I always judge food bloggers a little bit when you have to read/ scroll through a dissertation just to get to a recipe – so here’s what I put in my homemade chicken stock. Below that will be step-by-step commentary and pictures:
1 six-pound whole chicken plus another probably pound of chicken parts I had in my freezer (wing, breast)
4(ish) Carrots, cleaned and chopped in half*
2(ish) stalks of Celery, clean, chopped in thirds*1
1 Leek, clean, chopped first between light green part and dark green leaves, then the white/light green part in half lengthways1
1 Red Onion, cut in half
1 head of Garlic, cut in half
1 bunch of Beetroot Greens and stems*, cleaned, rough chopped
Sage (dried, ground)
Thyme (dried, ground)
*I say “ish” because while I chopped up this amount my pot turned out to be kinda small overall and I don’t think all parts wound up in the stock. I put as much as I could in, then threw the remainder in a freezer bag for next time.
Big ass stock pot with lid (in my case it turned out to not be as big as I first thought)
Chef’s knife and cutting board(s)
Small bowl – for fat skimmed off while cooking
Large, heat proof bowl – for the stock once it’s done
Fine mesh sieve
Other mixing bowls – I used about three other bowls as I dealt with the chicken so I could keep bones separate from meat, separate from skin/fat, etc.
Freezer bags, tupperware, mason jars – I used freezer bags for scraps and chicken bones I’d be using later, the Tupperware for my shredded chicken, and mason jars for some of the broth – the remainder of the broth (what I froze) went in more freezer bags.
Clean your produce and rough chop everything– just small enough it’s easy to get in the pot, set that aside.
Stick your chicken in the pot– I broke down the quarter of a chicken I had in my freezer from another recipe and was slightly traumatized by it (I’ll explain more below) so I decided to not butcher the whole bird and just stuck that sucker in the pot whole. Then I wedged what I did break down of the first bird in along the sides of the pot.
Cover the bird with water, boil– I filled the pot with water until the bird and bits were covered with about an inch of water and put it on the stove on high/med-high heat to boil.
Once I got the pot boiling, I did a first round of skimming off fat (I put it in a bowl to save later, I think I’m going to try my hand at making chicken schmaltz, stay tuned to see if I really do or if this will just languish in my freezer like some of my other bright ideas).
Reduce the heat so the wateris simmeringand stick in as many of the veggies as you can and do all the seasoning.
DON’T FOR GET TO SET A TIMER (I did, thankfully I had a vague idea of when I started cooking). Mainly you don’t want to forget you’ve got a giant pot of very, very hot water on your stove. I boiled my stock for about four hours.
Periodically check on your stock, skimming off extra fat, or perhaps sticking in more veggies if room becomes available. After two hours I stuck the lid on my pot, mainly cuz I was slightly paranoid I was evaporating off too much water. Cover at your own discretion.
Strain– Once you have the stock made, pour the contents of the pot through a strainer into a large pot then set the stock aside to cool.
Deal with the Chicken– Since I used a whole chicken and wanted to keep the meat, I took the now very cooked solid contents of the stock pot and began separating out chicken from veg, and then meat from bones, skin, and fat.
Separate off the fat– Once the stock is totally cool and the remaining fat has separated out from the liquid, skim of that solidified fat and start storing your stock – it can keep in the fridge (although not forever), and in the freezer. You will wait a while for this step to happen. I waited overnight and dealt with the fat in the morning.
And now it’s story time…
I don’t actually watch a lot of cooking shows, surprising perhaps, given my interest in cooking and despite my subscriptions to four different cooking magazines. But I really don’t. Admittedly, I don’t watch a lot of TV in general, aside from Netflix marathons. The one cooking show I do watch is Barefoot Contessa. I love Ina Garten. I think it’s in part because she reminds me of my Grandmother.
Grandma Connie always claimed that she hated cooking. It was a four-letter word. Cook. And yet, my Grandma was a fabulous cook. Honestly the best home cook I know. I have such strong memories of her bustling about her kitchen making oodles and oodles of food for no other reason than my parents and I were in town. She legitimately used to say ‘eat, you’re too skinny’. Everything she made was full fat, butter, cream, lard, mixed with her hands homemade goodness. Food was supposed to taste good and be enjoyed. I see those same traits in Ina, although she is perhaps slightly more health conscious than my Grandma. Hell, Connie and Ina even dress alike – Blousy button down and earrings, although Ina’s tops are surprisingly food free for never wearing an apron. One of the many things I learned in Connie’s kitchen was that you should never trust a cook with a clean blouse, just like you should never trust a skinny chef. Another thing she and Ina appear to have in common – both were/look very huggable. Anyway, Ina Garten speaks to me as someone who is interested in cooking and entertaining as well as someone who lost their Grandmother recently and misses her.
So I watch A LOT of Barefoot Contessa.
I also follow all the memes. You know, like the one about the “good vanilla” and “the butter the size of peas” and of course, if “you don’t have homemade store bought is fine”. And she never invokes that “homemade is better but store bought is fine” more than when she’s talking about chicken stock. Homemade chicken stock is apparently, the shit. Well, I’m an adventurous cook who wants to do a good job, and it’s the last few days before the semester starts so I could either check my email and do work OR I could take a page out of the book of Garten and try my hand at homemade chicken stock. You can guess which option I took.
As a general rule I’m a recipe follower. I know, I know real chefs make it up on their own, but I just like to cook, I never claimed I was a real chef. In my adventure of making homemade chicken stock I did some Pintrest research on recipes. (Which before I discuss my findings can someone please explain to me what the hell Bone Broth is and why it’s a thing? Like am I really just supposed to drink meat juice?). I looked up Ina’s recipe for stock, checked out Martha Stewarts’ as well and maybe five other blogs that Pintrest turned up, maybe more – I just sorta started clicking and skimming. As far as I could tell making chicken stock is fairly straight forward and the overall recipe doesn’t vary too much. Take some chicken (Ina did 3 five-pound birds, like holy shit woman, how big is your pot?), cover it with water, boil, reduce to simmer and add a bunch of vegetables and some seasoning – definitely salt and pepper if nothing else, then cook for a loooooong time. Welp, that seemed easy enough. The one major variation I saw across recipes was if you should use a whole bird or just bird carcasses. Since I had not started a chicken body bag in my freezer full of bones and scraps, I opted for the whole bird method. Added bonus, in my mind, is the boiling with vegetables and herbs would poach the chicken and then I could shred the meat and use it for meals. Wooo #mealprep.
Ok, so step one in this cooking adventure. I cleaned the vegetables and gave them a rough chop – mainly to break them down so they’d fit in the pot easier. I chopped up 4 carrots, 1 Leek, took the tops off the beets I was planning on roasting later, 2 celery stalks, 1 red onion, and 1 head of garlic. These were all vegetables I’d seen in other recipes, with the exception of the beet leaves – which I figured what the hell and added them. So far super good.
Next the chicken. I had a quarter of a bird left over from a Blue Apron recipe. The recipe called for roasting the bird, but I was clearly feeling lazy and chucked the quarter in the freezer and roasted some chicken breast I had on hand instead. So I dug the bit out of the freezer to toss in the pot with the whole chicken I’d got from the store.
Cooks Illustrated is a fucking liar. Look, I love Cooks Illustrated – a lot. But they say that butchering a chicken is super easy to do. Same with Ina Garten. Oh, it’s so easy they say. NOPE. I even had a freshly sharpened Chef’s knife at my disposal and look at this mess. I couldn’t find the joints they claimed were so easy to just pop out and cut through, or any of the lines of fat I was supposed to follow to separate the breast from the body, the wing, and so on. I sawed, I hacked, I considered getting a mallet and being done with it. It was awful. Also, cold chicken isn’t the most pleasant sensation all over your hands. Ew ew ew. (I’d like to think my distaste for feeling cold chicken/ meat in general means I could never actually stab someone). I’m really glad I took my wedding band off before I started.
There was no way in hell after the ordeal of trying to break down a quarter of a chicken that I was gunna break down a whole bloody bird (literally). So I popped the whole chicken in what I thought was my big stock pot and tucked the little parts in around it. The back bone I’d inelegantly hacked out of the chicken along with the ribs I put in a freezer bag to keep to make Bone Broth later – once I had collected more bones. This bag is hereby to be known as the body bag.
I covered the chicken with hot tap water so that it was all submerged by an inch then put the pot on high/med-high heat until it was boiling. This was when I discovered that my Big Ass Stock Pot was not as big ass as I thought. Yeah, it works great for making a buttload of pasta but for making stock with a whole chicken… not so much. How the hell Ina Garten made stock with 3 five-pound whole birds I’ll never now. Like how big is that pot? How did she even lift it? She’s like my Grandma, and Connie was never that strong or tall. (I have no idea about Garten herself, but since I’ve already projected that she’s my Grandma she’s getting all of Connie’s frailties as well). Anyway, the stock pot was basically full with just the chicken in it there was no way I’d get all the veg in as well without making a right mess. So I stuck in as much as I could – trying to get as much flavor representation as possible. Half an onion, full head of garlic, half the leek, etc. etc. etc. Then I set about seasoning.
One of the most consistent things all the recipes called for was to use whole peppercorns, not ground black pepper, but peppercorns. Well, I don’t have whole peppercorns and I forgot to get some at the store. So ground black pepper it was. A word (well, this is me, more than one word) about the other seasonings. We’d gotten a shit ton of snow dumped on us last weekend and the weather suggests that there’s more snow to come – so the store when I went this morning was more than a little picked over. I won’t say post-apocalyptic, but flirting with it. There were none of the fresh herbs I needed. So it was dried and powdered seasonings across the board. Since dried herbs are less potent than fresh ones, and older spices are also weaker I was generous with adding basil, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme to the broth.
Boiling chicken releases fat from the bird which rises to the top as the water bubbles and is easily skimmed off. I took a wood spoon and easily got the fatty, bubbly layer off the water and put it in a side dish. As a fanfiction writer I write a lot of characters with a variety of backgrounds so I do a lot of research, and as a cook I always obsessively read about different food cultures. Yes, I just declared myself a writer because of all the fanfiction I’ve written in my life. Also, yes, I just declared myself a cook as well. #YOLO My Ghostbusters fanfic is about Egon and Janine, both characters are Jewish so I’ve read up on a lot of recipes important to Jews and New York Jewish food culture. One of the things I’ve come across in that research is schmaltz.
Schmaltz is rendered poultry fat, usually chicken but can also refer to goose, duck, etc. fat. The word is Yiddish and related to the German word schmalz, which also means rendered animal fat. Schmaltz in English also means “excessive sentimentality, especially in music or movies”. This amuses me as I had a biology teacher in high school whose surname was Schmaltz, who in retrospect was a bit “excessively sentimental” and looked like he enjoyed rich food – such as using lard. Ok, maybe his excessive sentimentality was also vaguely inappropriate. There was a running joke amongst the students that you’d get “schmaltzed” when he’d do or say something weird to you. For example, he was the girls’ cross-country coach, and their practice would occur at the same time as swim practice. Sometimes he’d pop in and talk with our head coach, Dan. And if you were around before or after practice, or out of the water for whatever reason he’d stop and talk to you to – cold and in your bathing suit. He never stared or said anything vulgar but like Buddy, let me put pants on before you talk to me about the upcoming exam.
Anyway, schmaltz is rendered poultry fat usually made by cooking chicken fat and skin with some onion until the fat liquifies, the skin cooks up like cracklings and the onion gets all soft and caramelized. The cooked skin and onion are known asgribenes. Gribenes work well on salads, in matzo balls or even, apparently, eaten straight. Schmaltz can be used for all sorts of stuff, I’ve seen it frequently in roasted vegetable recipes. But further research has also shown me that Schmaltz can be used any time you need fat or oil – it has a higher smoking point than olive oil for example or could replace lard/shortening in crusts. So I figured, if I’m going to every bit of the chicken I might as well use the fat. I make lots of roasted vegetables and am willing to branch out into stuff like savory tart crusts. Anyway, it’s another experiment, we’ll see how it turns out. In the mean time I have a Tupperware container in the freezer full of fat and chicken skins. It’s the Schmaltz Box… Or maybe I should call it the Bird Box – that’s a topical pun for you.
I boiled the vegetables and chicken for four hours. I think. I forgot to set a timer for like maybe an hour. I thought I had set the timer, but all I’d done was pick out the ringtone but not actually set it. Anyway, boiled the whole lot for four hours, half of it uncovered half of it covered. I was a little worried that too much water was evaporating out (in retrospect why, I don’t know that’d just make the stock more concentrated, and lords knows the pot won’t go dry in all the time with that level of evaporation). From time to time I’d check on the stock, skimming off fat, stirring stuff up as best I could and once the vegetables softened up enough that I could stuff them under the chicken, I started adding more to the pot.
With four hours hands off cooking time I could have gotten so much done. Hell, Ina Garten roasts a chicken and in that cook time makes five other dishes. The least I could do was … something. What I did was well, spent a lot of time on tumblr and twitter and facebook and pintrest. And I guess I also went and got the mail, wearing a very fetching combination of jawesome shark socks, my Birkenstocks (socks and sandals, got I’m like a German Tourist [my Dude would immediately object to this statement, while wearing socks and sandals…]), a floral print pinafore apron from the 70s, over a pair of pastel green jeans, white cable knit sweater (which has seen better days) over a denim shirt.
Eventually I did start writing some thank you cards. Armin and I got married the 29thof December, I’ve been working, not as diligently as my mother probably would say I should be, on getting all of my thank yous written. Thankfully Emily Post and the Knot say we have like 3 months to get them all sent after the wedding. I’m holding them to that.
I also watched like five episodes of Father Brown. I love mystery shows, and I love love that it’s Arthur Weasley solving said mysteries. God bless Netflix.
Once the stock finished boiling, I poured it through a sieve into a heat resistant bowl. I tried fishing the veg and chicken out of the pot before pouring it, but the chicken was so poached that my tongs literally pulled up the bones, the meat fell right off. So I just dumped everything into the sieve and began sorting it out by hand once it’d cooled off a bit. But only a bit, I think I spent at least an hour muttering to myself ‘ow, hot’ as I dug around in the chicken and veg.
I started out with three bowls, one I put the vegetables and anything else I wasn’t going to use. Don’t get me wrong, I like vegetables, but these were cooked so soft they would be useless to try and do anything with. The second bowl I put the chicken meat and the third bowl I put the bones and chicken skin. I worked through the second bowl using my bare hands. “Clean hands are a cook’s best tool” Ina has said in numerous episodes and she’s right. With my fingers it was easy to find all the little, freaking tiny bones in the chicken, the skin and fat, and some stuff that was slimy and felt weird and I don’t know what it is, but I don’t like it. It took the most amount of time to get the usable meat and shred it. It took less time to go through the third bowl and separate out the bones for the body bag and the fat and skin in the schmaltz box. I would have weighed the chicken once it was shredded but the little digital scale I got as a wedding present wouldn’t work cuz I didn’t have a tiny screwdriver to get the battery situated. But suffice to say I’ll be having shredded chicken for every meal for the next week or more.
I let the chicken stock cool on the counter while I rummaged around in the chicken, then put it in the fridge so that the fat will separate out from the stock and I can skim it off, more schmaltz for the box. The stock will stay in the fridge over night before I do any skimming, so the fat gets good and cold and easy to deal with, that and to be honest I’m a bit tired of looking at that fucking chicken stuff. It’s been like five and a half hours of work already. Once the stock is ready to use my plan is to put some in a mason jar and keep it in the fridge and then the rest in a muffin tin to freeze into portions (and I’ll have to check but they should be about a cup).
There ya go, this is a recipe and a narrative for me making chicken stock. Now, I have no idea if it’s any good on its own or in a dish. So maybe don’t go taking my word for gospel (honestly, you should never actually do that). I’ll let you know later how everything turns out. And if it sucks, well fuck me, store bought works just fine.