Introduction: Great Chicken Stock
Since we started raising meat chickens a couple years ago I've been roasting whole chickens on a regular basis. At first I was just throwing the leftover bones away but I quickly realized that I needed to learn how to make chicken stock. I had tried it once or twice before but it seemed like too big of an ordeal to bother with. Once I had a steady supply of chicken bones and other leftovers it only made sense to use them.
Now I'm a complete convert.
Great chicken stock is the base for great cooking. It's as simple as that.
Step 1: Getting Started
I collect chicken leftovers in the freezer until I have enough to do a large batch. I got myself a great big (4 gallon I think) stock pot so I could do great big batches of stock. I usually wait until I have about eight carcasses or so. You can scale the amount of stock you are making to whatever size you like.
Set some time aside to make stock though, it's an all day affair.
Step 2: The Secret
See that up there in the pot? Chicken feet. I know they look kind of creepy but it's the secret to great chicken stock.
I know, I know, eeew, gross, how could you? Why would you?
Because chicken feet make chicken stock great. Seriously, chicken feet are full of collagen, the material that makes connective fibers. Collagen, when you cook it slowly at a low heat breaks down into gelatin. Gelatin is what gives stock the rich smooth mouth feel that makes you wonder "How come their soup always comes out better than mine?" Well they probably made stock with stuff that had a lot of collagen in it.
Where would I get these feet?
Try a butcher, not the guy in the white coat at the supermarket but a real butcher who actually cuts up animals. Try Chinatown, the Mexican carniceria, ask at the farmer's market, grow your own chickens...get creative. Trust me you want them.
Anyhow, back to our stock. I break down the carcasses of eight chickens and throw them into the pot then I add the feet and necks (another collagen goldmine) from eight chickens that I have saved from butchering day.
You don't want to add any organ meat but other meat scraps or trimmings are fine. You can add some salt now or do it to taste at the end. I don't generally add any salt because my leftovers are from roasted chickens and there is enough salty rub left on them to season the stock.
Fill the pot up with cold water. Make sure you have enough space to throw in some vegetables after the bones have been cooking for a while.
Put the pot on the stove and start heating it. The idea is to bring it up to a very low boil and then turn it down to a simmer. A simmer means- blurp... a bubble came up...a few seconds pass...blurp... there's another bubble.
Slow and low is what we're after here.
Let the bones simmer uncovered for 4-5 hours.
If the liquid level gets below the bones add more water.
There will probably be some funky foamy stuff on the top. Just skim it off occasionally.
Step 3: Mirepoix
While the bones are simmering, prepare your mirepoix, that's french for chopped up onion, celery and carrots. Just chop them into 1/2" pieces. The more evenly they're cut up the more evenly they will cook but don't pull out a ruler or anything. After 4-5 hours the connective tissues will be pretty much broken down. Now you can put in the veggies and cook it for another hour. If you want to put in any herbs like bay leaf, thyme or whatever you like now would be the time. If you want to be fancy, tie it in a bundle with some cotton string and drop your sachet in. I usually don't add herbs. I want a base that I can take in any direction later.
Step 4: Straining
After the stock has cooked for an hour with the veggies it's time to strain it. I do it in two passes. First it goes through a colander to get all the major stuff separated out. All the bones and junk go into my compost. The second time I run it through a cloth to strain out the little stuff. At this point I've used every pot I own to do all the back and forth pouring.
Now you have chicken stock. Congratulations, you worked hard and it looks good.
We're not going for good chicken stock though, we're going for great chicken stock. You're not done.
Step 5: Reduce It
Return the pot of stock to the stove and bring it back to a boil. Now you can boil it vigorously. Some people say you should never boil stock because you don't want to stir up impurities but I figure you've been skimming and straining very contentiously. We want to reduce it's volume by a third and we've been at this for a while so go ahead and boil away. This will really intensify the flavor and add body to your stock. It will actually look like a jelly at room temperature (thanks gelatin!). The only thing left now is to pack it up and store it. I like to put it in yogurt containers and mark the date. I'll stick it them in the fridge first. Once they have cooled off completely I spoon off any excess fat from the top if there is any and then freeze them. If I want to make soup I'm most of the way done. Just defrost it and go!
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