Chicken stock: The mother’s milk of cooking. It is the most fundamental ingredient besides the water it’s made from. It makes everything better, lending a depth of flavor and subtle unctuousness to soups and sauces. It is the very embodiment of home cooking, and its aroma makes the home more homey. And I love making it.
Since we fairly frequently roast chicken, we almost always have at least one carcass in the freezer. (Right now, in fact, we have two.) We would very often also keep a running baggie full of vegetable cuttings, offcasts from various meals, building up in the fridge. When the veggie bag was full and a carcass was at the ready, it was time to make stock. However, since living in our current place, where we have a garbage disposal, I am chagrinned to say that we bow to convenience and seldom optimize our kitchen scraps the way we used to. Meh, it’s optional.
Making stock is simplicity itself. Though it takes a fair amount of time, the labor is minimal, and you’ll feel great about squeezing the last drops of vitality out of your carcasses and cuttings.
There is no need for precision in this recipe. All you need is a chicken carcass, and whatever veg, spices and herbs you like. It’s more of a technique than a recipe.
One chicken carcass
2-3 medium onions, quartered, skin on
Several cloves garlic, unpeeled
Whatever veggies you have or like (except potato)
Peppercorns, dried and fresh herbs
Heat oven to 350º. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, roast the carcass for about 30 minutes, until brown. Remove to stovetop. Add vegetable matter, spices and herbs, and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and keep at a bare simmer, partially covered, for upwards of five hours. When the bones are brittle enough to snap with tongs, you’ve extracted enough connective tissue, and it’s done.
Remove from heat, and pull out as much carcass and veg as you can with tongs. Strain the rest using a coarse sieve; if you have a finer sieve, a second pass won’t hurt. All solid matter can be thrown away at this point.
Pour stock into containers and chill in the fridge. The next day, the chicken fat, or schmaltz, will have risen to the top and set into a solid layer. It’s easier to remove this way. Depending on your chicken, there may not be much to remove. This can be kept and used for cooking fat. Though it is tasty, I find it spits a lot, and so I just dispose of it.
The stock freezes beautifully, so it’s always nice to freeze it in smaller batches to have on hand. You can also boil down the stock to intensify the flavor and reduce the quantity. If you have more room in your freezer than we do, you can fill ice cube trays with it, and have little bouillons.
For veg, I like carrots, celery, most root vegetables and cruciferous veggies (i.e., broccoli, cauliflower). Avoid potatoes, as they give off too much starch and will make the stock milky and thick.
Roasting the bones is optional. If you don’t, the stock will be lighter but still flavorful.
For dried herbs I usually add herbes de Provence, oregano and whatever else strikes my fancy. Any fresh herbs will do, but a big bunch of parsley works very well. Peppercorns are obligatory as far as I’m concerned, but depending on my mood I might also throw in a star anise pod, celery seed or cumin seed.