Every once in a while I get burned out turning out home-cooked meals every night. Deciding what to cook, shopping, prepping, then the inevitable cleanup. Meh. I become uninspired. Fortunately for me I’ve got a fallback position when that happens — rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. What a lifesaver on a busy night. Add spuds and a veggie and you’re done. If you’re prudent you have leftovers that you can use in something else — pasta, salad, fajitas, pizza, you name it. But what about all the bones, skin, and fat? Do you just simply and unthinkingly toss it in the trash? No more! Bad Aunty is here to show you that one cook’s trash can become treasure with an indispensable basic cooking skill.
This treasure is called chicken stock, and it’s absolutely simple to make your own. I know, I can hear you saying, “Why should I bother with making my own? Swanson has a good chicken broth, it’s not very expensive, and it comes in a nice convenient waxed box. Also, Knorr has an excellent powdered chicken bouillon, already seasoned, and all I have to do is add boiling water.” All true. I have them and periodically use them, too. But let’s consider that powdered bouillon for a moment. It has 870 milligrams of sodium in….wait for it….1 teaspoon! It’s first two ingredients are salt and sugar. The ‘broth-in-a-box’ is very convenient, but compared to the stuff you make at home, it’s bland. Thin. Forgettable. But mine (and soon to be yours) is rich, full of body from the collagen in the bones and ligaments, and delicious. Plus, you get tons of it, and it freezes beautifully. So here’s what you do:
First of all, every time you eat any chicken — barbecued, grilled, KFC, rotisserie, whatever — save all the bones, skin, and fat. It doesn’t matter that you’ve just been salivating on them. Just throw the leavings in a plastic bag (I use the bags that I get from the produce section at the grocery store) and toss them in the freezer. Just keep adding new bones and put it back in the freezer. If you buy a whole chicken and cut it down yourself (ooh, that’s another great ‘Back to Basics’ blog post right there!) save ALL the raw fat, skin, the backbone and neck, everything. Freeze it. Don’t worry about adding lumps of fat to your stock pot. It adds wonderful richness and flavor, and you’ll skim all the fat off later.
When you have a couple of bags full, enough to fill a stock pot or Dutch oven, take the bones and stuff out of the freezer and dump them into your pot. Don’t even worry about thawing them. Add one unpeeled but roughly chopped onion, one unpeeled but clean and roughly chopped carrot, and one large chunked up stick of celery, leaves and all. I added some leftover parsley stalks and some mushroom trimmings. (I do not add garlic to my stock.)
Add COLD water just to cover your bones and veggies. Over medium-high heat bring the pot to a boil, skim the grey gunk off that rises to the top, and turn down the heat to simmer, or your lowest flame. You want to see bubbles break the surface only occasionally. Let this stuff simmer for 2-3 hours. Don’t stir it or play with it, just make sure your ingredients are immersed in the simmering water and then let time and heat do all the work. After about 2+ hours your kitchen will smell like Thanksgiving Day and your stock will look rich and golden. At this point, turn off the heat and prepare to strain the liquid out of the bones.
Place a large colander in and over another large clean pan.
(Don’t make the mistake I did once and pour all my newly made stock down the drain because I had forgotten a pan to catch the liquid!) Using hot pads carefully pour the liquid and bones and veggies into the colander and let the liquid strain through. Set aside the bone-veggie mixture–I spread it out on a baking sheet to cool and then I toss it in my yard waste.
At this point you want the hot stock to cool. This can be accomplished in several different ways:
1) Put the pan of hot stock in your sink. Fill the sink around the pot with cold water, without getting any water in the pot of stock. Place several handfuls of ice cubes in the water in the sink (NOT the stock). Replace ice as it melts. Stir the stock frequently, and it will cool in the ice water bath fairly quickly. 2) If you’re making stock in the winter place the hot pot, slightly covered, in a protected place and let the cold outside air cool it. Or 3) put it in the fridge or freezer to cool quickly. If you’re putting it in the freezer don’t forget to take it out before it freezes! (Although, it won’t hurt the stock if it does freeze at this point. You’re just making more work for yourself. that’s all.)
You’ll notice, too, that the liquid has become gelatinous, perhaps substantially so. This comes from the collagen normally found in bones and ligaments. It adds wonderful body and richness to the stock, and liquifies as soon as heat is applied.
Before you store the stock for freezing you want to strain it one more time through a very fine strainer to remove any further impurities. I use what’s called a ‘china cap’. You can also use a regular strainer, or even your colander lined with a couple of thicknesses of cheese cloth. (Available at the grocery store.)
Heat the gelatinous stock over medium heat just to the point where it liquifies. It shouldn’t be more than room temperature. Pour into storage containers–I normally use 4-Cup freezer containers. Leave a bit of room, like 1/2-inch, at the top of the container as frozen liquid expands. Cover tightly, label with today’s date, and place in the freezer. Take joy and feel pride in the extra food that you created for next to nothing, just a bit of time.
Now comes the really hard part–cleaning up the pans!