The difference between sad, salt-filled flavor-cubes, or, worse, a can of glop, and real, soul-warming, heart-filling soup is 3 hours of your time and a chicken carcass you already have. You do not have to pay $8 at the Whole Foods for the privilege. And you’re already going to spend those hours of your life puttering around doing something, so why not spend it on stock and buy yourself something really nice? Like, as I mentioned, soup?
The roast chicken is one of nature’s perfect units of people food. I realize this makes me sound nuts, but come with me for a sec. There are some foods, like an apple or an egg, that are literal perfect units of human consumption. You hold it in your little hand, and it has its little wrapper, and the insides are all delicious and just the right size for a snack.
A roast chicken is like that, but for 2-4 people: first roasted, then shredded in crepes or a pot pie, and then, miraculously, as STOCK in soups, stews, risottos, pilafs, pastas, etc. Only when you take out a 2-cup block of frozen chicken stock to make yourself a truly transcendent rice pilaf will you know true power. It’s intoxicating. (Not literally).
Plus, I find the more of the chicken I use the better I feel, not just because it’s extremely delicious, but because you’re making the very most of that little chicken who gave her life for your quesadillas. Whatever, it makes me kind of emotional. Thanks, little chicken. I will do right by you.
ANYWAY, this is not the Get Sad About Farm Animals Variety Hour. The point is, despite what many online recipes tell you, you don’t have to buy sixty chicken wings, or use 3 whole uncooked chickens (looking at you Ina), or get 4 chicken’s worth of bones from the butcher. You don’t have to put whipped egg whites on top of it to make it extra-clear like that guy on TikTok, or strain it through a lace wedding veil. You just have to throw some stuff you already have in a pot and let it burble away happily on the stove while you go about your life like the busy and productive cottage witch you are.
WE NOW INTERRUPT THIS BROADCAST for my dear friend Maddie who commented on last week’s post as I was writing this one:
Okay, so, I have a question: when you buy the whole chicken from the store, is it… EMPTY?? It seems like yes. Which is less intimidating. Could there be a scenario where it is… NOT EMPTY??
This is a very Maddie way of asking Where Are Them Organs, which is a very important question and totally crucial and I apologize for skipping over it!
Let me explain: the fancier the chicken you buy, the more likely they are to give you extra stuff. More bang for your cluck, if you will. (sorry) Most supermarket chickens won’t have anything inside, but a fancy butcher shop chicken might. Either way, it’s always good to check the cavity to make sure you’re not roasting anything you don’t want to be roasting. If there is something in there, it will most likely be a small plastic bag of giblets, and maybe the neck.
Giblets is just a gross word for the liver, kidneys and/or heart. Some people like to cook these separately, but if I get these bonus items I just take them out of whatever packaging they’re in and put ‘em right in the stock pot to wait for the rest of the carcass.
SO. Let’s make some stock.
You’ve roasted your chicken, you’ve eaten as much of it as you possibly can at this time, you have a semi-nude chicken carcass on your hands. When it’s cool enough, pick off all of the meat you can and save it in a separate bowl for future burritos/sandwiches/vaca frita. I always like this part, because it makes me feel like a caveman. You’ve got to find satisfaction where you can in this life. Get the meat you want to eat. (Bumper sticker coming soon.)
When it’s just skin and bones (and don’t forget about the skin and bones from your plates), get it into your stock pot. Stock pots are endlessly useful and everyone should have one, but you can also use a Dutch oven. Whatever pot you have that’s big enough to hold a whole chicken covered in water. This does mean that it might not, uh, fit in your fridge (mine doesn’t), so I use a big bowl to keep everything together until it’s time to actually make stock.
Listen, it’s nighttime (probably?), you’ve just eaten dinner, and I’m now telling you to do more work? Am I serious? No. Put the carcass in a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, leave it in the fridge overnight, go to bed.
The next day, take your carcass (and optional bag o’giblets) and dump it (carefully) into your stock pot. Every bit of skin and bone and fat = a more flavorful and nutritious stock, so get it all in there. FUN FACT: It literally does not matter what flavorings you’ve used on your roast chicken– I’ve made stock from all kinds of marinated chickens, from barbecue to peri-peri. It’s not going to make your stock extra spicy, it’ll be a very subtle flavor gradient, if anything.
The only thing I wouldn’t add is any lemon you might have had stuffed in the cavity from before. Boiled lemon is just not my jam. For the most part, you want the new flavors you add your stock to be really basic so that you can do whatever you like with it later, so no parsnips, no lemons, no anise or ginger (unless you know you’re making a soup with those flavors later, like a pho).
Here is the Stock Pot Dream Team:
An onion, two carrots, some celery, any woody herbs you have (rosemary, thyme, bay leaves), plus dill if you’re going in a deli direction, a bunch of cloves of garlic, whole peppercorns (or just a whole lot of black pepper), and SALT.
Many people who have their lives more together than I do keep a bag of vegetable scraps in the freezer for stock. Not only do they remember to reserve said vegetable scraps, they also remember to then actually use them at the appropriate time instead of developing a wandering herd of plastic bags with, like, two carrot tops in them apiece, roaming hither and yon in the old icebox. We should all give these people a standing ovation and probably a lifetime achievement award or two and then move on with our lives, because in my case, at least, it’s just never going to happen.
When I know I’m going to be making chicken I just pick up the things for stock at the same time. Most of those guys up there have already been A. stuffed into the cavity of the chicken or B. chopped up to make a sauce underneath it.
You don’t need to use every single thing listed – just what you’ve got. If you’ve got a bunch of celery, use the bottom chunk (root?) and the leafy top bits and the sad little yellow inside ones. Take your most depressing carrots and the weirdly squishy onion. I’ve made successful stock with some old scallions and a handful of baby carrots. It’s fine.
The best part about prepping vegetables for stock is you do not have to chop or peel them. You have to vaguely scrub them, chop an onion in half and peel off the outer layer of skin (anything without visible dirt on it is fine), crack the carrots in half, and you’re there. Don’t cut off anything that doesn’t look actively toxic – it’ll be fine. Garlic cloves do not need peeling. If you want to put a parmesan rind in there, go for it.
What you DO need is salt. Chicken stock without enough salt in it tastes like dirty dish water. Salt liberally. Also pepper liberally. If, when you taste your stock for seasoning later on, it tastes like a mistake, 99% of the time it just needs more salt. Salt is the answer.
Okay. You’ve got a big pot of stuff. Now you need to lug it over to the sink and fill it with cold water until it’s covered by about an inch or so. Unfortunately, all of this floats, so you just kind of have to eyeball it. When the water’s an inch or two away from the top of the pot, you’re good.
I swear to god, you’re almost at the part where you can sit on the couch. Okay, turn on the burner. Set the lid on the pot at a jaunty angle so there’s a little room for steam to escape.
That’s it. Let the stock come to the boil (which will take forever), and then once it does, turn it down to a gentle simmer for about 3 hours, and up to, like, 6. It’s a good idea to poke the stuff in there from time to time so nothing sticks to the bottom and all of the ingredients mix together. You will be amazed by how good your house smells.
As the stock boils, the meaty goodness from the bones and skin will infuse the boiling water until you have that most glorious of substances, chicken soup. Although it doesn’t have to be chicken – you can literally do this with any meat bone, or with just the vegetables for a vegetable stock. What you do need to know is, the longer it boils the more concentrated the flavor will be and the less stock you will have, because of evaporation. So don’t leave it boiling uncovered for six hours without checking on it, because then you will be the proud inventor of a radical new substance the kids are calling Meat Gum. Congratulations, it’s disgusting.
When it’s been 3 hours, get a big old bowl, preferably metal, and strain the stock into it. A sturdy colander is good for this.
Fancy people get fussy about how clear or cloudy your stock is – whether it’s a stock or a broth or a consommé. I straight-up don’t care. If it tastes good, it’s good. This isn’t fancy-people stock, or lazy-people stock. It’s stock for people who want to eat soup instead of ordering cheesecloth off the internet.
Now that your gorgeous soup is hotter than the surface of the sun, you get to shock it cold. Yes, syke, you have been punk’d, there is in fact another step.
You can totally use this stock to make a soup right away if you want to, but refrigerating it overnight helps the bigger chunks your colander may have missed separate and sink to the bottom, and lets the fat rise to the top so you can skim it off.
This makes for better soup. I’m sorry, it just does! I would not make you do steps you can do without, I promise you this. I call it the No Cake Pops Pledge, and I took it before I started writing this blog. No unnecessary foofaraw. Unfortunately, this foofaraw is necessary.
So, now that you have broth hotter than most lavas, how do you get it cold in 20 minutes or less without teleporting it to deep space? Do not just stick it in your fridge. Your poor fridge deserves better than that, and so does everything else that lives in there.
If you have a bowl bigger than the bowl your broth is in, fill it with ice cubes, stick the broth bowl in there, and then fill the big bowl with cold water from the sink. If you don’t have a bigger bowl (which I never do), plug your kitchen sink and fill it with cold water. Either way, hang out and stir the broth until it cools down to lukewarm, which should take about 10-15 minutes. Stir gently, because as the broth cools it’ll divide into a Super Hot Upper Layer and a Tepid Lower Layer. You want everybody to cool down at basically the same rate, so do some figure 8s with a wooden spoon and listen to your podcast.
Stick your finger in it. Lukewarm? Great. Cover it with clingfilm and stick it in the fridge overnight.
The next day, use a spatula with holes in it to gently lift the chicken fat off the top. It’s fine if you don’t get it all, you just don’t want it to be full-on schmaltzy.
Pour your stock into a large saucepan and heat it back up to boiling – you gotta do this to make sure you kill any lingering bacteria from the cool-down process. Don’t worry if it’s a little jelloid when it’s cold, that’s just a function of how long you boil it and varies from chicken to chicken.
When it’s come back up to a full boil, you can go straight to making soup (might I suggest matzo ball, or perhaps carrot?), or you can ladle it out into freezer-safe containers (I use tupperware, my mother uses ziploc bags placed in loaf pans to help them hold their shape) and freeze it for up to six months. You are the champion. No one is more frugal, healthful or resourceful than you.