Saturday, February 16, 2013

Inexpensive Pasture Raised (Free Range) Chicken Stock

Ina Garten has a great recipe for chicken stock, but we can't afford to pay $30-$40 for whole pasture raised chickens and then discard them!! All the vitamins and minerals are cooked out of the meat, and it seems so wasteful to me. Follow these tips and you'll have an excellent quality stock for less than the cost of store bought:

1) Buy whole chickens for your recipes and break them down yourself, saving the neck, wings and backs in a ziploc freezer bag until you have enough for stock, or 

2) Buy a couple of pounds of wings and backs from a trusted butcher. We get them at our local farmer's market for less than $2/lb, or

3) Make a Roasted Broth The collagen is already cooked, so the finished stock won't be gelatinous. What you will have is 'fond', the dark roasty bits at the bottom of the pan and on the carcass/bones, which makes the stock darker and adds a lot of concentrated flavor. Plus, since you've already paid for and eaten the meat, it's practically free, and you won't be paying premium prices for commercially roasted stock. Save all your leftover carcass/bones from your meals, & add them to a ziploc in the freezer until you have the equivalent of 2 chicken carcasses' worth.

I've been stressing using homemade chicken stock mainly because any time you see "natural flavor" in an ingredients list, there's a strong chance it's MSG, and even though the packaging may claim it's "free range" that's no guarantee they still aren't grain- or corn-fed, given antibiotics, or even fed GMOs. Here's my sure-fire variation. Makes about 4-5 quarts*, which I store in the freezer.

2-3 lb pasture raised chicken backs, necks and wings
2 large yellow onions, peeled and quartered
4 medium carrots, peeled and quartered
3 celery stalks, leafy tops included, quartered
15 fresh parsley sprigs, stems included
10 fresh thyme sprigs
15 fresh dill sprigs
1 head garlic, unpeeled & cut in half horizontally, exposing the cloves
1 TB kosher salt
2 tsp whole mixed peppercorns

Combine all the ingredients except the salt in a large stock pot that holds 7-8 qts and fill to about 1/2" below the rim with water. The fastest way I know to bring it to a boil is to use an electric kettle to heat the water in 1.5 litre increments; just keep heating kettles of water to boiling and pour them in. Add the salt now - if you put the salt in the pot in cold water, it could pit the bottom of the pot. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce to a gentle simmer so the bubbles are slowly rising to the top, and cook uncovered for 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Do not cook too quickly ~ no fast simmering ~ and do not add more water ~ let it cook down into a rich, concentrated stock.

Use a Chinese strainer to remove the larger pieces of chicken bones and veg to a separate bowl or plastic grocery bag to discard. (My husband picks through them for the carrots and chicken bits for our pets.) Strain the stock through a colander lined with 2 layers of cheesecloth into another stockpot or large bowl. Don't skip the cheesecloth or you'll end up with peppercorns and other bits in your stock. I use a quart measuring cup to scoop and pour the hot stock into plastic quart containers. Leave 1/2" room at the top for expansion. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled; remove all the surface fat; and refrigerate or freeze. 

*I buy my quart containers from Cassandra's Kitchen. They're perfect for freezing stock, soups, chili, etc. Your final stock quantity will vary according to how many lbs of chicken you use, the size of your stock pot, and how much it cooks down. Lower humidity = it will cook down more.

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