Taking Stock, or making your home a Brothal

"What America needs is healthy fast food and the only way to provide this is to put brothals in every town, independently owned brothals that provide the basic ingredient for soups and sauces and stews. And brothals will come when Americans recognize that the food industry has prostituted itself to shortcuts and huge profits, shortcuts that cheat consumers of the nutrients they should get in their food and profits that skew the economy towards industrialization in farming and food processing." ~ Sally Fallon Morell, co-founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation

So you've been saving your chicken carcasses, right? We don't want a bit of this pasture-raised goodness escape. I've been nervous to write this all out, because being a homestead cook, I'm sure a real chef will pounce on my bit of guidance here for not measuring and skimming and clarifying. But it is more important to me that we try to cook more at home, and buy less processed food items than it is for us to win cooking awards! This week, a book showed up for me at the library- Mastering Stocks and Broths: A comprehensive culinary approach using traditional techniques and no-waste methods by Rachael S. Mamane. Although I usually glaze over at the science of stuff, this book is really well done and I highly recommend it.

When I make stock, I'm making a huge batch*. But the more I look at recipes, generally it seems about one pound of bones per one quart of water. My basic process is this: take chicken carcasses that have already been roasted for previous meals from the freezer, add them to water, throw in a few peppercorns and add vegetable scraps. Simmer a few hours.

I prefer to make these large batches in the winter so that I can set the pot outside to cool. The above-mentioned book goes in to detail on how to simmer, how best to cool and why these things matter. But again, I haven't heeded specific rules. Another way to easily make a smaller batch would be to use your slow-cooker. And go skiing. 

Vegetable Scraps: In an effort to not waste good organic produce we have received over the summer (or at least keep our chickens from dining on these precious goods), I save carrot ends and peels, onion ends and peels, the pieces of celery going soft in the fridge or the thick ends of them. Parsley stems and cores of cabbage. All of this goes in a Ziplock bag in the freezer and I add to it whenever I am using these vegetables. 

Waste not! Here is my bag, kept in the freezer, of veggie ends waiting for stock time.

Waste not! Here is my bag, kept in the freezer, of veggie ends waiting for stock time.

This is a general guideline than a recipe:

  • Roasted chicken bones (leftover from previous meals)
  • Water
  • Vegetable peels and ends (or chopped carrots, celery, leek, onions)
  • Peppercorns and bay leaves
  • Fresh parlsey and/or thyme

Bring it all to a simmer and half-cover the pot, cook at least 3 hours. Carefully strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Put the entire pot of strained broth in the fridge for several hours or overnight. Fat will rise to the top and you can spoon it off. It is now ready to freeze or use directly. Personally, I don't add salt, but this would typically be the next step to flavoring it for future uses. 

Place completely cooled stock in plastic or glass but containers for freezing. Leave headroom for expansion. Another great option would be to freeze it in ice-cube trays, then turn them out once solid into freezer bags. This allows you to defrost and use just the amount you need.

I try not to include a lot of the chicken skin since I find it releases more fat, which I find difficult to remove after cooling. It is also not something I want in my final, canned product.

    Finished stock, cooling on the deck.

    Finished stock, cooling on the deck.

    Things I've read about, but don't do:

    • You're not supposed to bring the whole shebang to a boil or stir it. Something about it making the final product cloudy. But my outside burner isn't that specific, so I try to adjust the heat as best I can. I only push down the contents with a spoon occasionally to make sure it gets under water, but I don't stir.
    • You're supposed to skim in the beginning to remove impurities and end with a more clear stock. I don't. 
    • Most recipes have you salt along the way or at least at the end. I don't. 
    • While I don't mix raw chicken pieces with already roasted ones, I have made stock with all raw. But I think you get more flavor and more nutrients from pre-roasting the parts.

    Some real recipes from the pros:

    How to make bone broth

    How to make chicken stock - recipes for both leftover bones and raw parts

    Roast chicken stock

    Stock versus broth or bone broth?

    Read this article to get all the differences.

    Why do this?

    Know your ingredients. Commercial stocks and broths are easy to use, but contain what, exactly? Knowing where your food comes from is important to all of us.

    Reduce waste. A lot of energy, care and effort went in to growing these pasture-raised animals. The best we can do is make the most of every bit.

    Taste. While I'm not a culinary genius, I know that making things at home allows you to customize the flavors.

    Nutrition. The book I mentioned earlier lists nutritional qualities of commercial stocks and broths. Making your own allows you to add, for example, the amount of salt you prefer for your diet and needs.

    Now, if you're still with me on all of this, let me introduce the idea of making chicken stock with feet-- chicken feet. Next post...  Happy simmering!

    * In an effort to not add to my already stuffed personal freezers, we purchased a pressure-canner a few years ago. (Note: You cannot preserve stocks in a water-bath canner. Not safe.) This also produces lovely shelf-stable jars that don't require defrosting. Since I am making large batches (so that I can fill the canner with seven quarts of stock), it is impossible to get it to simmer on my glass-topped stove. We make it outside on a large burner, which makes it challenging to adjust the temperature without standing on the deck in subzero temperatures. Perhaps not the best time for pressure-canning either!

    Jennifer Knoetgen