There’s one old fashioned cooking skill that I taught myself this past fall that I absolutely adore, and that’s making soup stock. It’s the easiest skill ever, I promise you anyone can do it, and it yields the most fantastic product. Although I’ve yet to muster up enough discipline to hold on to leftover vegetable bits, and I can’t imagine sacrificing whole wonderful vegetables for a stock, I love making chicken/turkey stock because no discipline or sacrifices are necessary. If you can boil water, you can make delicious and nutritious stock.
It’s a practice that no one takes the time to do anymore. Instead, because we have instant “just add water” or canned broth, we just buy and use that instead. Both canned and dehydrated stock have their place, and I admit I do use them once in awhile for smaller meals or when I’m out of homemade stock, but both fail in taste and nutrition to the real deal. Besides, both can be VERY expensive. I tried buying enough stock to make a large pot of soup before, and spent a little over $6 for it! That was when I decided if I was going to make chicken/turkey soup all winter, there needed to be a cheaper alternative. Enter the poultry carcass.
Everyone loves a homemade chicken dinner with all the fixin’s this time of year. Thanksgiving, Christmas, both have big birds as main meal courses, and many people often end up with two or more free or discounted birds in their freezer. Or even those small roaster chickens, when they go on sale for less than a dollar a pound, they are a nice purchase and we pick up one or two. But after your supper is done, what do you do with the rest? Well, for starters, if you came from a cooking family, you’ll probably have memories of your mom picking the chicken, I know I do. Standing in the kitchen, singing or talking, she picked every piece of meat off that bird, her plate piled high with leftovers to freeze or eat that week. That practice alone is an amazing way to enjoy that bird more than once, and save money. To throw that away is a crime, and yet I know people do because it’s “too much work”. Pansies!
But after all the meat is picked, you’re left with bones, fat, skin, tendons, and some meat that just wont do for leftovers (stringy, hard, stuck to the bone so hard you can’t get it off, you know what I’m talking about). So what do you do with that carcass? Throw it out? Not yet! Whatever you cooked your bird in, throw all your scraps into it, keep all grease, bones, everything, and put it in your fridge until the next day when you have some time. You’re going to need about 6 hours to devote your stock to- it’s a perfect Sunday activity. But what if you don’t have six full hours? That’s fine, break it up into two 3-hour days or three 2-hour days. That’s not a problem. Pick what works for you.
So now what? Pull that pan of everything out of the fridge. It’s going to look like a big, solidified mess. Yup, it’ll look gross, that I promise you, but it’s okay! Pull out a big pot that will fit your remains and enough water to cover it (oh, a gallon for something small, two for something bigger, there’s no exact science, just whatever can cover your bird plus a little more). Now the fun part! Don’t put your water in yet, no, you do that after the bird is in. Take a spoon and scoop the whole pan of bird stuff into your pot. Splat! Yup, it’ll probably come out in one large hunk of gelled fat. I’m telling you, this is gross stuff! But hang in there, it’s worth it! At this point, I even throw the giblets in. Some people use them for stuffing, that’s fine. But if you don’t, when you prep the bird before cooking, put all the giblets and neck in a bowl or plastic bag and put it in the fridge for adding to your stock. There’s nothing wrong with that- all those pieces you find can be cooked and eaten, although, I bet you’ll be hard pressed to find someone young want to eat that stuff. But really, it’s probably the most nutritious stuff in the whole bird, packed with vitamins and minerals. So that’s why I put it all in my stock. Now you can cover it all with water. Next, pull some vinegar out of your cupboard- white or cider, it doesn’t matter, whatever you have on hand, and pour about 1/4 cup into the pot. The acidity will help break down and suck the nutrients out of the bones. Put your cover on and bring it all to a boil on high heat. Once boiling, reduce your heat to medium/low or so and let it simmer for six hours. You can check on in once or twice an hour, stirring it up, seeing how it’s all breaking down, but it’s not necessary.
After it’s simmered for 6 hours, turn off the heat and let it cool for an hour or so- to room temperature. Next, find a couple of big bowls or pots, and grab a strainer. Pour the stock into the bowls while holding the strainer to catch any large pieces of skin or bones that might try to fall out of the pot. Once all the stock is out, make room in your fridge and put the pots/bowls in there to cool overnight. This will allow the fat in the broth to come to the surface and solidify so that you can easily scoop it off and throw it out. And now you can finally throw out what’s left of your bird carcass. And look at all that beautiful, perfect, and delicious stock you’ve made! I can promise you that once you use that for soup bases and in recipes that call for stock, you’ll never want to use that thinned out flavorless canned stuff again.
As for storage, use some that night to make soup and freeze the rest. It freezes beautifully and will come back to life once you heat it up. I like to fill gallon sized zip-lock bags with about 5 cups of stock- perfect for soup. I squeeze out all the air, then lay them flat on a cookie sheet and pop them in the freezer. Once frozen, you can take out the cookie sheet and are left with flattened bags that can be stacked or squeezed wherever you have room in your freezer. If you want to freeze smaller portions, go for it and try smaller bags. I’ve even heard that it can be easy to freeze the stock in ice cube trays, then pull out a few cubes as you need them. Store it however would be convenient for you.