Sunday, September 4, 2011

Taking Stock

Stock. Chicken stock, veal stock, beef stock, veggie stock, fish stock, and all manner of fowl stocks are easily made. And, they're easily daunting to those who are more accustomed to grabbing a can off their grocer's shelves than making their own. But, fear not and read on. I'll tell you how I do it. Which, is by no means the only way to do it.
For this post I'll be talking about chicken stock. And, before I go any further, please forgive me for not getting pictures of the entire process. I hope to remedy that the next time I make stock. Did I mention I have a small tribe of toddlers/young kids that often give me pause to try and remember if I put my underwear on under my clothing instead of on top? Laugh all you want, that is until it happens to you.
But, back to stock talk. I rarely ever buy chickens any other way but whole. For me it's not only a matter of frugality. But, it allows me many more options. We're wild about roasted chicken in my family. It's an extremely versatile dish that tastes as if you've spent from sun up to sun down slaving over it. But, no such thing. And, the taste is wonderful. Whole chickens are also great if you've got a busy day ahead and forgot to plan out the coming night's menu. Toss a frozen whole chicken into your slow cooker and add seasoning, marinades, salsas, or just about anything else that comes to mind and you'll have supper set in a breeze.
This past week I boiled our bird. I do that often when I want to stock my freezer with baggies of shredded precooked chicken for quick go to meal preps, such as in casseroles or tacos. And, to do this you'll need a large stock pot.
After you've removed the goody bag of innards and neck bone from the cavity of the chicken....What? That's gross? C'mon, now. You can do this. I have the utmost faith in you. Take a deep breath. Now, take a deeper one. Take a shot of the cooking wine too, if you must, but only if you must. Reach in carefully and pull it all out. Careful, now. The rib cage can knick your knuckles if you plunge in too quickly. See, I knew you could do it. Go ahead. Have another shot of the cooking wine. You deserve it.
You can save the innards to freeze to make additional stocks later, or you could throw them into the pot with your bird as well. Or, if you and the goody bag aren't really on the best of terms you can always toss them.
After you've rinsed the inside and out of your chicken thoroughly place it in your stock pot along with 4 quarts water, 2-3 stalks of celery roughly chopped, 2 medium onions quartered, 10-12 whole black peppercorns, 2-3 bay leaves, 1-3 cloves of garlic, depending upon taste and optional, and 1 tbsp of salt. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently for 2 hours, or until your chicken is tender. At this point you can remove your chicken and use it for whatever you have in mind.
Strain your stock through a sieve and let cool. I usually let it cool counter side and then place in the fridge over night.
After your stock has cooled and the fat has solidified on the surface of your stock, skim it off. If you plan to freeze your stock just fill the containers of your choosing, label accordingly, and freeze.
A word on containers. I used to freeze my stock in quart size freezer bags. And, I still do freeze stock, just not as much as I can. I do this for several reasons. Freezer bags have a tendency to puncture once frozen. And, when it comes time to thaw them your bags will leak. This isn't a problem if you've planned ahead and pulled your stock the night before, placed it in a bowl, and then tucked it into the fridge. It is a problem if you've forgotten about dinner entirely and are rushing around like a mad woman. Because then you're left with only a few options of thawing your stock quickly. If you thaw it under running water it leaks from your punctured bag and becomes diluted with the tap water, or you nuke it and it runs all over your microwave. I have since started freezing my stock in plastic freezer containers, but have found when they're dropped frozen they often crack.
Canning stock does require a pressure cooker, and a little work, but it tends to make things easier at the time of using it. And, once you get the hang of it you'll find it's no trouble at all.
You'll want to prepare a pressure cooker and your jars half an hour ahead of time if you plan to can the stock. Place 2-3 inches of water inside your pressure cooker. Fill your jars halfway with water and place on the rack in the cooker. Let it come to a boil while your stock is coming up to a boil as well.

Once your stock has reached a boil let it boil for just a moment to kill off any bacteria that may be hanging around. Using your jar lifters, carefully pour the water out of the jars and fill with chicken stock leaving 1 inch headspace. Wipe the rims clean with a paper towel wet with vinegar after you've removed any air bubbles. Center your lids and screw down your bands. Then, tighten just a scosh more. Place your jars back into the pressure cooker and lock the lid and bring to a boil over medium high heat.

Vent the steam for 10 minutes and then close your vent. You'll want your weight set to 10lbs pressure. You'll process pints for 20 minutes and quarts for 25 minutes.