Chicken Stock Sundays – How to Cook Like Your Great Grandmother

There are a lot of reasons why my friends have called me a grandma in the past, not the least of which is my tendency to go to bed early on Friday and Saturday nights.  The only fun I ever have on Friday night is right after work – because if I go home there is absolutely no getting me back out. And if that makes me a grandma, then so be it.

Maybe being a grandma in one area of your life begets it in another, but one good thing that comes from heading to bed early is getting up early. I do all sorts of things on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  I go grocery shopping before the stores get crowded, get to the laundry room before all the machines are in use, and cook kitchen staples like chicken stock. This past Sunday I managed to do all of my laundry, hit up the farmers’ market, go to breakfast, and put chicken stock on the stove – all before noon. I have to admit, it’s a little impressive even for me.

I’ve already established my deep love of roasted chicken in several previous posts, and chicken stock is just one more way to enjoy the fruits of those lovely roasted birds. So many recipes call for chicken stock or broth, and at one point in time I found myself using so much of the store-bought stuff that it was costing me a fortune. If I was going to make a pot of chicken soup, I’d end up using three to four boxes without even blinking. And then it occurred to me that making my own stock might be a whole lot cheaper, not to mention tastier. Perhaps I should call this edition “ifoodmywallet”…

In order to achieve my economic goal though, I had to ignore most recipes for chicken stock that require you to purchase chicken or chicken parts specifically for stock making. Most grocery stores don’t package the backs, wing tips, etc. (though when they do I snatch them up!) so you end up buying whole chickens and then having to use poached chicken, which I inevitably turn into chicken salad.  So, this is where the whole great-grandmother portion of the title comes in. When I think about my great-grandmothers, I don’t imagine them making stock right before they needed it with specially purchased ingredients. Instead, I imagine them using the leftover bones and scraps from chicken they were already making, milking all the flavor and nutrition out of them, and only then discarding them. They, like most people of their generation, lived in a time where economy and resourcefulness were not only virtues, but necessities. More often than not they grew or raised the food they ate, and used every part of an animal or plant that was edible to feed their families. Though I don’t live on a farm or have a huge family to feed, I do believe that I can incorporate at least some of what they did into my urban lifestyle in my tiny studio apartment.

Ida Bertha Lange Meyer
Wisconsin, circa 1915

Bessie Denton Barneycastle Cartner
North Carolina, circa 1940

How do I do this? It really shouldn’t shock most of you that I am the girl who keeps chicken bones in her freezer. When I roast a chicken, or even when I buy a rotisserie chicken, I save the bones, stick them in a Ziploc bag, and pop them in my freezer. Theoretically, I should probably make stock that night, but when I finish dinner and get the kitchen cleaned up, the last thing I want to do is start cooking something else. The other thing reason I freeze them is because I usually only cook for one or two people and don’t always have enough bones from one meal to make a sufficient amount of stock for it to be worth my while (though you certainly can make it in smaller amounts). So, I collect bones, backs, and scraps, pop them in the freezer, and then on a Saturday or Sunday morning, when I’ve risen really early, I pop it all in a pot on the stove and let it simmer away. It makes my apartment smell delicious.

Note: When I butterfly or butcher a whole chicken to roast it, I always roast the removed back bone along with it.  You can just save the raw back and freeze it with everything else, but I prefer the depth of flavor that comes from the roasted bones.  If I do buy chicken backs, wings, etc to use for stock, I usually roast them for 45 minutes to an hour before I pop them in the pot.

Seven quarts of stock!

Here are the basic elements to chicken stock:

Chicken bones

Carrots

Onion

Celery

Salt and pepper

Bay leaves

Carrots, celery, and onion

You can put other things in it, but I prefer to keep my stocks simple so that I can use them for a broad range of recipes. If I want to add another layer of flavor to them later, I can always simmer it again for a bit with that extra ingredient.

Equipment:

You’re going to need a couple of things to make your stock a success. One is a big pot. I prefer to use one that has a built-in basket or strainer, like you’d use for making tons of pasta. It’s helpful, but by no means a necessity – any large stock pot will work. You will also need a mesh strainer, like the one I talk about in My Favorite Kitchen Tools.This is used to remove all of the little bits could make your final product a bit unpleasant. I strain the stock into a big bowl to cool and skim off the fat before transfering it to smaller storage containers, but you can easily just do it in the containers themselves. I like the quart-size containers with a screw on top because they are the best for holding liquids.

Method:

I never measure my ingredients when I make stock, but the amounts below will yield a good and flavorful result.

2-2 ½ chickens worth of roasted bones (you can use raw, but the flavor will lack some of the depth)

4-5 regular carrots, chopped in thirds

2 large white onions, quartered (no need to remove the ends or the papers)

3-4 stalks of celery, chopped in thirds

2 bay leaves

10-12 whole peppercorns or a couple of good grinds of freshly cracked pepper

Salt

(Note on the salt: You can season your stock just a little bit or quite a lot until it tastes like a finished chicken soup. I prefer somewhere in between because I like to be able to taste the stock and it not be flat in flavor, but I also don’t want to be able to season the dishes I make with the stock appropriately and not worry about reduced stock becoming too intensely salty.  If you’re planning on reducing stock for sauces, gravies, etc, I would recommend erring on the side of less seasoning.  You can always add, but never subtract!)

Ingredients combined in stock pot.

Combine all of the ingredients in a large stock pot, cover with water, and bring to a low simmer.  Cook for anywhere from 4-8 hours, adding water as necessary to account for evaporation.   The longer you simmer it, the richer the stock.  I usually end up letting it go for about 6 hours.  Turn off the heat and let it cool slightly, then remove the bones and vegetables from the liquid (where the strainer in the pot comes in handy!  I always set the strainer basket on a baking sheet because valuable stock will continue to drain for several minutes and I don’t want to lose it.).

Drained solids.

Working in batches, pour the stock through a mesh strainer to remove all of the small bits that aren’t caught by the larger strainer or slotted spoon.  Allow to cool for about an hour (or for 20-30 minutes in the fridge) so that the fat can rise to the top.  Use a spoon to gently skim off the fat (save it for other uses if you want), and then pour the stock into storage containers.  My stock pot usually yields about seven quarts of finished stock.  I freeze at least half and keep the rest in the fridge.  It will last about a week in the fridge, and much longer in the freezer.  You may notice that when refrigerated it becomes slightly gelatinous, which is completely normal.  When you re-heat it the stock will return to a liquid state.

You can see a thin layer of fat that has risen to the top.

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4 thoughts on “Chicken Stock Sundays – How to Cook Like Your Great Grandmother

  1. I love the grandma pictures! Hopefully, too, we will be seeing some recipes made with this beautiful, golden stock.

  2. Love this! I’m going to start doing this now. I use WAAAAY too much store bought chicken and veggie stock. Thanks, Elizabeth!

    • It really is a huge money saver. The cost of the onions, carrots, and celery (which I always have on hand anyway) is negligible compared to the cost of buying stock and broth. It’s also a great way to use scraps of veggies that you’d otherwise throw away.

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