Sunday, February 3, 2013

Home Ec 101: Homemade Chicken Stock

One of my goals for 2013 is to reduce my kitchen waste. Good for the environment and good for my pocketbook. This means only buying as much food as we can eat before it goes bad (I tend to get a little overzealous when I enter the produce section) and making sure I use every last scrap of that food. On Friday night I made a roast chicken (sorry, no recipe this time!) and after I'd carved it all up, I looked at the carcass and knew it was destined for great things. Yes, that humble pile of bones would be transformed into something magical: a stock. Homemade stock is one of the quickest ways to elevate your favorite recipes to the stuff of legends. Store bought has got nothing on homemade.

I plopped the carcass into my biggest pot and took stock (puns!) of my fridge and freezer to see what else I could throw in. In January I bought an obscene number of chicken breasts. My grocery store sells them untrimmed with rib meat attached. So when I got home I trimmed them all, portioned them out, and stuck them in the freezer. The rib meat and trimmings were thrown into a separate bag and mentally reserved for stock-making. In another attempt at waste-reduction, I've been throwing my veggie trimmings into a bag in the freezer as well. I tossed the chicken and veggie trimmings in with the carcass. Then I added two small onions and some carrots and celery that had seen better days.

Next I added 1/2 a tablespoon of all-purpose seasoning and 1 teaspoon of salt. Technically adding seasonings makes this a broth rather than a stock, but I still use the two terms interchangeably.

I then added enough water to cover everything, about three quarts. I brought it all to a rolling boil, reduced the heat, and simmered for five hours. How long to simmer it is really a matter of preference, but I would go with at least three hours. The longer you simmer it, the more concentrated the flavor. You could also easily cook it in your crock pot if it's large enough.

When it's done cooking, strain it through a fine mesh sieve. But don't throw away the solids! Depending on how adept you are at carving a chicken, there's probably still some usable meat left in there. Set the solids aside and let them cool. Once everything has cooled off a bit, sift through and pick out any usable meat.

I got close to four cups, but that's because of all that rib meat I trimmed off my chicken breasts. If you're just using the remains of one roast chicken, you'll probably only get 1/2 to 1 cup. This meat is very tender and shreds easily because of the slow cooking. It's great for things like chicken salad and chicken noodle soup.

When the stock has cooled, skim as much fat off the top as possible. Then, stick the stock in the fridge and use in the next few days. Or, stick it in the freezer and use within the next few months. Speaking from experience, you DO NOT want to freeze the whole batch in one container. You probably won't need that much stock at one time and even if you did, it would be a pain to thaw it.

 I like to freeze my stock in muffin tins. Once it's frozen, I pop out the pucks of stock and stick them in a freezer bag. This makes using the stock incredibly convenient. Each muffin cup holds a little less than 1/2 a cup of liquid. So, if I need one cup of stock, I thaw out two pucks and then add enough water to bring it up to a whole cup. Because the stock is so strongly flavored to begin with, adding the water doesn't really thin it out too much.

So there you have it! With just a bit of effort, you can have homemade stock at your fingertips whenever you need it. Later this week I'll share one of my family's favorite recipes that uses both the stock and the leftover meat. Stay tuned!

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