On Sundays, one can usually smell the aroma of chicken stock wafting through our kitchen from about one o’clock and on, as the carcass of the midday meal’s chicken simmers away on the stovetop in a big stockpot. There’s just something about Sunday that feels like a Roasted Chicken Day, so it’s often the star of our luncheon, whether roasted by me or the good people of Costco.
In the past, we have dabbled in periods of vegetarianism, but seem to have found our happy spot with a diet that is primarily plant-based, with smaller doses of meats, comprised mostly of chicken and fish. (We like Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”) However, chicken stock is a vital ingredient in my kitchen, and I refuse to use the product that can be found in cartons at the grocery. I’ve tried it once for convenience, and it just will never compare with homemade, in terms of nutrition, quality, and flavor.
Store-bought stock is often high in sodium and low in other actual nutrition. It is costly, because you are paying for convenience (though I find homemade to be no trouble at all), and it has the flavor profile of the container it came in … paperboard with a hint of plastic. Or, bland, and vaguely icky. If you taste it outside of your recipe, you will discover that it has no taste or exciting flavor whatsoever. While it may slide under the radar in a recipe with lots of other ingredients, you are sacrificing the amazing flavor that you can achieve by making your own. In a simple soup, store-bought will make itself known, much to your dismay. Plus, after using store-bought, you are left with a Tetrapak to dispose of. (FYI – These cartons, often used for milk, juice, soups, stocks, etc., may or may not be recyclable in your municipality. Check earth911.com to find out!)
If I haven’t convinced you that making your own chicken stock is the way to go, let me add how easy and waste-free it can be! I make it at least every other weekend, and it takes very little of my time or attention. I am rewarded for my minimal efforts with an average of about 12-24 cups of stock each time, depending on how much I put into the stockpot. Here’s what I do:
- Throughout the week, I set aside my vegetable trimmings as I cook. I usually put a medium-sized bowl next to my cutting board as I chop and peel, and place all eligible scraps in it. Here are some examples of what I save (I should note that I only buy and grow organic vegetables, therefore I feel comfortable adding these peels and skins to my stock): Onion skins and root-ends, garlic skins and root-ends, carrot tops, tips, and peels, celery top and root-end trimmings, sweet potato peels, leek trimmings, mushroom stems, herb trimmings, scallion tops and root-ends, etc. (Similarly, I also save all of the above, plus root-vegetable trimmings and peels, asparagus trimmings, broccoli and cauliflower trimmings, etc. for an excellent vegetable broth made in the same fashion).
- I save my vegetable scraps in mason jars in the freezer until stock-making day. Don’t worry about the trimmings freezing to the inside of the jar: I have found that they pop right out after just a minute or two on the counter. I usually have several jars of veggie trimmings by the time the weekend rolls around.
- I keep an eye on produce in my fridge. If anything looks like it’s on the verge of making a decline before we will use it, I pop it in the freezer for safekeeping until stock day. No waste here!
- Any chicken bones, skin, or innards I come across in the week’s cooking and eating also head into the freezer to await stock-day. Don’t throw away any part of the chicken! If you have chicken feet, use them … they are amazing for this! Since these aren’t as easy to come by, I have asked for these at a local specialty store, and they have assured me that all I need to do is call ahead for them and place an order. If you have chickens, or know someone who does, take advantage of it.
- When I am ready to make stock, I grab my big stockpot, which has a built-in strainer-basket. Everything I have saved goes into the pot, along with a few bay leaves, some peppercorns, and some sea salt for seasoning. If I have additional fresh herbs, those go in too. I cover it all with cool water and bring it to a boil, and then reduce it to a low simmer. Then, I cover it with a lid, and walk away! I ignore it for the rest of the day, except for an occasional peek if I am walking by.
- After hours have passed (how many is up to you) I lift the strainer basket, push the liquid out of the now-depleted ingredients, and put the stock in big bowls or measuring cups to cool, running it through a fine strainer as I ladle or pour it in. The stock goes into the fridge to chill, and the ingredients head outdoors to complete the 5 R’s: Rot. (Refuse, Reuse, Reduce, Recycle, Rot). The chicken bones have literally been reduced to crumbly, indistinguishable matter, and have yielded up all their goodness. Nothing goes in the trash.
In the end, I have gotten the max out of my ingredients in terms of cost and nutrients. My constant supply of chicken stock is made from scraps, costing me virtually nothing, so I save money at the store, and gain in flavor! I will use the stock to complete recipes, make soups, and drink on its own. (It’s a wonderful comforting tonic when you are ill, and scientists concur that it exhibits healing properties). Plus, when it’s all said and done, I have wasted nothing, which is a great feeling.
Do you make your own chicken stock or bone broth, or would you give it a try?