Not-So-Secret Weapon {chicken stock}

I’ve never been a huge fan of new year’s resolutions. I have mentioned in the past that I prefer mid-year resolutions. There’s a lot less pressure involved and if you stumble or even fail, people don’t know you made them and you can get up, dust yourself off and try again. This year, however, I decided to make two resolutions. Strange ones too – oddly domestic. The first is to vacuum more. This is horrendously boring but also imperative to keep our home from imploding due to pug-fur overload.

The second, while also pretty boring is tastier. I have resolved to make homemade chicken stock on a more regular basis. While I have found boxed chicken stock (I’m thinking of making this my home page) at the grocery store that is acceptable, making your own tastes better and ends up being cheaper in the long run. In some cases, you also get the delicious side product of a whole chicken you can pick to make things like chicken noodle soup, jambalaya (which is what I did with this – post to come) or chicken salad. Bonus meat!

I feel like there are at least two schools of making chicken stock depending on what you want your outcome to be – either using roasted chicken parts and pieces or using a whole raw chicken and boiling it. Since I wanted to have both tasty darker stock and the meat-bonus, I employed both techniques.

As you can tell from many of my pictures, we shop almost exclusively at Your Dekalb Farmer’s Market. They’re known for having a great selection of things from cheeses to goat (which is evidently the new pork belly – discuss) to all the funkiest poultry and cow parts and if you can survive the crowds then it’s totally worth it. Despite the fact that this past Saturday was the busiest I’ve ever seen the place and the fact that I’ve been known to cry from anxiety before going in AND the fact that I’ve been in more than one fight at the chicken counter, I made my way inside and shimmied toward the end of the poultry counter where the hearts, livers and meaty miscellany reside out of survival. Because of this I ended up buying a whole organic chicken for the stock along with about a pound and a half of chicken rib cages. Cheap and effective.

The making of chicken stock is more of an art than a science but I appreciate that many people don’t enjoy following recipes that call for dashes, pinches, aliquots (see father-in-law’s recipe for risotto) or quanta (they’re science people), I’ve tried to exactify my process below.

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1.5 – 2 lbs. chicken parts (wings, rib cages etc)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 carrots, peeled and broken in thirds
  • 4 celery ribs, cut in large pieces
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 10 whole peppercorns
  • 10 sprigs parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6-8 cups water

First things first. To get a deeper-colored, more flavorful stock, you’ll want to roast the chicken parts and pieces you’ve won from the meat counter. Preheat your oven to 425° and put the parts in a roasting pan with the olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper.

While your chicken is roasting, you can begin the stock. Add the vegetables, peppercorns, parsley and bay leaf to a large stock pot. Nod your head in silent recognition and satisfaction realizing that THIS is why those are called stock pots.

Now plop in your whole chicken and cover with enough cold water so everything is submerged. It is always at this point when I think of Elmer Fudd inviting Bugs Bunny into his home and somehow encouraging him to take a bath (odd, in retrospect) in a large cauldron while Elmer begins chopping up carrots and celery for what Bugs eventually realizes is rabbit stew.

Put this on the stove and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until your chicken is done – no more than an hour. If you’ll recall, your chicken parts are roasting and those will come in shortly. Again, this is a slightly unorthodox approach to making stock and I did it this way so I could reserve the chicken for jambalaya that evening. Pull out the whole chicken and set aside to cool so you can pick off the meat.

At this point, I pulled the roasted chicken rib cages out of the oven and put them in the stock pot. I then took a bit of hot stock and put it in the pan to scrape up all the goodness that had accumulated on the bottom of the roasting pan and poured that back in to enrich the stock more.

Again, my apologies for the non-scientific approach to what’s going on here. I then picked the whole chicken and set the meat aside in a bowl and put the chicken carcass back in the stock pot too. Why not? Continue cooking the stock for another 3 hours or so adding more water here and there if need be.

The final step is to strain the stock into a large bowl and put in the fridge overnight. This helps solidify the fats so the next morning you can skim them off the top of the stock and then divvy it up into containers to use immediately or freeze, as I did below.

As you can see, I got carried away making the jambalaya from all this goodness that I forgot to finish taking pictures. I also switched gears and made that caramel cake and when that happens, nothing else matters. I love having homemade stock handy especially for soups and risotto when the chicken stock is so important to the outcome of the recipe. I suppose I’ll be making something along those lines soon.

May your trips to the chicken counter be fruitful, uneventful and bruise-free.