The stockpot is on. And in a good few hours there’ll be a fresh batch of chicken stock to use in soups, risottos or casseroles.
There is nothing quite like making stock (chicken or any other type) to make you feel virtuous, in fact there’s a danger of becoming smug about the whole thing. You’re getting maximum value from something in a way that would make your grandparents proud and you’re going to get extra special compliments on all the dishes you use it in; not because people know, but because they really can taste what it adds to the dish in its wonderful background way (kind of like a book printed on particularly nice paper). Soup made with proper stock really is on another level – anyone who ever says in a soup recipe use stock or water as if there is little difference is absolutely missing the point in my book.
But before you get carried away with the idea of stock making let’s just check in with some basics.
Do you have a big enough pan? If you only have a small saucepan then I’m sorry but making stock is not on the cards for the time being. You need something large enough to hold the broken up chicken carcass along with the vegetables we’ll be adding and up to around 3 litres of water. So pretty big – roughly 22-24cm in diameter or more. The pan in the pictures below is 28cm in diameter. There’s lots of lovely pans out there but there’s also no need to go mad. A great pot will last you for years and will be really useful for pasta, big batches of chilli, ragu and casseroles. As an example IKEA do a 5l stainless steel pot for about £17 and I’m sure there’s plenty more reasonably priced options out there – as with any kitchen kit though do go for the best you can afford today.
Have you got enough space to store the stock? You’re going to end up with between 1.5l and 2.5l (about 3-6 pints) of stock so think about where you are going to keep it. The ideal choice is to freeze most of it but if you’ve only got an ice box rather than a freezer then it could prove a little difficult. It will keep fine in the fridge but you’d need to use it within a week.
Have you got time? In many ways it doesn’t take long and you don’t have to constantly attend to it but on the other hand it will need to be simmered for at least 2 hours so don’t decide to make it when you know you need to go and collect the dry cleaning in half an hour. Anyway you won’t want to go out once its cooking because the smell will be so delicious you’ll just want to stay in and do some more of that ‘stock smug’ feeling thing.
Have you got something to strain it through? A colander is fine if that’s what you’ve got – it’ll take out the big/medium debris. Some people like to strain it through something finer, even muslin to get the smaller bits out and create a clearer stock. A fine gauge colander or a sieve you won’t be using for flour is good.
Okay so lets get going.
Get the chicken carcass and any bones you’ve saved from using up the leftovers so far. Strip all the good useful meat of the carcass but don’t be too fussy about this – leaving some meat on the bones will add to the flavour of the final stock. Bung all the bones, any really scrappy meat, the carcass and the skin i.e. anything chicken-y, into the stockpot.
Next add the vegetables and herbs that are going to help flavour things. Read any cookery book and even if they tell you that you shouldn’t be using leftover roast (ignore them, they are wrong, stick with me, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall) they will tell you to add the pretty much holy trinity of onion, carrot and leek – so do that. One medium onion (in quarters), a couple of reasonable size carrots cut in chunks (no need to peel unless you can’t manage to get all the soil off any other way) and a leek (all of it except the very bottom – no throwing those green tops away) again cut into chunks and rinsed so you don’t get sandy soil in the stock. Also good to add is celery – a couple of stacks – chunks again. On the herb/spice front you need some whole black peppercorns (6 or so), a bay leaf or two and a spring of parsley or thyme.
Pour on the water so everything is just covered – the tighter you pack the pot the less water you’ll need and the richer the end result. Less than 1.5l and you’re likely to have missed something out from the pot (so check because no chicken carcass = no chicken stock), more than 3l and its not really going to be that flavoursome.
Bring it up to the boil. You might get some horrid looking scummy froth rising up – scoop it out. And then cover and simmer for anything from 2-5 hours depending on the richness you want to achieve and the time available between starting and needing to do something else – like sleep or use the stock to make your dinner.
That’s pretty much it for a while. Check up on it every now and then and top up the water if it’s looking a bit low.
Once it’s done, allow it to cool and strain it – maybe straight into the tubs you’ll freeze it in. Use the size of tub that you’ll need your stock to be in later. Quite good are the tubs that fresh soup comes in at the supermarket – eat the soup, wash the tub, refill with stock, confident that you won’t need to be buying soup from the supermarket again anytime soon.