Not enough people make their own stock. I see this as a real shame for a few reasons; homemade stock cannot be beaten on taste, it’s far healthier for you, and it’s a great use of valuable food that we all too often end up throwing away.
There are great methods out there for quick vegetable stocks which I’ll cover at a later date, but I’ll focus on chicken stock here.
This is how, and why, I do it:
I’m one of those people that loves to buy whole chickens and butcher them myself. I’m lucky enough to have been gifted a small vacuum packing machine which means that I can very efficiently portion the meat and freeze it neatly, making a significant financial saving at the same time. I’d go as far as to say that I would never again buy chicken that wasn’t whole. It’s just a shame that we are not more like the French and buy them with the heads on and still in possession of their vital organs. Anyway, I digress somewhat.
I’ll buy a few chickens at once (especially if there’s a good deal to be had) and after breaking them down, I’ll make a stock from the remaining carcass. If it’s just the odd bird, I’ll freeze the carcasses one by one, making a stock when I have enough to make it worthwhile. Top trick: I also pop carrots and celery into the freezer if they’re starting to look a little limp. You can make an entire stock from the freezer – No waste!
Now, the best chicken stock is made with roasted bones. You can roast your chicken whole for a ‘Sunday Lunch’ or in portions, and then freeze the bones post-meal. Making stock really isn’t a science, it’s rather like making soup – pretty much anything goes.
So, the basics. Bones, a couple of halved onions (you can leave the skins on), a stick of celery or so, carrot, a few peppercorns, two or three bay leaves. Fresh herbs to hand? chuck a few in. Top your (large) pot up with water, bring it to the boil and then simmer for a few hours on a low heat. Strain it when you’re happy with the colour, depth and taste, and we’re done.
One of the most important reasons for making your own stock is salt. You can regulate exactly how much is in there, if any at all. We first started with this when Felix was a wee pup and we were making all of his food from scratch.
So you have made a batch of several litres. What now? Fill a jug and pop it in the fridge for using that night/the following day; pour some into Tupperware boxes and open freeze (you could even use old ice-cream tubs!). You could subsequently vacuum-pack the solid blocks of stock, but I generally don’t bother. You can pop the blocks out once frozen, and literally stack them in the freezer.
What do I use it for? Mostly risotto. It is after all probably my ‘signature dish’, as much as it pains me to write that.
Try it, it’s very satisfying and you won’t regret it (or use those horrible little powdery cubes again).