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Freeze some liquid gold — chicken stock

Stocking up on stock is smart. Chicken stock, that is.

At a time of year when soups and stews really hit the spot, starting with a well-structured chicken stock is a delicious place to begin. Every winter, I tap my frosty cache of liquid gold and spin out fabulous fare.

The problem with most homemade chicken stocks is that they're pretty tame — not much genuine chicken flavor. So over the years I've worked on that. What I discovered is that the simple act of sauteing the chicken and onions in a tiny bit of oil before adding water — which produces a golden, caramely glaze on the bottom of the pan and a rich and gentle sweetness in the onions — makes all the difference once the final simmering is complete.

The recipe has evolved in other ways, as well. I've never seen a stock that calls for garlic, but a few years ago, I decided to give it a try and found out it truly does contribute a delightful depth of flavor without being overwhelming. When fresh garlic is cooked for an hour-plus in a huge amount of liquid, only a gentle essence remains.

What I haven't altered is the notion that chicken stock truly is a matter of convenience. You don't have to use fresh and perky vegetables from your vegetable bin. You can be accumulating them over time and tossing them into a container in your freezer until the thought of making chicken stock strikes your fancy.

You can also save up chicken bones in your freezer for extra flavor, but they won't replace the three pounds of chicken parts called for in this recipe. That's where a good portion of flavor comes from. Additional bones from your freezer are simply a bonus.

If you decide to give my chicken stock preparation a try, then one of your first uses for it could be my One-pot Chicken with Noodles, Ginger and Lemon. This is a delightful dish, one to be admired for its richness of flavor and ease of preparation.

After I pulled this recipe together, the big question was whether I could pass it along to readers. Even if I fine-tuned directions down to the very last teaspoon of shredded ginger, it was particularly fraught with variables capable of undermining another cook's chance for success — the quality of the chicken stock, the potency of the ginger root, the style of the chili-garlic paste, to name just a few.

In other words, the most critical ingredient in this dish may well be a cook's intuition. Yet armed with that — and a little knowledge — one will be able to look between the lines of the recipe, interpret what I was aiming for and even take it to another level.

But, like I said, a significant part of this recipe's success relies on really good chicken stock. So first things first. Turn to Page 2C and start with my recipe for Really Good Homemade Chicken Stock.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contact her by e-mail at janrd@proaxis.com.