You must learn how to make stock. I insist. Well. I won’t hunt you down and punish you if you don’t, but if you’re reading a blog post a recipe, then this is something you’ll want to consider.
We’re all becoming increasingly aware of the poison we put in our bodies every day. And those poisons change. One year eggs are bad for you, then next year just the yolks will kill you. Then it’s coffee. Then salt. Carbs are bad. Wait, some whole grains are great. Not others, though. Dear Lord don’t use margarine, that’s a molecule just left of plastic. Wait… lard is where it’s at… duck fat if you can get it. Fruit is too many calories, only eat fruit and veggies, raw food, whole food, calories, points. More examples? Meal plans, DNA testing to see what food you should eat based on your genetics, home chefs, protein shakes, fruit smoothies, meal replacement bars. People are constantly searching for the secret handshake or the best way to eat and stay in shape.
But ask them to make chicken stock and they’re all, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
Yes, you do. Just skip a half hour of Facebook, or miss The Bachelor one night.
It’s worth your while because: it’s low cost; it’s healthy; you control what you put in your body; and chicken stock may be the elixir of life. Keep reading. You’ll see.
Not free, but pretty darn cheap. A chicken carcass, carrots, onions, celery and water are the main ingredients. You should have certain things in your pantry, spices, and refrigerator. Carrots, onions and celery are all things I usually have in my fridge. They keep for a long time (up to a month, although they’re best if used in a couple of weeks) and for stock, they don’t need to be perfect specimens. As a matter of fact, you can use the bottom and tops of the stalk of celery, and the same with carrots and you can use the outer layers and the base of the onion. Stock is the most delightful way to use up these items in your fridge.
Let’s talk chicken. Not everyone is up to the task of breaking down a whole chicken. Truthfully, it’s not actually the least expensive way to enjoy a chicken, and certainly not to make stock. I often buy a package of chicken thighs or a package of wings or drumsticks. Whatever kind of raw chicken you buy, the skin and bones are what you’ll use to make stock. But my favorite way to make stock is to buy the fully roasted chickens. I can usually find them for around $5 and can get three meals out of that bird for me and my husband, plus a nice batch of stock. The stock has great flavor as the skin is already roasted and seasoned. Just buy the bird, remove the meat, store it in the fridge and toss all the bones and excess fat and skin you’ve removed into a stock pot. You can use the entire carcass if you have a big stock pot, the more bones, the more your stock will gel when it’s cooled. The more gelled the stock, the richer it is. You’ll probably be making at least three quarts of stock. Oh, the uses!
Basic Chicken Stock
chicken bones, skin and fat, celery, carrots, onion, salt and pepper, water
Seasoning options: sage, turmeric, thyme, garlic, bay leaf, parsley
You’ve noticed I didn’t put any amounts. That’s because it’s a really good idea for you to learn how to think on your own in the kitchen. You can do it!
Let’s say you’re using a whole chicken carcass from a roasted chicken you purchased at the grocery store. Once you have all the bones, fat and skin in the pot, add the celery, onions, and carrots next. You won’t need to cut these things up in pretty or even consistent sizes. Just break them or rough chop them and throw in around a cup of each. You can use less onions if they are strong for you. You can use more of each or any of these things based on what you have and the size of your pot. Be a free spirit here. Don’t get your knickers in a twist about amounts. Cooking in general should be a fun, creative endeavor. Relax. Put on some music. Have a cola or a glass of wine and smile. The worst that can happen is it won’t come out perfectly, and then you can chalk it up to a learning experience, and next time you’ll do it differently and it will be better. Enjoy the experience as much as the end result.
Once the chicken, celery, carrots, and onion are in the pot… we’ve got a big pot because we’re hypothetically using a whole carcass… and now you should add some salt and pepper. Pepper corns are great if you have them, but regular pepper is fine, too. We’re talking black pepper. White pepper is fine, but it does have a different flavor and is hotter, just so you’re aware. Start small with both of these seasonings as this will cook for a long time and so you can add a little more if needed as you go. Then add water to within a couple of inches of the top of the pan. This may be six to eight cups of water for a big pot. Use good water. If your tap water sucks and you won’t drink it, do not put it in your soup stock. Use water you would be willing to drink.
Now, put a lid on it and simmer it (low heat) for anywhere from a half hour to an hour or longer if you want to reduce it for a what might be considered a consume. Stir it once in a while. It will smell great and be nice and steamy hot, and the chicken should be cooked. The skin might be floating on the top of the pot. Now take a clean spoon and taste it. What do you think? If it’s bland, add more seasoning. This is where you’ll need to use your palate. Try adding one seasoning at a time or small amounts of the seasonings I’ve listed that you’re familiar with. Let it simmer for another fifteen minutes and taste it again. Keep adding in things in small amounts according to what your taste buds like. Just don’t overdo it, because once it’s in, you can’t remove it. (Hint: chicken stock base powder you buy in the grocery store is like magic powder. It pretty much nails the flavor. Add it in small amounts… like 1/2 tsp at a time.)Yes of course you can use real garlic instead of garlic powder.
Yes of course you can use real parsley, or dried… and the same with everything. Go nuts. You’ll use more fresh herbs than dried herbs and add them closer to the end, whereas dried spices and herbs should be added when stated in the instructions.
I use turmeric because it adds a nice yellow to the stock, but I don’t notice a strong taste from it. Sage is a big deal for me, but some people don’t like it. That’s the beauty of making your own stock. It will be exactly like you want it. You hate onions? Don’t use them. You can’t stand garlic. Leave it out.
Once your stock tastes just the way you want it, remove it from the heat, cover it, and let it cool. When it’s completely cool, put a strainer above a container big enough to hold all the liquid in the pot. Carefully pour the contents of the pot into the strainer. A little at a time if need be for space. When you’re finished you can eat the carrots, or set them aside to use later with a meal, but you’ll throw away the rest: bones, skin, fat, celery, onions, peppercorns if that’s what you used.
Now put that gorgeous liquid in the fridge. You have the basis for numerous things. You can freeze it in small containers or ziplock bags. It’s magic water. Be proud. You’ve done something very cool.
WHAT THINGS?!!! Okay, okay. I won’t leave you dangling. Stock is obviously the beginning of soup. But, it’s the liquid for gravy, it can be the liquid for casseroles, and I often use it in lieu of oil when sautéing food. (You know when you want to use a small amount of oil or cooking spray, but the pan dries out as you’re cooking, just a splash or two of chicken stock will finish off the cooking and give it a nice rich flavor too. Avoid dairy when making mashed potatoes by using olive oil instead of butter and chicken stock instead of milk. Delicious. Essentially, if you need to thin out or add liquid to a savory dish you’re making, consider using chicken stock instead of water. It deepens the flavor whereas water adds nothing. It’s low in calories. You made it so you know it’s very healthy.
So there. Chicken stock. Just do it.