I thought the best way to begin this blog was to share something that is essential to so many recipes – chicken stock. But, as I indicated in the title, you can use this strategy to make any kind of meat or vegetable stock, broth, or soup base. For me though, it all started with a chicken.
Like a lot of you, I bought chicken breasts for a couple of reasons – I thought they were healthier and (mostly) they were easier to deal with. Living in Europe for two years changed a lot of my thoughts on food. (Ok, I actually started thinking about food and where it comes from.) One of those changes was thinking about the quality and origin of the chicken I buy. You don’t have to move to Amsterdam to have an epiphany; just do a simple test. Buy a regular battery farmed chicken and a chicken that lived outdoors and ate wild food. If you can’t taste an incredible difference, carry on. If, like me, you hadn’t realised what you’ve been missing, ask yourself, “Would I rather eat flavourful healthy meat that is more expensive less often, or cheap bland meat more often?”
My own answer was clear. I wanted the best tasting and healthiest meat for my family. We’re not rich though, so eating quality meat means making some compromises. Simply put, we eat less meat but make the most of it when we do. I also found the perfect cost-saving way to eat chicken. Instead of buying pre-cut pieces of chicken: breasts, legs, whatever, I’ve been buying whole organic chickens and butchering them myself. When I’ve cut all the chicken I need from the bones, I then make my own chicken stock from the carcass.
Too time-consuming and Martha Stewart-ish you say? I thought so too until a chef friend showed me his secret. Once you know what you’re doing, you can get the whole thing done in about twenty minutes (except for simmering the stock).
How to Butcher Your Chicken
- First I remove the chicken thighs and put them in a freezer bag so we can eat them as part of a meal later.
- Then I carefully carve off the breasts which I also freeze separately. If you prefer skinless chicken, you can remove this now. I normally leave it on so it gives me more options later. (Also the skin IS the best part, amIright?)
- Next, I cut off the wings and put those in a freezer bag. I save these and keep adding wings to the bag as I carve up chickens so we can have a big hot wing feast. Mmmm wings.
- Then I remove and throw away any extra skin and fat from the carcass and cut it in half. I brown it in a pot with some olive oil.
Now for the Martha-esq (but very economical) part – I use a lot of soup stock when I cook. I make sauces, soups, and risottos that require stock as a base. I detest those little salt laden stock cubes so I used to buy jars of soup stock at the grocery store. They were pretty expensive. Now, instead, I make my own.
How to Make Soup Stock
- Whenever I cut up veggies, like carrots, leeks, parsnip etc, I make sure I clean the vegetables well before I peel them. Then I toss all the pealings and other waste in a ziplock and throw them in the freezer. If I have some celery or parsley in the fridge which is beginning to wilt (but have not spoiled yet) I also throw these in the ziplock.
- When I’m ready to make stock, all I have to do is toss some of the frozen vegetable bits in the pot with the browned chicken carcass and fill the pot with water. I add some salt, pepper, and any spices I want and leave it to simmer on low for 3-5 hours. When it’s done, I just strain out all the solids and throw them in the compost.
- Bonus tip – I also pick any leftover chicken bits from the carcass and use it in soup or pasta.
- I can store the stock in the fridge for about a week or freeze it and use it when I need it. It’s so easy I don’t know why I was so intimidated to do it before.
The best part is I normally paid around 5-7$ for a couple of chicken breasts or thighs. I paid around 3-4$ for 400ml of stock. Now I’m spending around 10-12$ for a whole chicken and getting: 2 thighs, 2 wings, 2 breasts and about 1.5L of stock. Oh, and my family gets to enjoy tasty nutritious meat that’s been ethically raised – while we save money!