Everyone around here knows that when I get out my 24-litre stock pot (I feel like a hobbit carrying this thing to the stove), the “crisper” drawer is more aptly called the “softer” drawer and it is time to make chicken stock. This seems to happen most regularly on a rainy Sunday. I throw in all the going-a-bit-limp carrots, seen-better-days celery stalks and bottom-of-the-bin onions (leave the skins on, they add colour) I have on hand. Passing these things through the stock pot on their way to the compost bin eliminates all the guilt I feel about throwing them out. Plus I get to make soup.
I always intend to save and freeze the bones from roast chickens for stock but our freezer is so full of other things I may never get around to using that I usually don’t bother. The best stock, I think, is made with chicken feet. It’s so much richer. But that means a trip out to the Asian grocery store, which is the only place I’ve ever seen them other than on live chickens. Besides, using whole chickens means I have enough leftover meat (after making soup) for chicken salad sandwiches all week. I’m such a lazy cook.
Amounts vary when making stock depending on how many vegetables I have on hand. And because my stock pot is so large, when I’m using whole birds I always use at least two organic, free-range chickens from our favourite farm.
I have tried to approximate the essential ingredients (using just one chicken) below but, really, there are no rules so, play around.
1 whole chicken (can be frozen) or, 1-1/2 lbs chicken feet
3 or 4 carrots, roughly chopped
3 or 4 celery stocks, roughly chopped
2 or 3 medium onions, quartered, skins on
A bunch of flat-leaf parsley (or, whatever parsley stems you have leftover)
1 or 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, or a tablespoon of dried thyme
2 bay leaves
10-12 black peppercorns
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
If using chicken feet, boil them in a large pot of water for five minutes (there will be lots of foam – that’s normal). Drain water and rinse feet under cold tap water until cool enough to handle. Remove talons with shears or a sharp knife.
Put all ingredients in a stock pot and barely cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for two hours, occasionally skimming off any foam that accumulates on the surface. Using large tongs, remove and set aside chicken (it may be in pieces). Strain stock into another pot or large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Discard vegetables.
Let stock cool and skim any congealed fat off the surface before making soup or transferring to one or two-cup containers for freezing
Remove cooled chicken from bones and refrigerate for making soup and sandwiches later.