Homemade Chicken Stock

It's no secret that Harry is the primary hunter when it comes to the meat in our kitchen. He has an eye for the bargains. Whenever he's in the store, he always checks the meat department and looks first for the orange markdown tags.

There is nothing wrong with the meat that has been marked down. By law, grocers have to sell fresh items by a certain date. To cut their losses, grocers will mark down the price, sometimes by as much as half. We've been stocking our freezer this way for years.

Last week, Harry found chicken leg quarters at a stupid low price. He even said later he should have bought more. But, he brought home 11 pounds of quarters for around $5.25 - that's a great deal. We stuck them in the freezer immediately until we could make chicken stock on Sunday.

All you need to make homemade chicken stock is time. Prepping the vegetables took him about five minutes. The time needed is inactive - you just have to let it simmer, skim it occasionally and add more water as needed. Whether we're using whole chicken or quarters, we always pull the meat out when it is cooked - usually after 45 minutes to an hour. Harry picks the meat from the bones and the bones go back into the pot.

For this batch, we used carrots, celery, shallots, a leek, bay leaves, kosher salt and crushed peppercorns. We like pepper, so you might not want as much in your chicken stock.

This stock pot - a gift from my mom - holds three gallons and the only time we use it is to make stock. The technique is simple - put the chicken in the pot, cover it with cold water and bring to a simmer. Add the vegetables and seasonings and let it cook over medium with a slow boil until the chicken meat is cooked. Usually, unless you're serving chicken salad with breast meat, you're going to cook the meat again. It isn't necessary for it to be "cooked" cooked.

After Harry picked the meat from the bones, we have about 3 1/2 pounds of dark chicken meat. In the bowl is the meat I'm going to use to make Chicken & Dumplings and the rest of it will go into the freezer for Chicken Pot Pies, stir-fry, soups or whatever I decide. The skin and the bones go back into the simmering broth.

In another pot, I've added the picked meat to about 4 cups of chicken stock to make the chicken and dumplings. We were running short on time so I didn't chop up any extra vegetables to saute for this batch. Our stock is generally very strong and flavorful, so I also add about 2 cups of water.

Harry will generally let the stock and bones simmer for about two hours to draw as much flavor as possible out of the bones. Sometimes, he needs to add more water and let it cook down. We probably use 4 to 5 gallons of water to make two gallons of stock. The slow cooking and evaporation helps create a sturdy stock that will kick the pants off of anything you buy on the shelf.

When the stock has cooled enough for Harry to handle the pot, he strains it into containers. We let it chill overnight in the fridge, allowing the fat to rise to the surface. Then, I scrape the fat off and put the chicken stock into the freezer for future use.

We made two gallons of chicken stock and the total cost - including pantry items - was about $6. A quart-size box of chicken stock costs around $3 on sale. Plus, we also have three pounds of picked chicken meat in the freezer. I'd say it's worthwhile to make your own.

And these are the Chicken and Slippery Dumplings I made while Harry was finishing the stock. More on that later.

Two Gallons of Chicken Stock
8 to 10 pounds of chicken leg quarters OR
one whole fryer chicken, thawed
3 carrots
3 celery stalks
1 leek
1 shallot
1-2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 tablespoon cracked peppercorns
3-4 bay leaves

Clean and slice the vegetables in half. All you're trying to do is create a surface for the vegetable flavor to come out of - you don't have to be precise.

Place the chicken in a large stock pot, and cover with at least 2 gallons of water. Bring to a strong simmer over medium-high heat, then add the vegetables and seasonings. Continue to simmer over medium heat for 45-60 minutes until the chicken is cooked.

Remove the chicken to a plate and reduce the heat to low. When the chicken is cool enough, using your hands or forks, pull the meat from the bones, cleaning the skin away from the meat.

After the chicken is pulled, add the bones and skin back to the stock and increase the heat to medium. Continue to cook at a strong simmer for one to two hours, adding water as necessary to concentrate the stock. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

Allow the stock to cool at room temperature until you can safely strain it through a fine sieve or a colander layered with cheesecloth. Pour into containers the size you desire and refrigerate overnight. The next day, skim the chilled fat that has risen to the surface and freeze the containers. We've kept frozen chicken stock for nine months with no flavor issues.

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