Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to make traditional homemade chicken stock.
Level of Commitment: Making Strides
Now that (hopefully) you’ve successfully planned at least one meal in advance, it’s time to try your hand at making chicken stock. It couldn’t be easier, really. If you’ve ever made any kind of recipe, you can do this. (By the way, if you’re not menu planning regularly, make it a goal to plan a meal or two a week and work up to regular planning.) Stock/broth is one of the two fundamental KS recipes. It is super healthy, saves so much money, and keeps you in charge of the ingredients. I even submit that you can help the environment by making your own stock in your kitchen.
Today’s is a long post, but that doesn’t mean it’s a difficult task. It just means I want to share a lot and convince you to try stock, and I want to give you as many time-and-energy-saving ideas as I can.
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My Broth Journey
I’ve always made my own broth, even in college. It was the only way I really knew how to cook a whole chicken, so about once or twice a year I’d grab one on sale and make chicken noodle soup. Then when I got married and had a child – that’s when most people realize how important nutrition is, among other things – I made broth because I could be totally in charge of what was in it.
I love that about cooking homemade! The broth was a way for me to avoid MSGs, be in control of how much or how little salt my family consumed (which translated into some pretty dull broths when I was afraid of too much sodium), and be able to scoop the fat out almost 100%, for a fraction of the cost of purchasing good quality stock.
The final stage in my own broth transformation came this winter as I read in Nourishing Traditions about all the incredible nutritional benefits of properly prepared stock: the gelatin and its advantages, calcium, readily available minerals, immune-boosting properties. (You can read them all again in the last Food for Thought.) I made it a point to include broth in our meals a few times a week.
I realized I could and should make stock from leftover bones, not just whole chickens. I begged the turkey carcass from my in-laws at Christmas and will probably do the same at Thanksgiving, unless other family members are reading my blog and get there first! I even stopped skimming the fat (gasp!). I know, I can’t believe it either. I used to be militant about throwing away every last glob of fat and skin I could see. Now I understand that it will keep our family healthy, so… We’ve eaten a lot of broth this winter.
And no one in our family has had so much as a cold since October. My son goes to school once a week and nursery once a week, and my daughter is putting EVERYthing in her mouth these days. I can’t say for sure it’s the broth, as we’ve made many changes in our eating habits since November, but I’m not going to stop now!
How I Make Broth/Stock Now
Aaaaand actually cooking with it:
I found myself in a chicken quandary before making this batch of broth – whole chickens were 79 cents a pound, but I knew that the chickens hadn’t eaten proper food or gotten proper exercise. Chickens that do cost 6-10 times more! Hmmmm…Looking at our food budget for the month, I went for it and said a prayer.
This day I used three whole chickens: one I had roasted for dinner the night before and pulled much of the meat off for wraps and sandwiches, the second I snipped out much of the breasts for stir fry, and the third was untouched. I have so many ways to use broth and slightly fewer ways to use cooked, shredded chicken, so I realized that in order to keep making broth, I had to use the chicken in other ways! You can see all the places these chickens hit our table at this meal plan. (To address the comment at the Food for Thought this week, absolutely you can mix up cooked and uncooked chicken and bones. I threw in a pork bone with my chicken once, but don’t tell my husband! You can even, I understand, use bones from people’s plates at dinner, because the long cooking will annihilate any germs that might have been there. This would be a good time to read my disclaimer in the sidebar, by the way! )
Click here for the easy, one page recipe for Nourishing Traditions style chicken stock. You can use a normal stock pot, probably of a size you have in your cupboard, and just one chicken or one package of split breasts or parts for this recipe. Continue reading for the anecdotal, tip-filled version and don’t skip the last section filled with updates and even more helpful ideas!
The Long Part of the Story
After the chickens sat in cold water with a few tablespoons of vinegar (to draw the minerals out of the bones), I tossed in cut carrots, celery, and onions. I throw away the very outer skin of the onions but leave the non-dirty stuff on. You won’t be eating this part, anyway! If the carrots are organic, I scrub them well and leave the peels right on, because most of the nutrients that I want in my stock are in or just under the peel. My celery is usually ready to go in 3-inch chunks in my freezer, leaves and all. I just read that I should actually add the vegetables just at the end of the cooking, so I’ve changed the recipe to note that. I’m also going to add some garlic cloves for their health benefits next time I make stock.
I’ve learned that it’s important to skim the gunk off the top of the pot after the stock comes to a boil. Many of the impurities end up in what you can skim, so remember: if there’s something to skim off, always skim!
Then I turn the heat down to low, and approximately 24 hours later, I add a bunch of washed parsley (or dried, usually, because I always forget to add parsley to my list when chickens are on sale). Ten minutes later, I can call the stock “done”. I always try to make a soup with the broth right away. This way I can save on storage dishes, and sometimes a pot if I’m making broth in something smaller than my gargantuan pot!
This night I made white chicken chili, but I often just make chicken noodle with fresh stock. I scoop a few quarts over to a clean pot with my liquid measuring cup and slice fresh carrots and celery (organic if at all possible). While the vegetables are cooking I get all the chicken out of the big pot and pull out 2-4 cups of it to add to my soup. I usually estimate that the carrots and celery will need 15-20 minutes to cook, so depending on what kind of noodles I’m using, I add them at the appropriate time. Whole wheat “egg” style noodles are good, but I’m a sucker for kluski noodles. They are what my mom used throughout my childhood and seriously make good soup. Grandma’s homemade noodles would be even tastier, but I haven’t yet tried them on my own! Seasonings include a generous teaspoon of French thyme, often some marjoram, salt and pepper. That’s it! We can sit down to dinner while the chicken from the pot cools down enough for me to touch it without pain.
Sorting the Chicken and the Stock
I like to “pick the chicken” – pull the meat from the bones – that night if I have time. It’s a little easier to differentiate meat from bones when the chicken hasn’t been refrigerated yet. Half the time I do end up throwing all the chicken in a big bowl in the fridge and addressing it the following day. I just mash everything between my fingers, tossing the meat into my glass measuring cup and “everything else” onto a garbage plate or bowl. Sometimes the bones are so soft that I can’t feel them, but I do my very, very best. I freeze the meat in 2-cup portions, because it seems most of my recipes that call for cooked chicken require about that amount, and it’s also just right for a pot of soup for my small family.
Carolyn commented at the Food for Thought that she doesn’t cook chicken on the bone very often. I have to admit, my husband seriously dislikes boned chicken. If I were to put a split chicken breast on his plate, even if it was drenched in the most delicious barbecue sauce, he would still find the meal only “acceptable” because he hates picking through the bones. So I don’t serve chicken on the bone, either! I just use the cooked chicken in LOTS of recipes, from soups to casseroles to our favorite grilled wraps. If your family really dislikes dark meat, by the way, and you wouldn’t be able to hide it in a soup or casserole, you shouldn’t use whole chickens. Split chicken breasts make stock just fine, albeit probably with less gelatin.
Added bonus: split breast are incredibly quick to pick!
After dinner I pour the stock through my colander into my biggest glass bowl, then into the next size down, and so on until it’s ready to be cooled or stored right away, depending on my time available. A slotted spoon is helpful to grab the veggies and chicken (which is totally falling apart) out. If you want really clear broth, use a small screened strainer and ladle everything through that a second time.
Timesaver: I love making stock in the winter, because I just set it all in my garage to chill, usually leaving about half in the pot itself.
This time I accidentally waited too long to address the broth. It partially froze in the garage! It was like ice fishing to dip it out:
You do need to throw away the vegetables. I’m tempted to put them into my soup every time, (you know how I hate to throw food away) but I’ve realized that there’s nothing nutritionally left in them anyway (and they’re REALLY mushy). Just think of them as empty containers that released all their nutrients into your broth and can be thrown away/composted without guilt. *Unless anyone knows something different?
$The Bottom Line$
Now for the best part! I have to show you how much broth I got from these chickens, which ran me about $12 with that sale I mentioned. I figure the broth cost about $2-3, MAX, if you add up the vegetables (even organic!) and the cost of my gas stove for 24 hours. Here’s my broth, ready for storage, MINUS about 12 cups that I already used in soup and stir fry:
That’s 60 (8 oz) cups of broth, folks. A can of Swanson broth is 14 ounces, which means I prepared approximately 34 cans of broth, with all the nutritional benefits of the vinegar soak to boot. !!! Swanson broth happened to be on sale 3/$2 that very week, which means I made $22 worth of broth for two bucks. Woo hoo! If I bought the cheapest broth I could find, which doesn’t pass my palate test anyway, at 50 cents a can I would still have made $17 worth of broth. (If you’re a “low-fat” person, you can easily get almost all the fat out after the broth cools, and your savings would be even more significant, because generally “fat free” versions are only found with name brands.)
All that savings took about 5 minutes to plunk chicken in water, 5 minutes to prep the veggies, a few minutes to skim the gunk, and let’s give it a whole hour to pick chicken, strain broth and store in the freezer. PLUS environmentally I avoided 34 cans being produced, shipped, and thrown away or recycled. That’s a good deal of raw material and energy, in my book. Those results are worth it to me!
How to Freeze Homemade Stock
You’ll notice I’m freezing the broth in all sorts of containers. Glass jars are best, in my opinion, especially if you’re working with warm or hot broth. Be generous with the headroom for expansion – it’s such a bummer to break jars in the freezer. I always give an inch or two. Standard spaghetti sauce jars are great because they’re free. They hold about 3 cups. Quart canning jars are good too, but you’ll cry harder if they break, because they cost about $1 each. (More on How to Freeze in Glass Jars)
When I run out of glass containers, I go for number 5 plastic, and only when I’m using cooled broth. I like the price and accessibility of the large openings on cottage cheese containers. Plastic freezer bags are another option. They are usually number 4 plastic.
Added bonus: With plastic bags, if you forget to thaw your broth, you can cut away the bag and dump partially thawed broth into a pot.
One last way to freeze the broth is in ice cube trays (see post). Do make sure you make a list of how much broth you have frozen and what sizes so you know what to grab for any particular meal.
How to Use Homemade Chicken Stock
Like I said, I tend to use the stock faster than the chicken. I make soup, of course, but I also use it to cook rice, either just for stir fry or for a side dish I call Designer Imposter Chicken Rice-a-Roni. It makes a great gravy for mashed potatoes and also ends up in some random recipes that call for chicken broth. When I make a huge batch like the one above, I include it in place of water in things like chili or burrito sauce.
Added Bonus: If you just use the carcass, you’ll get 1-2 cups of extra meat from the bones that you can’t really get until it’s been cooked to pieces!
Some Recipes using Chicken Stock
- White Chicken Chili
- Chicken Rice-a-Roni
- Creamed Chicken (our family’s new winter favorite – easy, delish, and adaptable to many different serving methods)
- Chicken Noodle Soup (of course)
- Three Bean Soup
- Chicken Rice-a-Roni
- California Chicken Wraps
- Chicken Barley Leek Soup
- Homemade Cream of Chicken Soup Casserole
- Slow Cooker Lentil Brown Rice Casserole
- Garlic Soup
- Black Bean Soup
- Simple Cabbage Soup
- Veggie Laden Shepherd’s Pie
- An entire October Fest worth of recipes calling for chicken stock.
- Chicken Stir Fry
- Cream of Potato (or any vegetable, really) Soup
- Refried Beans
- Veggie Bean Burritos
- Mexican Rice & Beans
Seeking Gelatin: An Experiment
I’ve always had trouble getting my broth to gel. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I use caged, supermarket chickens or if I just have too much water. But I’m following a recipe from a pretty reliable source, Nourishing Traditions. So one day I ran into a whole organic chicken marked 40% off because it was going to expire the next day. I was buying store-brand chicken on sale anyway, so I decided to do a side-by-side test in 2 pots. I used equal amounts of water, cooking time, etc.
I expected that the organic chicken would gel up much better than the store brand bird. What I found was that the two pots of stock were remarkably similar in consistency. I might give the organic stock slightly more gel. In this photo, the organic is on the left and store brand on the right:
I am surprised at the difference in color, aren’t you? I’m not really sure what my experiment proved. I’d like to think that the organic chicken SHOULD have had lots more gelatin…so since it didn’t, maybe that just tells me my broth is watered down and would gel fine if I let it boil off a bit. Since the taste is excellent, I’m fine with watery broth as long as the gelatin is in there somewhere.
Adventures in making healthy homemade chicken stock have been plentiful since this post. Here are a few more tips and ideas to help you successfully (and easily) nourish your family with homemade chicken stock:
- 10 tips for perfect chicken stock
- Stock not gelling? This could be why.
- Excellent ideas for making and getting the most of your gelatin
- Making multiple batches of stock with the same bones
- Fish and beef stock, plus excellent ideas to break out of a broth rut
- Two ways to upgrade your current stock system
- Incorporating stock regularly into your meal plan
- Why I now add the veggies later
- 10 reasons to drink more broth
- The real reasons why we make broth in the first place
Let me know in the comments if you try this stock and love it/hate it/can’t figure it out! Any other suggestions for time-savers or delicious seasonings would make great conversation, too.
If you missed the last Monday Mission, click here.
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