I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: That Michelle, why can’t she just tell me how to make the damn soup without all the sermonizing? And the answer is, that’s not how I roll. Sorry.
After my health scare back in late October, I started really looking at how I feed myself. I realized that, though the food I eat is all pretty decent food, I hadn’t been eating the right amounts of things. So I started really putting a lot of time and effort in to eating better. And now you know why posts have been scarce as frog hair on this here blog: I’ve been spending all my time in the kitchen.
Okay that’s mostly a lie, but my number of kitchen hours HAS jumped dramatically. Because in order to be properly nourished, y’all, you just can’t trust anyone but yourself. Even organic pre-packaged food is full of sugar, sodium, preservatives, and goddess knows what else. You want to be healthy, it takes work. I really don’t believe there are any shortcuts, unless you are a trust fund child and can afford to hire a personal chef.
Anyway I had to start cooking a LOT MORE, and this was daunting to me. Eating properly and cooking well isn’t intuitive for me–I have to work really hard at it. BUT, every day it seems like I learn a little more and get a little better at rocking this domestic goddess thing. So I thought I might share, from time to time, some of my favorite cooking instructions. Not really recipes, more guidelines for basic things to do with food.
Today I will share with you how I make a staple of cooking in my house. Good old fashioned chicken stock. Chicken stock forms the basis of most soups at my house–and having good chicken stock makes it easy to make good soup. Also, chicken stock is an excellent way to really wring all of the nourishment out of your food–and to wring the most value out of your food dollars, too, which is nothing to sneeze at. Even if you have a cold–and y’all, chicken broth with some garlic and spices is perfect when you have a cold.
Yeah, you can totally buy chicken broth at the store, or use water and bouillon cubes. But if you read labels–and people, you really should, you’d be shocked at how little FOOD is in most food–you will understand why I prefer to make my own broth. I WILL say, however, that IF you don’t have time for broth making, Rapunzel Bouillon Cubes ROCK, and are made out of actual food–sea salt, non-hydrogenated palm oil, yeast extract, adn veggies and spices. BUT, the sodium is out of this world (1030 mg of sodium in HALF a cube, y’all), and they don’t add any actual nutrients to your soups. Chicken broth from a properly raised chicken requires MUCH less salt and has stuff in it that’s good for you. Also, making a pot of chicken broth/stock makes the house all warm and yummy smelling.
End of sermon.
So to start with, you want to roast yourself some chickens. I discussed how to do THAT here. Of course you don’t HAVE to use the roasted chicken my way, but I think it tastes best if you do. But even store bought roasted chickens make good stock. Once you HAVE your roasted chicken, it’s time for the fun part–you get to eat it. I doubt I need to tell you how to do that. Once you’ve eaten every part of the chicken that you deem edible, you’re ready to make chicken stock.
Or nearly ready, anyway. I like to make my stock in big batches, so I freeze the remains of roasted chicken in the freezer until I have 5 or 6 little carcasses. We eat chicken every week or so, because we raise our own, so it doesn’t take long to have several. If you have a smaller pot, you can certainly make chicken stock from two carcasses.
So once you have sufficient chicken bits (there’s just no elegant way to describe the picked over remains of a roasted bird), you throw them all in a stock pot and pour some water over. I am not terribly precise about this–I don’t mind a little variation in flavor and consistency–but it’s a good idea to try to mostly cover them with water. I never submerge them entirely, but you certainly could. My chickens always have rosemary and onion stuffed inside of them, and I leave that in. If you have them, I recommend that you also add some celery (I usually just cut the leafy parts off of a bunch and throw those in), some bay leaves, and maybe a carrot if you want. Sometimes I’ll add a tiny bit of leftover bell pepper, but you want to be very conservative with that–they have a strong flavor and a little goes a loooooong way. You can also throw in other herbs if you like, but I tend to stick with rosemary and bay leaves, because who knows how I’ll want to flavor my soups?
After you finish throwing in what you want to throw in, put a lid on the pot and bring it up to a boil. Not a volcano-ready-to-explode-boil, just a cheerful “oh look, I’m bubbling!” boil. Then, turn the pot down to a simmer–that’s gentle bubbles casually surfacing, nice steam coming off of it all, and before very long the most amazing aroma ever. Once you get the simmer right . . . let it cook. And cook. And cook. Check it every once in a while for color and fragrance and taste. When it tastes good to you, turn it off. I often let it go for most of the day, so that by the time I’m done with it the stock is almost a gelatin at room temperature. That’s a little hefty for some people’s taste, and it doesn’t MATTER. What matters is that you like it. If you like the stock, you’ll like the soup you make with hit, almost without fail.
Once you like your stock, let it cool quite a bit. Then, very carefully, get out the solid bits. I generally pull out the big pieces of chicken with a pair of tongs, and feed some chicken bits to my geriatric cat. Then I throw away the inedible solids. Then I carefully, carefully pour the stock through a strainer in to mason jars. I leave about an inch and a half of head space at the top, and put on a mason lid. If I’m going to be using the stock in a few days, I put the jar in the fridge. If I think it will be a while, I put it in the freezer–and THAT’S when leaving head space is ESSENTIAL, because this stuff expands quite a bit when you freeze it. A good friend of mine pours her stock in to large muffin trays, freezes it, then puts the cubes in a big plastic bag in her freezer–she then knows that each serving of broth is 1/2 cup. So that’s another option. I freeze mine in quarts, because I tend to use a lot at once. The disadvantage of that is that I have to thaw it ahead of time because I hate using a microwave. Another of my friends freezes hers in ziploc bags. Whatever is easiest for you is what you should do.
IF you are fussy about fat–and we are not, but some people are–let it cool, then use a spoon to scrape off the layer of fat that will sit on top. But don’t be fooled, that will NOT make your chicken stock low fat. It is full of fat. Really, really excellent, nourishing fat. I personally think this is a good thing–because I can make “vegetable” soup that tastes meaty and satisfies my meat loving children and husband, but still gets more veggies in to their bellies than usual. And it makes soup that is a meal in and of itself, and I’m all about only having to cook one big thing. Side dishes make life difficult, and I avoid them when I can.
And that’s it. Easy. Messy, if you’re anything like me, but easy.
I use the broth in any recipe that calls for chicken or vegetable broth.
Questions? Ask away. I bet there are a million other ways that people make chicken stock, so if you don’t like mine, you could search around! Happy cooking.