Lots of stuff under the banner of homemade banner this week. I guess everything is really homemade, if – you know – you make it in your home. That aside, I just made a chicken. Quite tasty that. Once you’re done with the bird, or at least get it out of your cooking vessel, you’re left with juices and whatnot. Generally I put the stuff that comes out during cooking in a little container and pop that into the fridge. It’s good chicken goodness – I use it to flavor just about anything really; mushrooms – yup, potatoes – yup, risotto – yup, anywhere you need some oil or fat and chicken would be a nice addition – this is the ticket.
At the point where you’ve gotten all the usable things off of your bird – you’ll have a carcass. I used to just toss that into the trash (now the compost – here in Seattle.) Mistake. We go through a lot of chicken stock. Not that it’s too expensive, but with the amount of chicken we eat – why not make my own? Good question. I didn’t think it was particularly hard, but it does take some time to get things cooked down properly.
I use my big pasta boiling pot. I have stock pots that are larger, but really this is small bird, so why bother getting them out. I break it up a bit, just to make things float around a little easier. Everything goes in, skin, bones, the rest of the carcass. Just the whole damn thing. I add maybe a quarter to half an onion – just in large chunks – no need to dice it. I usually toss in 3 or 4 carrots, again you can use whole ones and just snap them in half. Ditto 3 or 4 stalks of celery. I just trim the bottom part of the celery off, often it’s dirty, and dirt does not make a tasty stock. Then just fill it up with water – give yourself some room at the top so it doesn’t spill over. You can add some salt or pepper if you’d like, I don’t add anything because I season the chicken before I cook it.
You’ll want this whole mess to come to a boil, then turn it down to just a simmer. Boiling is bad. You want just some bubbles popping through – a gentle simmer. That’s it. Now you just wait, wait, wait, and wait some more. It takes a while. No getting around that. I will often let it cook all day, or on very low heat overnight (not so difficult in a studio apartment with an electric range – I don’t think I’d want to do that if I were sleeping upstairs in my old house, with a gas range. So know your limitations. Alton Brown says 18 hours or something ridiculous like that. That’s great if you don’t have a life. I do. I cooked this 10, and that’s enough for me. It’s also doable if you have weekend day you’re being lazy around the house, or right when you get home from work on a night you’ll be up late. Eight hours would probably be okay too. No need to be exact. You just want enough time to break down some of the bones so you get a nice gelatin kinda thing going on with the stock. That just takes time, clearly the more the better, but no need to lose sleep over it – literally or figuratively.
You may want to add more water along the way. Most likely you’ll have to at least once, maybe more. That’s one of those things you can make your own. If you want a concentrated stock – just make sure you end up with less water in there. If you want a more watery stock – by all means leave a lot of water when you’re done. I generally go for fairly condensed, easier to store and I can dilute the mixture with some water when I’m using it. But to each their own.
When you’ve decided that it’s done, you just need to strain it. I have a lovely set of bowl-shaped thin gauge strainers that were cheap. They do everything from taking seeds out of raspberry sauces, to straining stocks. They are hugely helpful, but even a small handheld strainer will get the job done. I remove all the big chunky stuff first – veggie pieces, hulking carcass, errant skin and legs bits and whatnot. That leaves a much lighter pot to lift and pour. What you’ll hopefully be left with – is a lovely golden stock. This can be used for just about anything, and it tastes better than anything I’ve bought in a store so far.
A note on skimming and fat. Many people will tell you to skim the surface and remove the fat and whatnot. Meh. This doesn’t end up so fatty to begin with, because I drain off the fat from the pan and store it separately. Secondly, a layer of fat on top of your stock isn’t really a bad thing. It keeps the stock fresh for a lot longer. And the fat’s there to be used whenever you like, which let’s be honest – who doesn’t love a little chicken fat in their homefries or on the skillet before you cook some eggs, yum!
- Chicken Carcass – (Let’s assume the same four pound bird I just cooked)
- 3 or 4 Carrots
- 3 or 4 Stalk of Celery
- Salt and Pepper (if you like – I don’t)
- 1/4 to 1/2 an Onion (in large chunks)
- Enough Water to Cover – More as Needed