With everything that is going on in the world just now, I remind myself that these posts are primarily meant for me. They are a place to allow me some time to focus on something ordinary. Something wholesome. Something that helps me feel grounded and sane. If it helps anyone who might stumble across them in the same way, then they remain relevant.
Don’t look at the picture yet…
Yes, I do!
Why, why, why?
I did not grow up seeing anyone in my family do this process. At least, not that I can remember, which might be more to the point. It was the 60s and 70s. Although I am sure my Grandmother grew up with this skill, in her mind and for the time we lived in when I was a girl, making stock was something that poor people needed to do and we just weren’t going to do that. Appearances, even regarding the things no one saw, were important. We were modern, you could buy chicken stock in a can for mere pennies, for heaven’s sake, so why go to all that bother!
When I moved to England, the dear lady that became my 1st M-in-L always made stock when she had cooked a roast chicken. It was already figured into the plan in both her head and in her budget. She knew how many servings she could expect to get from what size bird, how many meals and in what form it would stretch to for however many people and the glorious chicken stock she made would be used as the backbone for great , if utterly simple, soups and risottos. I am sure the first time I had one of her homemade soups, my eyes must have flown open wide. I had never tasted anything like it. It could have been something as simple as leek and potato, I don’t remember the details. I do remember wondering how I had never encountered such a glorious thing before.
Time. There is no getting around the time that making stock well can take, although I don’t think it needs to be done all at once. Here is what I do and the equipment I use.
- If you have the ambition and storage room, two stock pans, one quite large and one medium, are really handy. I got mine at Ikea, they have pasta inserts and they get used for all manner of other things besides making stock.
- In the medium one, I put all the chicken bones, all skin and bits, scrapings out of the roasting tin, any liquid that I collected that didn’t get made into gravy, etc.- put it all in the pan and just cover with water. Don’t use gravy though. It has flour in it and that will ruin the stock. I use water out of my big water filter, but that’s me being fussy. Tap water will do. I bring it gently to a boil and scrape off any foam that rises at the point that it starts to boil. I don’t worry too much about this. I try not to let it hard boil for long as I find this leaches the calcium out of the bones and turns the stock a bit cloudy. Again, I don’t really think it hurts it in any way. If it happens, I carry on.
- As it is coming up to the boil, I prep the all the veg that will be going into the stock. They are the famous three:
- Onion: scrub the outer brown skin well and add this with the onion, which is just sliced in half, if you can get the skin clean enough. What is clean enough? That’s up to you. The onion skin adds a beautiful golden colour to the finished stock along with certain minerals, according to a nutritionist friend of mine.
- Carrots- about 2-3 big ones. Scrubbed and added unpeeled if organic, peeled if not. Just cut in two and put in the pot.
- Celery. One stick, well scrubbed and cut in half.
- I add no seasoning except for about 3 pepper corns, and a bay leaf. I do not add salt as the stock is going to be concentrated at the finish and any added salt would be concentrated as well.
- Bring it back to the boil and then lower the heat until it just raises a blip on the surface now and again. Put the lid on. Now wander off and do something else with the rest of your day.
I will simmer this stock all day. I have been known to simmer stock over night as well. What I usually do is turn the heat off over night, if it has cooked for most of the day, so that it has cooled by morning. I cook it a bit more the next day if I think it is needed. A large pan of stock can hold heat for a surprising amount of time and you do not want to do the next process when it is hot.
- When cool enough, I will take the big stock pan and put it down into my deep, Belfast sink. I put my colander on top of that and spread out a large muslin cloth to cover the colander. As I said before, I am short, so pouring a heavy pan of liquid and bones and bits into a colander is a lot easier when it is lower than my waist. The colander is there to support the cloth and take the weight of the bits as they go in. The stock drains through and into the waiting pan below. The size of the cloth (large enough!) is important for the next bit. Not letting any of the bits escape, I gather the four points of the cloth and carefully raise the bones and bits out of the colander. More liquid is released from them into the pan below. I knot the four points into a loose knot and then lower it all back into the colander and give it a gentle squeeze. More stock is released. It can be left a bit to drip or the whole thing can be shifted to another spot in the kitchen to drip for a bit. You really want the debris to have largely stopped dripping before you try and get rid of the bones.
- I have no animals and never know the drill for giving them chicken bones anyway so the remains get wrapped in brown paper (thank you Amazon) and put in with the general waste.
- Having tipped the stock out of the smaller pan, I give that pan a quick wash as it usually has tiny bits of gritty dissolved bone and other stuff in it that you don’t want in the finished stock. When it is clean, I tip the now drained stock back into this smaller pan as a holding pan. The large pan is now free but the sides will be covered with a lot of chicken fat that I don’t always want in my stock. I am not fat phobic and some is good for taste but there is a limit. I wash the large pan well and put it back on the cooker. I pour the stock from the smaller pan back into this now clean pan and put it on a high enough heat that it comes to the boil, reduce the heat so it is not boiling fiercely but steaming nicely and allow it to reduce in volume for an hour or so. I reduce it by about half. You are getting less liquid but more flavour.
- Having done this part, I return to that cloth I used to catch the bits in the colander in- it will be covered with all manner of fat and bits and yuck. It has done its job as a filter but now it needs cleaning. Back into the bottom of the smaller pan with about an inch of the hottest tap water I can summon up and then add a good squirt of washing up liquid. The washing up liquid dissolves the fat and releases it from the fibres of the cloth. When it is clean enough, I rinse and hang it to dry on the kitchen radiator. It’s not “clean” clean but will need to go through a general a hot wash of white things that need that sort of wash in the near future. I do iron these when clean and dry as they will go around for food use again soon.
- Having reduced the stock by about half, I then look to store it. I used to just pour it into large-ish jars and freeze it that way but I either had too much for the soup I was making or not enough and sometimes you just want a few spoons-full to add flavour to something you are cooking. NOW look at the picture. Those are silicone fairy cake forms (cupcakes liners for my American cousins) and they are one of my most useful bits of kitchen kit. They wash up really well upside down in the cutlery drawer of my dishwasher and I don’t use them just to freeze stock. That’s another post for the future! They are great for cooking and they last for a very long time. They are also relatively cheap to buy online.
- When the reduced stock is cool, I pour it into the silicone cups as shown and freeze the whole pan until solid. Pop out the little frozen stock cubes into a plastic freezer bag and and keep that in the freezer to grab a “stock cube” or two as needed. Reducing the stock concentrates the flavour so that using them in this way doesn’t add too much liquid to a recipe. I often put a couple of these blocks in a mug with a bit of salt and added hot water for an almost instant cup of warming broth that sooths the soul and often sees off the start of a cold.
Yes, of course, I can see why it fell out of favour. And mine is not the only way to make stock. Making it is a complete faff and so many people don’t have that sort of time. If you have never had or tasted homemade stock, you may never know the difference, and that’s not a failing. It’s just a consequence of where time poor cooking has taken us over the last 50 years or so. I hope it finds its way back into the heart of cooks up and down the land as more of the old skills are revived. There is nothing as nice as a cup of homemade soup. And it is cost effective. The last chicken I bought cost £15. That’s a lot of anyone’s money but my thinking was this:
- Pasture raised. No nasty feed, chicken had a fairly decent life a few miles from where I bought it.
- It was a large one and I got the following portions out of it- two roast dinners, two lots of sandwiches, two portions of risotto, two stir-fries, 4 big portions of chicken soup. That’s 12 portions so far. Making stock extends those portions even further and I feel more comfortable about the welfare of an animal that I am responsible for eating. If I am going to eat animals, I feel compelled to use as much of it as I can, as wisely as possible. 12 portions for two adults plus stock. Even without the stock that’s £1.25 a portion. Not too bad.
- The most important part for me is this- it tastes great. It is not stuffed full of water that gets added to factory chicken to bump the weight up. It roasts properly to a golden brown and crispy thing you can’t wait to eat instead of steaming insipidly in the oven, flabby to eat, tasting of nothing in particular and leaving me feeling that the poor creature died in vain.
Knowledge can ruin a girl though. If I get in a fix timewise and can’t get on with the stock right away, the whole messy, leftover lot goes into a plastic freezer bag (wait until you see how I clean and reuse those!) and the carcass then goes in the freezer until I can have a huge session of stock making on another day.
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Never heard the term “faff” before. Had to look it up. Good term, and fitting for work one does for tasty chicken stock. My method has fewer steps than yours, but it works for me. If I had more room in the freezer, I would use the cupcake liner trick. I have containers that hold 1qt.— just the right amount of stock for one pot of soup. (This is what takes up room in the freezer). I find that my stock yield is ~4qt. (you can figure metric translation). I don’t usually reduce my stock, but I do simmer all day. Sunday’s are the best day for making stock, on my schedule. I make a lot of soup, so I occasionally supplement my homemade supply with a good quality box of bone broth from the store. Ghastly, I know.
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Faff is a great word. Work that into your West Texan vocabulary and see how long it takes anyone to notice. And if I could FIND good quality bone broth here, I might buy it as I think it is so good for us as we age. x
A labour of love but so worth it.
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