Okay gang. It’s fall and if your region of the country is cooperating there should be burnt colored leaves sailing to the ground on the wings of a chilly breeze. You should have had your first pumpkin spice latte. A bite of something orange. Hopefully you’ve pulled out recipes with award-winning appearances from some of autumn’s all-stars like nutmeg and cinnamon. And if you’re anything like me, despite the unseasonably warm weather, you’ve started making soup. In my opinion, at the pinnacle of pumpkin patches, hayrides, and brisk morning walks perches soup in all its glory.
Now there are a zillion soup recipes out there: Butternut squash, bean and kale, tortilla, chicken noodle, vegetable, split pea, tomato basil, and so on. But if you really want to do any of these soups right, you’ve got to start with a good stock. If soup were an outfit, the stock would not be the belt, boots or dazzling hat – it would be the jeans. The very foundation for the whole shebang. Without great stock, you can’t have great soup. It’s that simple. And the great part is, you don’t have to spend a fortune on it. In fact, when you make your own chicken stock you should save money in the long run while getting a much healthier and flavorful product. Not to mention, your house will smell storybook charming.
Here’s how I’ve been making mine: First, if you’ve got a farmer’s market or local meat seller anywhere near you, ask your farmer for the parts of a chicken that are good for making stock. I know there are more appetizing things than asking for chicken parts, but this is where you save your money while still getting everything you need: necks, backs, legs, feet (I’ve never used feet myself, but I hear there’s a lot of gelatin in the feet). You can also use a whole chicken if you want, just make sure you take the meat off the chicken right after it’s cooked so you don’t dry your meat out. Then you can throw your carcass back in the stock pot. (I prefer to use local, free-range chickens that have fed off the land, rather than processed ones because I think you get much healthier meat.)
Directions: Pour 4-5 quarts of water into a good-sized stock pot. I use filtered water since so much of your soup is made up of water. Throw your chicken parts into the water. The last few times I’ve thrown in two backs that my farmer sold me at the farmer’s market for about a dollar a piece. Then toss in carrots, celery, and a large yellow onion (mirepoix). You can coarsely chop these vegetables – no need to spend much time here as you’re only using the vegetables for flavor. I also love to use fresh cloves of garlic and parsley. Once everything is thrown into your stockpot, bring everything to a boil and let vigorously boil until the meat is falling off the bone. (If you’re using a whole chicken and want to save your meat, make sure you take the chicken out when the meat is cooked, carve your meat off, and then return what’s left to the stockpot). If you’re using chicken parts you probably won’t want to use the meat so don’t worry about taking the chicken out and saving the meat – the whole thing can stay in the whole time.
I then add approx two tablespoons of fresh sea salt, but regular salt will work great; one teaspoon cumin; one teaspoon coriander; at least a teaspoon of pepper; a sprinkle of garlic powder. The first few minutes of the rapid boil is when you’ll see a lot of “scum” rise to the top. I keep a spoon and small bowl on hand so I can scrape the scum off and put it in the bowl to later be tossed outside. After the meat starts falling off the bone (1-2 hours), I reduce my stock to a simmer and let it continue anywhere from 2-6 hours. I don’t put a lid on my stock so it can thicken and reduce to a greater intensity. If you’re looking for a lighter colored, less intense stock, keep the lid on. I do occasionally add water if I think I’ve got lots of time to let the stock simmer, stretching all my ingredients a bit more.
When you’re ready to remove your stock from the stove, turn your oven off and let the stock cool. There are other more sophisticated ways to do this, but I get a large colander and simply pour everything from my stock pot through the colander and into a bowl so I’m left with nothing but liquid stock (vegetables, meat and bones should be left in strainer). I then transfer my stock to the refrigerator and let sit for several hours until the stock has congealed (It should be very jelly-like). You’ll see a white layer on top which is the fat. Simply scrape that off and discard. Everything else is pure stock and can be refrigerated for 2-3 days or frozen for much longer.
You will love the way homemade stock makes your soups taste, you’ll love having it on hand in your fridge/freezer, and you’ll love the health benefits, as the gelatin from chicken bones is high in protein and full of nutrients you won’t get in a box or can. If you’ve got other ways of making homemade stock, or some good tips, leave a comment. I’m sure everyone will benefit!