For my first food post, I thought I’d start where so many recipes begin – with a rich, wholesome chicken stock. When I realized how easy it was to make my own stock, and when I tasted my first soup made from such a stock, I was fully invested. Since then it has been a journey through aromatics, fresh green things and pungent spices.
One beautiful thing about stock making is that each batch turns out a little differently. I don’t use a strict recipe (three carrots, one yellow onion, blah blah blah). Instead, I squirrel away vegetable scraps from my many culinary ventures in a freezer bag creatively marked “stock vegetables”. Because here’s the thing that gets me really excited: we throw away handfuls of untapped nutritional potential when we chop our veggies each day. Onion skins are rich in antioxidants that prevent heart disease. Celery leaves have five times more calcium and magnesium than the stalks. More often than not it’s the “bad” part of the produce that carries the most vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. That used to break my little health-nut heart.
No longer. Stock is the answer! They say not to boil the heck out of your veggies, because all of the good stuff leaches out into the water…. where it stays, fully intact and waiting to be sipped. The chicken bones have their often-wasted offerings as well. I always add a good “glug” of apple cider vinegar to my stock before cooking, because the acid helps coax the calcium and phosphorous out of those bones. You won’t taste the vinegar, and your own bones will thank you.
Like I said, there’s no strict recipe. But here’s a guideline to get you started on your own artisanship.
I start with a slow cooker. Mine is a cute little 3 quart, and it’s the perfect size for the bones of one whole chicken. If you’re working with a significantly larger crockpot, you might consider saving up two birds (you can freeze these as well). I cut all of the meat I can get off of my chicken, then I throw everything in the crockpot. EVERYTHING. Don’t waste your time pulling off the skin or the fat. It will boil up the the top and when it cools, the more fat you have the easier it is to skim off. Also be sure to throw in those drippings that turn in to a gelatinous blob in the bottom of your pan after refrigeration. That chicken jello action is chock full of gelatin and collagen.
(I tried to take a photo of this step, but you just can’t make a chicken carcass pretty).
Now toss in any spices you want to use. I always add a small handful of peppercorns, because I love the flavor of pepper. I also put in a couple of bay leaves, and a dash of salt. Don’t go too heavy on the salt – you can always add more later, and your seasoned chicken skin is salty already. I haven’t had great luck with fresh herbs – I think many of them are a little strong in the finished product. I’ve heard parsley lends a great flavor, however.
Now, fill the rest of the pot with vegetables. Get those scraps out of the freezer, then supplement as needed with fresh veggies. I find that a good oniony broth really floats my boat (so rich and earthy … it gets me thinking of French Onion Soup), but having a good balance of carrots, celery and onions is a good place to start. Don’t forget the garlic!
You can branch out to other vegetables as well, but there are a few to avoid – broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage in particular are said to lend strong, unpleasant flavors.
Once your crockpot is brimming with ingredients, fill it with water and a dash of vinegar, and turn the cooker on low. Now you wait – for up to 24 hours! Let it go overnight. When it’s done, the vegetables should be mushy and the bones brittle. All that good stuff will now be in the water. Refrigerate until the fat solidifies on the top, and skim off with a big spoon. What’s left is that delectable liquid gold we call stock. Yum!
Homemade Chicken Stock
- Scraps from one whole roasted chicken
- 3 unpeeled carrots plus more to taste
- 3 celery stalks (leaves on) plus more to taste
- 1 unpeeled onion plus more to taste
- whole peppercorns (about 1 tablespoon)
- 5-10 cloves of garlic
- 2-4 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup vinegar
Place chicken (with pan juices), peppercorns, garlic, bay leaves, and a dash of salt in a 3 quart crockpot.
Wash and roughly chop the carrots, celery, and onion, then add to the pan. The vegetables should reach the top of the crockpot.
Add vinegar, then fill to the brim with water.
Set crockpot to low heat and allow to simmer 10-24 hours.
To strain, carefully pour the entire contents of the pot into a fine mesh sieve set over a large bowl.
Refrigerate until the stock is cooled and the fat has solidified on top (about 4-6 hours).
Skim the fat from the surface with a large spoon and discard.