My freezer is full of bodies.
No, you haven't stumbled on a true crime tell-all by mistake. These are chicken carcasses being kept around until it's time to make stock.
One of the ingredients I use most often is chicken stock, and it is almost always homemade because why pay for something you can make with scraps you already have?
I keep bones (usually from store-bought rotisserie chicken) and vegetable scraps in zip-top bags in the freezer until I have enough. Then I haul out my 12-quart stock pot and get to work creating the golden goodness.
I fill the pot with frozen scraps, toss in some herbs and salt, and cover with water. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and let it simmer for at least an hour. The longer it simmers, the more concentrated the flavor becomes as the liquid reduces.
When you're happy with the flavor, pour the liquid through a mesh strainer and let it cool at least an hour before placing it in the refrigerator overnight. Any fat will rise to the top and solidify in the fridge. Once this has happened, scoop off the fat. You can use or freeze the stock as-is, or strain it through cheese cloth to remove additional plant solids that remain. I don't mind the solids if I'm making soup or gravy, so I usually skip this step – but if you want a clearer stock, go ahead and take the time to be fancy.
I don't have an exact recipe to offer you since it changes from pot to pot based on what scraps are in my freezer (and the size of the pot you're using). But here are some tips from my experience:
• For batches big enough to last a few months, only the giant pot will do for me. But you can use a smaller pot or Dutch oven – I've even used a slow cooker set to simmer all day. Just make sure your cooking vessel is at least half full of bones/vegetables compared with the water so you can get the best flavor. My most recent batch was about 8 pounds of bones/vegetables and 7 quarts water. • If you're using frozen vegetables and bones, it's going to take some time for the pot to come up to a simmer. It was almost 30 minutes on a recent batch I made, so factor that in to your cook time. • Keep an eye on the fresh herbs in the plastic containers at the grocery store. When rosemary, thyme, sage or parsley get marked down because they're approaching their use-by date, buy a couple containers and pop the herbs in the freezer with your scraps. • Make sure to use at least a few carrots, full ribs of celery and an onion to create a solid base of flavors. Don't skip the herbs, either, though the combination you use is up to you. Be careful with how much salt you add because it will get more intense as the liquid reduces; you can leave it out altogether if you aren't sure. • Most of your mainstream vegetables are good for homemade stock, but keep in mind that each will lend a hint of its flavor to the finished product, so this probably isn't the place for jalapeņo scraps for example. Veggies I have used include: Leek (this is really all the green tops are good for), garlic, turnip, radish, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, peas, tomatoes, woody asparagus stems, mushrooms, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, green beans and cabbage. I have also been known to toss in the hull of a lemon after juicing it for another recipe. • The color of your stock will vary depending on the vegetables and herbs used. More green plants means the stock will have more of a green tint, for example. Tomatoes give an orange tint. • I have seen some cooks write that you shouldn't use red onions because it will give the stock an unpleasant color or cloudiness. Maybe my tastes just aren't as refined as theirs, but I have never come up with a stock that I would rather dump down the sink than use. I would definitely leave out potatoes and potato skins because they will disintegrate; probably also beets for their strong color. • Make sure to remove as much skin or fat from chicken bones as possible. Meat left on the bones just adds to the flavor of the stock. • Skip the chicken bones to make vegetable stock. • I have a couple of plastic drink pitchers (the kind you might make iced tea or lemonade in) that I use to cool the liquid overnight and easily pour it off the next day. Let the stock cool in the pitchers on the counter for a while before you put it in the fridge so the heat doesn't raise the temperature inside your refrigerator too much. • Don't stop just because you've boiled one batch. Those veggies and bones still have good flavor left. Refill the pot with water, add some new herbs if you have any left, sprinkle in some salt and repeat the simmering process. The flavor won't be as intense on the second – or third! – batch, but it's still tasty.
Recipe Swap is published monthly in The Journal Gazette. Corey McMaken is a home cook, not a food expert. To share a comment or favorite recipe for possible inclusion, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Corey McMaken, c/o The Journal Gazette, 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802.
What to make
Now that you've made your stock, what's next? Using it, of course! Here are some of my go-to ideas.
• Soup is the obvious choice, and homemade stock is a great flavor base whether you're going for a clear soup or something blended. A soup of spring vegetables such as asparagus and peas would hit the spot this time of year! • I'm a big fan of chicken and noodles. (No dumplings for me!) Boil egg noodles in stock and when they're just about finished, add in your cooked chicken. Use your preferred thickening method if you want a heavier gravy. I serve my chicken and noodles over mashed potatoes. • Couscous and rice absorb the flavors of chicken stock well. Cook according to package instructions using stock instead of water. • Try a one-pot pasta dinner by boiling the pasta in stock with a can of diced tomatoes (drained) and whatever other flavorful ingredients you have on hand such as olives or marinated artichoke hearts. • For a light meal, sip the stock plain with a side of crusty toasted bread.