Monday, November 1, 2010

Chicken Stock/ Duck Tape

My third Frugal Files entry is about chicken stock. Since the process involves leftover bones, and the results are myriad, I think this safely qualifies. Also, homemade is vastly superior to store bought, in my humble opinion.
I swear by chicken stock.  I believe that chicken soup is the duck tape of the kitchen arsenal. It is a base for so many dishes, and there is a science to chicken soup that really does help heal a cold. Over a decade ago, I began making my own stock, and I have never looked back. I think sometimes people are surprised how many meals I can get out of a chicken (we can eat for days off of one chicken), but I couldn't stretch it nearly as far without the stock.
*added note: If you don't like the taste of boiled chicken, tear it into small pieces, add salt and butter and reheat it in the oven (toaster oven works great for this). This adds that oven-roasted taste. If you don't want it to dry out, make a foil or parchment packet for the chicken.
I am not offering a recipe, as much as a guide to how I make my stock. The reason is that every pot is different, according to what I have on hand. Also, chicken soup is part magic, and as such, I don't think it follows strict rules. Simply put, it is done, when it is done. There is a definite moment when it changes from a pot of chicken, vegetables and herbs in water, to stock, and it wont be rushed.
There are a few things that almost always show up for my stockpot. 
Two chickens, one whole and raw, and the roasted bones and leavings from one roasted chicken.  I usually have the carcass of a roasted chicken on hand, including drippings from the roasting pan, in my freezer, ready to be called into service, or I roast a chicken, remove the meat, and put the bones and drippings directly into the pot. This adds a depth that raw chicken alone cannot. 
At least one onion, usually large and quartered.
A handful of whole peppercorns.
Herbs, usually thyme and basil, in generous amounts, lightly crushed in my mortar and pestle. I often add other herbs and spices,  including carrot tops (dried greens from carrots), parsley, garlic, shallots, etc.
I add kosher or sea salt close to the completion of the stock, and I usually go easy on it, since you can always add more to a bowl of soup later on.
If I have celery on hand, I put in a few stalks.
I do not usually add carrots, since they have a lot of natural sugar, and I prefer that the stock is not sweet.
I fill the pot close to the top with filtered water, and I usually end up adding water during cooking.

I start cooking on medium-high to get the water boiling, then turn down to a good simmer. Put the lid on the pot and just leave a small gap to allow steam to escape. After one hour, remove the raw, whole chicken to a dish to cool so that you can remove the meat. I find that barbecue tongs work quite well to remove that chicken, and I place it in a baking dish that can catch any water while it cools down. Remove any meat that you will eat, then put the bones back into the pot. I then let it cook for hours, stirring periodically, adding water when needed. When I decide it is done, I strain the stock into a giant stainless steel metal bowl (almost as big as my stock pot). Let it cool enough to put in the refrigerator, and chill overnight. The next day, fat has solidified and risen to the top, and it can be scraped off of the top of the jelly. I then freeze stock in canning jars (with sufficient head space to allow stock to freeze without breaking the jar). I use this stock for everything from chicken soup, chicken and rice and chicken & dumplings to pot pie. Also, when we are under the weather, we just heat up a cup or two of stock to sip with toast. The same guidelines can give you turkey or beef stock, so don't toss those bones, freeze them!

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