We need to have a serious talk.
To make it easier, I’ll start with the bottom line:
“Any lousy chicken stock you will make at home will taste far superior to ANY store-bought stock or broth you will buy.”
Now, let me tell you something.
The last time I made chicken stock was about 3-4 years ago. I got busy with the kiddies and stopped making it. I thought I didn’t have time for this.
So, I tried different brands, organic, free-range, sodium free, stocks, broths, in cartons, cans, and even frozen fresh stock for $7 per pint! The frozen fresh became the preferred one. Because I thought I nailed it. I believed I have found the perfect solution: an organic, fresh, make from scratch (by someone else) substitution to real homemade chicken stock. I put my trust in that stock and made a $7 “investment” each time I bought it. Then, one day, when dinner plans have changed and I couldn’t use the stock right away, I left it to thaw in a fridge for 2 days. When I finally wanted to use my thawed stock (in a soup), I poured it into a measuring cup since I only needed 2 cups and, to my absolute surprise and shock, water poured out! Water.
I looked at the bottom of the container and there I saw some brown bits/residue lying on the bottom. This did not look appealing. I also felt cheated for paying $7 for this stock. The previous times I used it, I reheated it in a small pot and immediately added it to the main dish so I never noticed this “feature”. It always looked brown and homogenous as good stock should be. At that point in time my stock option has changed. That frozen one was the best substitute compared to the others (besides buying real stock at the farmers market) – although it always tasted somewhat pale – or so I thought. To that point, I felt good when I used it, as if my conscious was clear (yeah, just like the stock!), but that incident ruined it for me. I was left with no other choice but to go back to making my own. But how?
It’s not that I didn’t know how to make stock. I made it many times before, using a big fat tall pot. The problems were: 1) finding the time to do it. After all, it’s a process that takes hours, 2) it needs some planning ahead, and 3) you need a lot of bones. In short, it’s not something you can do spontaneously. Or at least this is what I thought…
Then, one evening, I had an insight.
Do you know how seeking perfection in everything you do might cause a person to not do anything at all? Does it ever happen to you? It sure happens to me…
My solution? Forget about perfection! Make small, spontaneous stock investments.
Isn’t it gorgeous?!
In the past, I had a “bone collection” (I know, this doesn’t sound good) from leftovers of roasted chickens we ate, only by the time I had enough (4-5 lbs.), some got lost in the freezer or were too old and freezer burnt. From time to time I bought bones/carcasses of organic chickens to complete the collection but then I felt silly paying for bones. And, still, making a big pot of stock felt like a big project. Like a special occasion.
And, then a few days ago, we had a lovely dinner of simple grilled chicken drummettes, mashed sweet potatoes, and a Caesar salad. As I was watching the bones piling on the plates, I had an“A-ha!” moment – you know I have those from time to time… – and I quickly snatched them from the others plates so I won’t forget later and toss them in the trash. My family was still eating the last drummettes, but I got too excited to sit. I put the bones in a small pot with 1/2 fat carrot, 1/2 onion, 1 celery stalk, 1 smashed garlic clove, and a handful of peppercorns, covered with cold water, and brought it to a boil. 2-1/2 hours later I had a pint and a half of homemade chicken stock.
Now, this might not be how you are supposed to make chicken stock by the book. For more hard core how-to, go see Michael Ruhlman’s blog. So I named it My Lousy Chicken Stock ‘cos it’s not perfectly made, and I can feel better about it, but:
1) it’s homemade and so much better than any store bought or brand you will buy
2) it’s doable for the average bone collector
3) it’s cheaper. With a handful of basic veggies and the bones – free, I’d say I spent less than $1
4) the biggest benefit, you know what’s in there!
So if you ever felt intimidated to make your own chicken stock at home, this lousy one is for you.
I tell you, in this market, you should invest in some stock. The profit? It’s priceless.
And, next time you have a plate that looks like this
you’ll know what to do… Right?!
Oh, one more thing.
I personally know some of you and I can hear you saying “but I don’t have celery”, or “but I don’t have bay leaf” or… so I’ll give you a discount. Use what you have. I didn’t have parsley that night. So what? It didn’t stop me from investing. But, even better, next time you plan to roast or grill a chicken, buy some!
Lousy homemade chicken stock
Makes 1-1/2 quarts
chicken bones, leftovers from 4 servings of roasted or grilled chicken
1 small carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1/2 onion, peeled
1 garlic clove, whole and smashed
1 bay leaf
a few whole black peppercorns (OK, use ground)
a few parsley sprigs
Put all the ingredients in a pot. Cover with water. Bring to a boil. When boiling, lower the heat and skim any froth or fat that rose to the surface. Lower the heat to a bare simmer (only a random bubble should appear every now and then) and cook for 2-3 hours.
Strain the stock through a sieve set over a big bowl or another pot (or, if you’re into it, line the sieve with 2 layers of paper towel to catch the little bits and soak some of the fat. Those of you who have cheesecloth at home probably don’t need my lousy version for chicken stock, right?!).
Cool in an ice bath (= put the pot in a clean sink and fill it with cold water and ice to lower the temperature of the hot stock quickly so you can then store in the fridge). Store in containers and chill in the fridge. Optional: when completely cooled, remove any hardened fat that formed on the surface. That’s the classic thing to do although I’m sure my grandma would say that some fat is good for you and it sure taste good.
If not using within 1-2 days, label with name and date and freeze.