This post is part confessional and part food love story. The confession is that I was a mostly devout vegetarian for nearly thirteen years of my life. I had a few desperate lapses here and there in the two years I lived in the Marshall Islands (a chicken taquito caught my eye during happy hour and I simply pretended there was no chicken in it). I also ate fish those two years, so maybe I wasn’t as devout as I claimed to be. In the Marshalls at least, the fish always seemed to have a pretty good chance of escape or an equally good opportunity to spear the fisherman or slap the bejesus out of him or her once caught, but that’s a story for another day.
When I moved to Oregon six years ago, I started to get to know the farmers who raise and process the meat and sell at the farmer’s market, and I decided humanely raised and butchered meat is ok. Clay would tell you that this is all nonsense, and really what turned me back into a carnivore was bacon and a coffee-rubbed grilled steak. Regardless, what this post is really about is how the bacon and steak led to a weekly ritual of buying a whole chicken at the farmer’s market and roasting it on Friday night all throughout the winter months. One chicken easily becomes three or four meals for us. But the best part of a chicken isn’t the pot pie or chicken salads that it makes – it’s what’s left behind after the chicken has been mostly picked clean: the glorious bones and the skin and all assorted weird bits, including the neck, which I usually roast along with the whole chicken. I also reserve all the things I’ve used to stuff the chicken: the rosemary sprigs, the onion and the garlic. After all the meat is pulled off, what’s left goes in a freezer bag and hangs out in the freezer until I have three or four carcasses. If I remember, I’ll do the same with onion skins and leftover bits, along with sad-looking celery stalks and carrots that have gone past their prime. On the first available weekend when I have six or eight hours free, the accumulated chicken carcasses and scraps, the vegetables, and whatever other celery or carrots I can scrounge up all go into a large stock pot, covered with water, brought to a boil, dropped to a simmer, covered with a lid and thus hang out until I have an herby, brothy pot of chicken stock.
Eight hours later, I pull the pot off the heat and let it cool for a little while and then it all goes into the refrigerator. The next day, I strain out all the bones and bits and vegetables and ladle what’s left into ice cube trays to freeze. Eventually, these end up in large freezer bags to be used as needed for soups, pastas, risottos, ramen, beans. On the coldest, rainiest Pacific Northwest nights, I could just drink this stuff.
A word of advice: after the first couple of batches of this, the ice cube trays will take on a permanent air of chicken broth. I do not recommend using them for freezing pesto, for example, or ice cubes for sangria. Not that I would necessarily know this from experience!
An un-recipe for Chicken Broth = Love
2 or 3 chicken carcasses and skin (including the roasted neck if you have them)
A bunch of celery (wilted celery, celery leaves, fresh celery)
5 or 6 carrots or more (I peel my carrots so as not to get dirt in my stock; wilted carrots do just fine)
2 or 3 onions cut into quarters (typically, I add this in addition to the onions that were roasted in the chicken)
Some rosemary and/or parsley if you have it handy
Note: I don’t salt my stock. This makes it easier to salt to taste in recipes that use the stock. If you prefer saltier stock, by all means, toss some in.
Put everything in a large stockpot and cover with water. Bring it to a boil and then drop it to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 6 – 8 hours. Cool and store in the refrigerator (if not straining immediately). Strain out the broth and ladle into ice cube trays. Freeze. Ten cubes makes about one cup of liquid stock.