I don’t remember the first time I made stock, but I do remember feeling immensely proud of myself afterwards. Making stock always feels to me like the kind of thing that was done in the 40s or 50s by scrimping housewives who wanted to use all their scraps. And as the kind of person who borders on hoarding containers (or used to – I was forced to give it up at one point when moving) and who is willing to fill her freezer with bones and scraps for boiling up later, it’s the perfect way to feel like those tendencies to keep things are doing a good thing.
And guys – it’s actually the most awesome thing too. The Boy and I have been eating a lot of soups this winter, partly because it’s so cold out and soups are both warm and when combined with some kind of pasta (more on that later) are perfectly filling. And since I made that turkey back in November and had frozen the carcass (along with the neck), I’d added a chicken carcass to the heap in the freezer from a rotisserie chicken we’d picked up from Costco. For this is the real secret to stock: just get in as much meaty goodness as you can.
I could give you a link to a real recipe, and you know what, I will right here. I’ve based my recipe on those from both The Kitchn and Simply Recipes, but it’s the kind of thing that at this point I do more by feel than by following along with someone else’s directions. It also helps that it’s more of a “follow this guide and do whatever” sort of thing than a “this is a specific recipe and if you don’t follow it your result will be terrible!” sort of thing. That is, this is not baking, and not an exact science. Feel free to improvise.
The first thing you’ll need is a big pot. I have inherited two large pots from my grandmothers, and one of them is slightly larger than the other, and since I’m a stock-hoarder, I use the bigger one every time. These kind of stock pots can sometimes be found in thrift stores – just look for something that is like a cooking pot, but much taller. There are a lot of ridiculous expensive ones out there for sale. You just need a big pot.
The second thing you’ll need is poultry scraps. The best time to make stock is after you’ve eaten a roasted bird of some kind. Thanksgiving is perfect for this, and is what half of my stock was made of. Note: when you are roasting your turkey and you pull out the neck from the body cavity – KEEP IT. The neck is all meat, and while it’s not necessarily the kind of meat that genteel persons want to find on their plate, it’s perfectly suited for boiling up. I made my stock in mid-January with a bird from mid-November. This only really works because I’d wrapped the carcass up in the freezer and labelled it well. Carcasses can keep for a few months, but it’s probably best to use them within 6 months of roasting a bird. Also, if you keep putting bones in the freezer, you’ll be like me and pulling stuff out to make the stock and find a chicken carcass that was more than a year old. Probably not great. Feel free to mix and match bird carcasses when making your stock – they’re not going to dramatically change the flavor, and the more carcass you add to the pot, the better. One final tip on carcasses before I give you a very basic recipe – I’ve heard that if you can roast your carcasses (yes – cook the bones!) before boiling them up for stock, it can give your stock a heartier flavor. I’ve never had time or the ability to do it (there was some air-dry clay having it’s drying process sped-up in the oven the day I made stock), but I imagine that it would be a really good thing if you have the time and inclination. Ok – onto a recipe of sorts!
Carrots (a couple full sized ones)
Celery (a few stalks)
Pepper (whole peppercorns preferable)
Bay Leaves (optional)
Roast your carcasses for an hour or two if you have the time and inclination.
Place all carcasses in the stock pot. Chop up and onion into quarters, slice carrots so the middle is exposed and it is in manageable-sized chunks (a few inches), and cut up celery in a similar manner. Toss them all in the pot. Add parsley and bay leaves at this point if you have them and will be using them. Also add peppercorns – lots.
A note on salt: I never add it when I’m making stock. It’s the kind of thing that intensifies as the stock cooks down, potentially making your stock super salty, and while it’s always possible to add stock later when you’re using it in a recipe, it’s very very difficult to make something less salty afterwards. But you’re an adult who can make your own choices.
Once all items are added to the stock pot, cover with water. Note the amount you pour in, as your final yield will be no more than this amount, but may be close, and it’s disappointing to not have containers to hold it all. Bring water to a boil – this may take a while, especially if your pot is large – monitor its progress with the lid off.
Once water is boiling, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and let everything inside the pot begin to seep into the water. Check on it every 30 minutes or so, and during this time, give the contents a good stir. If you see floating scum on the top of the pot when you check on it, feel free to remove it (but I never do). Let stock simmer for 2-3 hours, or until liquid is golden colored.
Remove large bones or vegetable pieces with tongs before straining if you remember. Pour stock through a fine-mesh (use a wire colander and/or cheesecloth if you want) into another large pot. From this second pot, distribute to freezer-friendly containers, remembering that liquid will expand when frozen, so not to overfill. Let liquid cool in their new containers for about 15 minutes, enough time for a fatty layer to form on the top of the container. Use a spoon to remove this layer, then once cooled more, cover and place in freezer.
Stock will keep in fridge for about a week, and for about 3 months in the freezer (though I’ve been known to let it stay in there longer).
Now, what to do with your stock. I like to make soup. As I said above, it’s the perfect thing to eat during winter. This recipe leans on a little help from something that I love to keep in the fridge, but may seem like cheating to some of you. It’s called Better than Bouillon, and it’s a sort of bouillon-esque paste that keeps in the fridge, and makes anything that’s meant to be meaty, meatier. Since stock-making rarely gives you the dark, super-concentrated liquid of your dreams, and when being used for consumption requires a little salt, I like to beef it up (or chicken it up?) with a bit of this, and then not add in any salt (since bouillon is so salty to start).
Proper soup also requires more than just broth. I’ve taken to chopping up a batch of mirepoix lately, though not cooking it, and instead adding it when I add the pasta to the soup. This finely diced combination of onion, carrot and celery should look familiar (see recipe above), but it’s a good way to get a little extra flavor into your soup AND vegetables.
Finally – I like to add a pasta of some kind. The favorite in our house lately has been orzo, but if you want a more traditional looking noodle soup, you can’t go wrong with egg noodles.
Chicken (Stock) Noodle Soup
About 2-2.5 cups of stock per person
Better Than Bouillon – about 1/2-1 tsp per person to taste (optional)
Egg noodles or Orzo (a handful of noodles, or about 1/2 cup of orzo per person)
Decant frozen stock into an appropriate sized cooking pot. Melt, and bring to a boil.
Once boiling, add Better than Bouillon, the noodles and mirepoix. Let boil for as long as instructions to cook pasta, minus a minute or so, since pasta will continue to sit in hot liquid after removed from stove.