Making stock in one of the most basic and ancient tasks in the kitchen. Incredibly simple and basically free. Everyone should do it, regularly. Your meals will be all the better for it.
Once you have a good stock you are only a couple of steps away from a good soup. Grab any combination of veg from the fridge, even if it is looking past its best. Throw it into the stock, simmer until cooked and blitz with a handheld blender. If you don’t have a blender simply chop the vegetables finely before adding and you have a broth. At this time of year especially, soup is a joy.
There is no recipe as such for stock, at home it should be made up of whatever you have lying around. For the purposes of this blog I will focus on Chicken as it is the most common Sunday roast and the most versatile stock.
Whenever I roast a chicken I never throw away the scrap meat left on the bone, or indeed the bone itself, it is flavouring gold. I have heard far too many times of people roasting a chicken for lunch, then throwing everything bar the Chicken breast away as, ‘we only like the breast’.
Let us not forget, this is an animal and wasting so much of it is a bit of an insult to its life. I love my meat, don’t get me wrong. I am responsible for what, in human terms would amount to attempted genocide. I ease my conscience by using as much as I can of the beast. And by buying the best quality meat my purse can afford. Raised with good husbandry practises.
I almost always buy a whole bird, rarely pre-packaged chicken. Generally you can buy a whole bird for a similar price as two chicken breasts, whatever your budget. I just looked on the Tesco website and 2 x 200g standard skinless chicken breasts were £5.20, a 1.5kg standard whole bird was £5.00. The story is similar, but not quite so pronounced as you go further up the welfare chain (free range breasts £6.08 vs whole bird £8.25.) What that is telling us, is that there is no value in the thighs, legs and wings of the cheaper bird, and very little in the free range bird. Why on earth would anyone then buy a pack of chicken thighs or wings then? They are worthless! I understand why people do it, convenience, but if you have any interest in cooking, learning how to portion a chicken and making a stock should be the first thing you should learn, alongside making an omelette. It’s really not as difficult as it looks, check out this video from Tesco, even they don’t mind you doing it!
My point is, don’t buy the cheap chicken breasts that will feed 2 for 1 meal. Upgrade the welfare, buy the free range bird, that will feed two people for at least 3 meals, chicken breast, chicken thigh and leg and also the stock to make a soup. If you only want the breast for todays meal, buy the whole chicken and freeze the other portions.
I got a little side tracked there, sorry.
Back to stock. So if you have portioned up a chicken leaving you with a carcass, or you have the leftovers from a sunday roast you should now make stock. Strip any meat left on the carcass and put it in a bowl, you can use this later in your soup, pie or one of many things you can make with stock. Place the bones in a large saucepan, cover with water and add stock vegetables. The classics are carrots, onions and celery known as Mirepoix in French but you can add what you like. These veg don’t have to be the freshest. If the onion has been sat around for a while and is sprouting, don’t worry, chuck it in. You can add any left over veg (not potatoes or parsnips) from you roast dinner. Even peelings are fine. They dont need to be finely chopped or peeled, just half them, and throw them in skins and all. We are looking to build up layers of flavour here, use what you like. I always add a couple of bay leaves and a few peppercorns.
Leave to simmer on a low heat for a good few hours, making sure not to let it boil dry. Add more water as necessary. Strain the stock to remove the vegetables and bones. Use immediately or place in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer for another day. It will last for a week in the fridge, months in the freezer.
That’s it, you’ve made chicken stock, it will help you to make the best soups you have ever made and many, many other things.
Two quick recipes…
Leek and potato soup
Sweat leeks in a large knob of butter in a saucepan
Add some diced potato and stock, allow to simmer for 30 mins or so.
Use the back of a spoon or a whisk to break up the potatoes a little, this thickens the soup.
Season and add a little cream if you like, serve.
Chicken and Mushroom pie
Fry sliced onion and mushrooms in a saucepan in butter, add a spoon full of flour.
Add a ladleful of stock at a time until you have a rich velvety sauce.
Add leftover chicken, season well and spoon into a pie dish.
Top with ready-made puff pastry and bake until crisp and golden.
Please, please make stock, you wont regret it.