I know that making stock doesn't sound all that glamorous, but trust me, not only will homemade stock make your soups taste like a bowl of hugs sprinkled with sunshine and rainbows, it is also healthier and far more economical than buying stock at the store. Making stock at home allows you to control the sodium, ingredients, and flavors. Plus there is no need for added preservatives, you can just freeze the stock in ready to use quart bags and toss 'em in your soup whenever they are needed. Also, if you were going to splurge an a good quality stock at the store, it would cost you upwards of $3 a quart, whereas homemade stock can be made for pennies. Perhaps what I like most about stock though is that it let's me use up every part of the animal, right down to the collagen and bones, and makes me feel like I am honoring that animal's life a little bit more by not wasting any part of it. I'm not a vegetarian, but I do try to be conscientious of my impact on this earth and the animals and people that live in it, and making homemade stock is one more way I can practice a more thoughtful lifestyle.
All philosophy aside though, homemade stock is simply delicious, so tie on those apron strings and head to the kitchen!
Now making stock is not an exact science, so the recipe below is more of a guideline than an actual recipe. You can adjust the quantities or substitute the vegetables according to what you have on hand. I do however, highly recommend keeping a "stock bag" in your freezer where you can toss your vegetable tops and parts (from celery and carrots especially), your leftover chicken bones if you don't want to use them immediately, and any other scraps of veggies that you would probably end up tossing (what else are you going to do with that half an onion or the rest of that cabbage that didn't make it into the coleslaw?) Then, whenever you plan to make stock, there is no need to go out and buy additional vegetables to add in, because you've already got a small stockpile of FREE vegetable scraps in the freezer. Also, I like to roast my chickens the day before I plan on using them in soup. That way I can shred all of the chicken off the carcasses and store it in the fridge and make the stock from the carcasses in my crock-pot over night. So here's the basic guideline:
1-2 chicken carcasses, including necks and backs
1 large onion, quartered
4 carrots, peeled and cut in 1/2. (carrot tops and bottoms are great to use in stock as well)
4 ribs celery, cut in 1/2 (I generally buy a whole celery heart, then use the trimmed roots and tops in the stock and save the edible ribs for eating as a snack with hummus or peanut butter)
1 apple, cored and cut into cubes.
10 sprigs fresh thyme
10 sprigs fresh parsley with stems
2 bay leaves
8 to 10 peppercorns
2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
2 Tbsp honey
Salt to taste (1 tsp- 1Tbsp)
1-2 gallons cold water
Place chicken, vegetables, herbs, spices, and honey in 12-quart stockpot. Pour enough water over to fill the crock pot. Cook on high heat until you begin to see bubbles break through the surface of the liquid. Turn heat down to medium low so that stock maintains low, gentle simmer. If you want clear stock, leave the lid off the crock-pot and simmer the stock uncovered for 6-8 hours, skimming off any of the "scum" (proteins released from the animal bones during exposure to heat) with a spoon or fine mesh strainer every hour or so. You may also have to continue to add water to keep the vegetables and bones submerged. If you don't care about having clear stock (I don't as there is no real flavor difference), then leave your crock-pot lid on and let the baby simmer untouched for 6-8 hours or overnight. What could be easier than that?
After the allotted time, strain the stock and discard the solids. Throw it in the refrigerator to cool. After about an hour or so the fat will congeal on the top and you can skim this part right off. The stock will keep with a lid in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Note: This can also be made on a pot on the stove top if you don't have a crock-pot.
Note: Recipe adapted from Alton Brown's Chicken Stock, images from The Pinning Mama
Now start dreaming of all those heaping bowls of chicken and dumplings, minestrone, chili, gumbo, and stew you can tuck into this autumn. You've got the secret ingredient, so what are you waiting for?