Of scraps and chicken stock

Chicken stock is a basic for me. A lot of my winter recipes are soups and stews and I like using my homemade stock in them. A distant second is Better than Bullion, but homemade is still my preference. Luckily, it’s super easy to make, though time consuming.

You don’t need much to make chicken stock. Whenever I’m chopping vegetables, I save the scraps — especially onion ends and skins, plus unused bits of garlic, tomatoes, and carrots — and toss them into a bag in the freezer. Using just that, I could make an excellent vegetable stock, but I like the taste of chicken, so I hold off. A lot of people use celery in their stock; I happen not to like the taste of celery, so I leave it out.

Much to my uncle’s dismay, I do not roast my own chickens at home. I usually buy them, pre-cooked and pre-seasoned, at a local market. Call me a food snob if you want, but I also spend a bit more to buy the pasture raised, organic chickens. I genuinely think they taste better. Once the chicken is home, I shred it by hand, putting the meat in a storage container in the fridge and tossing the rest — bones, gristle, skin, and all — into a large stockpot with my vegetable scraps. (Okay, I might set some of the skin aside to crisp up and eat. It may not be particularly healthy, but it is delicious.) Then, I cover the whole thing with water and simmer, letting the stock reduce until I think the flavor is right.

For me, the only complicated thing about making stock is that you do not want to let it boil. Boiling will render the fat, liquefying it so that it cannot be separated from the stock. Most cooks prefer to skim the fat off their stock, either discarding it or, as I do, setting it aside in a separate container. Chicken fat (aka schmaltz) is used in a lot of Jewish cooking similarly to how some people use lard, so it’s nice to have around.

Chicken Stock

  • 1 whole chicken, meat removed
  • vegetable scraps (especially onion, garlic, carrot, tomato)
  • bay leaf (optional)
  • 1 tsp. peppercorns (optional)

In a large (at least 6 quart) stockpot, add chicken and vegetable scraps. Cover completely with water. Heat on medium-high until just about to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until stock has desired flavor. This can take up to 5 hours.

Once the broth has reached your preferred flavor, turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to remove the chicken and vegetable scraps, pressing down to squeeze out any stock. Strain into storage containers (this removes smaller scraps and the peppercorns, if using) and refrigerate overnight. Cooling the stock like this allows the fat to solidify on top, where it can easily be skimmed off with a spoon. Discard or save in a small container.

Unless I’m using stock immediately, I typically freeze it. To do this, leave about an inch of head space, as liquids expand when they freeze, and label the container clearly. I found out the hard way that, when frozen, chicken stock can look an awful lot like pumpkin-apple butter.

This is a recipe that I plan to pressure can once I have the equipment. Luckily we have a fairly empty freezer right now, so freezing isn’t an issue, however, I would love to be able to make and store stock without worrying about what might happen if we lose power this winter or that the freezer might simply get too full.

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