The chicken has been eaten and now all that remains are the leftovers and the bones. Before you pitch those bones to the compost bin, think about another use.
Homemade chicken stock.
I love making homemade stock. It uses parts of foods that would usually be discarded. And it's such a simple thing to create and tastes so amazing. The added bonus? You know exactly what's in it (and what isn't: think sodium). If you are intimidated by the prospect of making your own stock, let's talk about just how easy this is.
The Main Ingredient:
To make chicken stock, you need bones from chicken. And it doesn't matter how the chicken was cooked: roasted, grilled, smoked, pan-seared, poached, air-fried, any and all will do just fine.
You don't need a whole chicken to make stock. You can make stock from the bones of chicken pieces too. When you carve the roast chicken or that deli chicken you brought home, hang on to the neck and bones, but ditch the skin. If you are using chicken pieces, take the meat off the bones. The requirement here is that the bones haven't been munched on.
Serve the meat, save the bones!
If you debone your own chicken pieces, save those uncooked bones. They work in the stock pot too.
The beauty of making your own stock is that you don't have to make it right after you cook the chicken. You can save the bones in your freezer until you have time or a good collection of bones. I keep a large freezer bag in my freezer. I put bones in the bag until it is full. Once it's full, it's time for a pot of stock.
A note here though on safe storage. Freeze the bones, cooked or raw, if you aren't going to make stock within three days.
The Rest of the Ingredients:
The vegetable part of the equation adds extra flavour to your stock. The basics are onion, carrots, and celery plus herbs. With the bones of one chicken, you will need about 2 carrots, 2 stalks of celery, 2 onions, and a couple cloves of garlic. Plus some bay leaves and black pepper. If you have the stems of any fresh herbs or some frozen herbs, that makes a great addition. Herbs like parsley, thyme, fennel, sage, or rosemary are all big flavour boosters.
I don't usually put whole vegetables in my stock anymore. I save the inedible parts of vegetables and the vegetable peelings for my stock pot. I have a second large bag in my freezer and that's where I save the peels from onions, garlic, carrots, mushrooms, squash and the ends of celery stalks and peppers. Like the bone bag, when it's full, stock gets made. If I haven't collected enough bits and pieces, I will add to it, but that rarely happens. I also add vegetables that might be limp or wilted.
And if you don't have celery, you can add celery flavour with celery seed (not celery salt). Other dried herbs are good to add to the stock pot as well, like thyme, savoury or parsley. But if pepper and a bay leaf are all you've got on hand, that's all you need!
A note on what NOT to put in your stock. Some vegetables, like kale, asparagus, broccoli and cauliflower have very strong flavours. Some, like potatoes or sweet potatoes, will affect the texture. Save these vegetables for other uses.
Once you have the basics, all you need is a pot and time.
You can make stock on the stove or in a slow cooker. If you use your stove, you need a large pot with a lid. I use my slow cooker, as this method is set it and forget it!
Ingredients + hardware = Time to make stock
Put the bones in the bottom of your pot. Add the vegetable bits and pieces, the bay leaves, the black pepper, and any herbs you are using. Then add enough cool water to cover everything. This is why you need a BIG pot. That water is what will turn into your flavourful stock. So if you are adding a cup of water to a giant pot of bones, you are going to be disappointed.
Put the lid on your pot and turn up the heat. On the stove, bring your pot to a simmer and turn the heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer. Now, leave it alone for 6 hours or so.
This is why I love my slow cooker for stock. Fill the pot with water and put the lid on. Turn the pot to low and walk away for 8 to10 hours. Or do what I do. Set it up at supper and let it go all night. You would not believe how fabulous your house smells when you wake up to a pot of hot chicken stock.
What's left to do now you ask?
Deciding what you will do with your pot of stock.
No, you didn't miss anything. Yes, that's really all there is to making stock. Put bones and veggies in a pot with water, add heat and time and boom, pot-o-stock.
Well, there is one more small step here. You have to get the bones and vegetable bits out of the stock. The easiest way to do this is with a colander set inside a large bowl or container.
Do NOT and I repeat DO NOT put the colander in your sink and pour the bones into it.
And don't ask. Just understand that this point is worth stating.
Put the colander inside the bowl and SLOWLY pour the whole mess into the colander. Then lift the colander out of the bowl, let it drain and viola, you have a bowl full of steaming, golden chicken stock. Which, if you have a mind to (or a cold), you can portion up a bowl and eat it right now. Or, cool and store your fresh stock in the fridge for up to three days. After that, you need to find a different home for your stock. The freezer is your best friend here.
The bones and vegetable scraps in the colander are now ready for the composter, having given up all their delicious-ness. And you can feel good about making those food bits go just a little further.
Portion the cooled stock in one or two cup amounts into freezer-safe containers. Add a label (so you know what's in the container) and freeze it.
If you often find yourself needing just a couple spoonfuls of stock, freeze some stock in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, put the cubes in an air-tight freezer container and you have ready-to-use frozen cubes of stock.
So that's it. Nothing much to making your own pot of stock, but oh, the rewards. Your house smells AMAZING, you have reduced food waste in your kitchen, you have saved some dollars, as who needs to buy stock now? AND you have a no-salt added savoury golden broth to use for soup, to cook grains like rice, barley or quinoa, to add to vegetables, to make stews, stir-fries, risotto, curry, chili, gravy, sauces.... I could go on, and on.
So, the next time you cook a chicken, think of the possibilities. I am thinking of one right now, as my stock is just waiting for me. It's raining and blustery outside.
So, I am pouring 2 cups of stock into a pot, adding a handful of noodles, some frozen veggies, a hot chili pepper, splashes of vinegar, soy sauce and fish sauce and a smidge of brown sugar. Once the pot is boiling, I'll pour in a scrambled egg.
Noodle soup for lunch!
What are YOU going to make with your homemade stock?