutes, then add the smoked stock.
Increase the heat to high; once the liquid is bubbling, stir in the rice, chilies, ground cayenne pepper and Tabasco. Once the mixture returns to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Cook, uncovered, for 15 to 25 minutes, until the rice is tender but not mushy and any exposed bits become barely crusted.
Discard the bay leaves, cloves (which will be hard to find) and whole peppers.
Per serving (based on 8): 520 calories, 43 g protein, 36 g carbohydrates, 22 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 125 mg cholesterol, 710 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar