Chicken stock is one of those foods that make you feel like you’re a really good cook.
I used to think about making it, especially with a yummy soup recipe in mind, but then I’d turn to the chicken stock recipe in the back of the cookbook, and it had twenty ingredients just for the stock! It felt like I was making soup twice. No thanks, I really don’t have time for that. I’ll just fix scrambled eggs and toast..and I’ll probably burn the toast.
There are as many recipes for chicken stock as there are cooks. I discovered that chicken stock in its most basic form: chicken and water, is actually really good. The recipes that list twenty ingredients are better, in the same way that a tenderloin steak is better than a hamburger, but for some cold winter nights at home, simple food soothes just fine.
Don’t let lack of time and energy for those long-list recipes keep you from enjoying homemade chicken stock. If you make it at home, it will be better than anything you can buy at the store. So go ahead and make it yourself, even when you don’t have time for the bouquet garni.
The cooking time for stock is at least four hours, but hands-on time is fifteen minutes, tops.
Chicken bones. Stock is made from bones, so you don’t need the meat. After we eat roast chicken I’ll save the leftover bones in the freezer until I can make stock with two carcasses at a time. It’s the best possible food for a frugal grocery budget when something amazingly healthy and nourishing can be made from what we would have thrown away. My family can eat at least two more meals that week for practically pennies.
If you have a huge stock pot and freezer space, you could make more and freeze the rest, but I find smaller batches easier to manage, which helps me be willing to make it more often.
Cold water. Start with cold water because certain essential proteins only dissolve in cold water.
Something acidic. I add a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, though some people use wine, or even tomatoes. The acid draws calcium and other minerals from the bones into the stock.
Do you have any extra vegetables around? Toss them in. I usually slice an onion down the middle and add it, and you can also try carrots, garlic, or celery. All of these are good if you have them.
Seasoning. Salt is important to flavor, but don’t add it to the stock; wait until you’re cooking with the stock and add salt in the final recipe to taste. In the last twenty minutes of simmering the stock you can add fresh herbs and pepper if you want to. Since I start with the remains from roast chicken, it often has enough seasoning already and I don’t need to add anything.
Put the chicken bones and any vegetables into the pot and add enough cold water to cover them by an inch or two. Turn the heat on low and let the stock heat slowly. It might take an hour to warm up, and then keep the heat on low so the stock is barely simmering. Skim the top as needed.
Stock requires at least four hours to simmer, but how long you let it go is up to you. You can also try making it in the crock pot.
When enough time has passed, strain and pour the stock into jars. Let it cool and then chill in the fridge. Once the stock is chilled, there will be a layer of fat that you can remove from the top. Chilled chicken stock is thick like Jell-O, and that’s a good thing. That means you’re getting all the healthy gelatin from the chicken bones.
I gain about a gallon of stock when I make it in my stock pot with two chicken carcasses. I pour the stock into two half-gallon glass canning jars. This gives me enough to make soup twice for my family later that week. Stock can stay in the fridge for about four days, or you can freeze it for a couple of months.
When I see a jar of homemade chicken stock in the fridge, I know I’m just minutes away from a cheap and nutritious meal for my family.
And I feel pretty awesome.