Of all of the amazing things I learned in culinary school, by far the most valuable was how to make great stock. I clearly remember the lightbulb moment when it was demonstrated to us. I clearly remember rushing home that weekend with a bag of carrots, celery, and onions, dying to practice it on my own, and proudly showing my husband my new skill.
At this point it is totally ingrained in our weekly life. We whip up a pot of stock almost without thinking, whenever we have extra bones or the reserve in the freezer is getting low. Daily we use lovely homemade stock in all areas of cooking, sometimes where you would just add water, adding a huge boost of flavor and protein. It is such a joy to have it always on hand, know exactly what is in it, and have such a superior ingredient. I can't even smell store-bought broth in a can anymore. There. Is. No. Comparison.
I also really value that we are using every bit of the animal, right down to its bones, neck and feet. There is incredible flavor and protein in there. But also if that animal is going to die for me to eat it, and I am certainly not going to take that for granted and be wasteful.
Do yourself a giant favor and have a few quarts of this on deck in your freezer. Use it to cook rice and grains, reduce it for sauces, throw in shredded vegetables and thin noodles for a quick soup, and hundreds of other applications. I also love sipping a mugful for a mid-afternoon snack.
BASIC CHICKEN STOCK
The recipe amounts here are for the bones of one chicken, but feel free to double or triple.
As a rule you want the carrots, onions, and celery to equal approximately 20% the weight of the bones.
Chicken bones and parts from one 3-4 lb chicken, including neck, feet, carcass, and any organs other than liver, uncooked
1 onion, peeled, cut in a rough, large dice
2 carrots, peeled, cut in a rough, large dice
2 celery stalks, cut in a rough, large dice
Black peppercorns, whole, about 6
1 bay leaf
Several parsley stems or sprigs
3-4 thyme sprigs
Rinse the chicken bones and parts and place in a large stock pot. Fill with cold water, until about an inch over the top of the bones. Place the pot on high heat and bring to a gentle boil as quickly as you can. This rush of boiling water, will bring impurities from the chicken up to the surface of the water. Just as it boils, turn it down to a gentle simmer. Skim off any foam or matter that has floated to the top.
Add all other ingredients, and continue to simmer for two to four hours. From time to time skim any foam, fat, or impurities from the surface.
NOTE: Do not add salt to the stock at any point. Think of this as a blank canvas, with which you can make any number of recipes later on, some of which you won't need any additional salt. You may want to use it in a sauce, and in that case, reduce it considerably. If salted, it would then become inedible at that concentration. So salt when cooking with it later on.
Strain through a fine strainer lined with cheese cloth. Cool as quickly as possible, using smaller containers and ice baths if possible. When cooled it may have the consistency of jello. This is a good thing, and reflective of the amount of protein and gelatin in the stock. Refrigerate for up to four days or freeze for up to six months.
A few tips to help this become an easy routine.
1. You don't have to make large vats of stock each time, but if going through the steps, it is essentially the same amount of work for a small amount as for a larger one. Gather chicken bones (or shrimp shells, lobster shells, pork or beef bones) in a freezer safe bag and freeze until you have enough to do an ample batch of stock.
2. Keep pantry items on hand. We always have onions, carrots and celery on hand, but also make sure to have a good supply of bay leaves, black peppercorns, and cheese cloth, each of which are available right in the grocery store. We keep a bag each in the freezer for parsley stems, leftover from anytime we use parsley, and thyme sprigs, which we stock up on from our garden and the farmer's markets when it is in season.
3. Unless you're a night owl, don't start this at dinner time. This isn't fast food and definitely takes an afternoon or more. However the majority of that time is not hands-on. But you want to leave yourself enough time to let the stock simmer sufficiently, be strained and cool sufficiently. Trying to stay awake until the stock is done because it was started it too late, I can attest is recipe for marital unrest.
2 for 1
We've recently gotten into the practice of poaching whole chicken, and then returning the bones to the pot to continue to simmer for stock. One pot, the chicken meat flavors the stock, the poaching liquid flavors the chicken, and every bit of the bird is used.
1. Follow the instructions above, as if making stock, but use a whole chicken instead of just bones and parts.
2. When the water comes to a boil and is turned down to a simmer, as in the stock process, allow the chicken to poach for forty minutes.
3. Carefully remove the chicken from the stock to a large bowl. Tongs are helpful with this. The cavity of the chicken will be full of hot liquid, so try to tip it back away from you as you are lifting it out of the pot. Remove the meat from the bones when it is cool enough to handle
4. Return bones and carcass to the stock pot and continue to simmer for an addition hour and a half to three hours. Strain and cool as usual. The poached chicken is great for soups, salads, burritos, and sandwiches.