Sunday, October 9, 2011

chicken stock from your freezer

the problem with weekends is that they end. that feeling you get on a sunday evening - the sunday malaise, ennui, melancholia - whatever you want to call it, it is pretty much the worst. i envy those who can enter their week with a bright and chipper soul, but that is just not me.

however, as with all good things, etc ...

aside from actually roasting a chicken, there are few things that ease you into the week better than a languid afternoon making chicken stock and then turning the stock into a delicious soup. the cooking stock gets your house all warm and good-smelling and cozyface. it's like a hug made of bits of things you ate weeks ago.

wow, does that sound unappetizing. but really, making your own stock is simple and thrifty and it makes you feel all frugal and homesteady, like you are laura ingalls wilder or someone in a willa cather book. basically, you stick trimmings of things and things that would otherwise go bad into a freezer bag and then when it is full, you make stock!

this also works to satisfy the kid in you who used to go out in the woods and make elaborate and inedible concoctions of various (no doubt poisonous) berries and leaves. oh, did you not do that? well you should have. it was fun.

you can also buy things for it. i usually have to buy carrots and sometimes celery specifically for stock-making, for instance, because otherwise we don't usually have them around. and depending on what's in your freezer, you may want to add extra onion or garlic or something. as far as what you should save day to day, you don't want to use too many cruciferous things like cabbage, cauliflower, etc. you could probably use a small amount of trimmings from one, but otherwise it might make it sort of sulfur-y and gross. and that's not what you want.

the things that i usually use are: carrots, celery, onion, garlic, parsley stems, scallion tops, leek tops and chicken bones. i always save the bones when we eat chicken. if you want to start from scratch on this, just buy whatever parts are cheapest - you can sometimes get things like chicken necks and backs (i know, gross) for super-cheap at the butcher's. whenever i cut up onions, i save the tops and the layer underneath the papery outer skin - it's usually tough and hard to separate from the papery layer, so it's easier to just save it for stock.

generally, i cut a medium onion into eighths or so, let it cook a little in the biggest pot i have, then add the things that have been in the freezer. then i fill the pot almost all the way with water and turn it up high. i add perhaps a teaspoon or so of whole black peppercorns and whatever other seasonings are at hand - thyme, marjoram, that mix called "poultry seasoning" and herbes de provence are all good options (and you can mix and match these as well). once it comes to a boil, turn the heat down to pretty low - you want to just let it simmer for a few hours. you can basically cook it as long as you want - i let it go until the carrots are pretty soft - maybe two or three hours or so.

while it simmers, you can definitely do whatever else you need to do on a sunday afternoon, like mope, wash dishes, dress up your cats, or watch the wonder years on netflix instant. just stir it every half hour or so and skim any weird stuff off the top. it is dead simple.

then strain it into another pot and let it cook down for awhile on medium-high. this is not strictly necessary, but i like to make a ton of stock at once and then freeze it for the future. cooking it down ensures that there's less of it to freeze. so once it reduces by 1/3 to 1/2 or so (this is somewhat dictated by your freezer space), let it cool and then ladle it into a muffin tin (or two). place this in the freezer overnight (this is also predicated on your ability to make a flat area in your freezer). if you want to make soup right then, save some out. obviously.

then just let the muffin tin sit out for a few minutes and use a butter knife or similarly flat thing to edge the stock-muffins out. put these in a freezer bag and then you'll have easily accessible stock in a form that enables you to use as much as you need at a time. you could also use ice trays or something like that, but i find that the muffin tin-sized ones are really convenient.

aww, li'l chicken stock muffins. presh! they are all ready to help you make risotto, soups, and whatever else would benefit from some rich homemade flavor.

*ingredients* (for a large pot of stock that reduces to about one and a half muffin tin's worth)
1 onion, plus any trimmings
2-3 carrots, cut in 3" lengths (our dogs love to eat these after i strain them out of the stock)
1-2 celery stalks
chicken bones (variable - whatever you have in the freezer - i usually use at least a pound and probably more like 2)
~ 1/2 bunch parsley - stems only or stems and leaves
5+ cloves garlic
other vegetable trimmings and leftovers - leeks, carrot ends, onion and scallion ends, etc are all good
herbs like thyme, marjoram, bay leaves - fresh or dried


  1. a) i hate that about sunday evenings.

    b) i have done EXACTLY THIS on sunday! i love cooking something all day and eating it!

    c) BRILLIANT about the chicken stock muffins. that is going straight into my awesome ideas that other people have had that i can't wait to use database.

  2. oh man, now it is sunday afternoon AGAIN. but i had some chicken and waffles earlier (for the first time!) so i am not freaking out as much as usual.