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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Home-Made Chicken Stock

During soup season, I always have stock in my freezer. One pasture-raised stewing hen and a handful of organic vegetables yield 5 quarts of chicken stock. Not only is it cost effective, but this stock tastes much better than anything you could buy in a box or can.

I like to add a handful of dried beans to stocks to enhance their flavor and increase amounts of protein, B vitamins and minerals (including iron, potassium and magnesium). Soak the beans overnight if you can, to make these nutrients more available.

I also like to add dried chili peppers to soup stocks, especially during cold and flu season. I don't think it makes the stock especially spicy, but others may disagree. Leave them out if you wish.

Feel free to substitute other vegetables and herbs, like parsnips or parsley, or whatever you find at the farmers' market or in the fridge.

1 whole stewing hen or pasture-raised chicken, skin intact
1 large onion, cut into wedges
Dark green tops from 1 bunch leeks, roughly chopped (reserve the white and light green parts for another use if you want, otherwise, add them to the pot as well)
2 to 3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
2 to 3 carrots, roughly chopped
1 head garlic, halved in cross section
¼ cup dried white beans, pre-soaked overnight and rinsed
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 to 2 dried chili peppers (optional)

If you’ve never worked with a stewing hen before, you may be surprised to find the ovary inside (see photo). If it hasn't been removed already, remove and discard it. Remove any other organs or parts inside the hen.

Cut the hen into several pieces. The more pieces, the better, because it means an increased amount of surface area available to release nutrients and flavor. Place the pieces inside a large stock pot along with the neck and feet, if available.

Add all of the other ingredients to the pot and cover with water. Bring the contents to a boil, then reduce the heat to the lowest setting and simmer slowly for 4 to 5 hours. Cool to room temperature.

Strain to remove any solids, pressing to extract all liquids. Use immediately or store in air-tight containers in the fridge for use within 48 hours or in the freezer for several months.

Yield: Approximately 5 quarts

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