Two Years Ago: Chicken with Shallots
There are a few things that I tend to think that only crazy people and professional chefs make and have not tried personally: homemade pasta, homemade croissants, and homemade chicken stock to name a few. But I've read over and over how much good homemade chicken stock can really elevate your cooking so I decided to make it a project. Ina Garten is known for her excellent chicken stock recipe so that's what I used. She describes it as an easy recipe and I must agree, it's very easy IF you have the right tools. All you do is throw some chickens, vegetables and herbs in a big pot and let them simmer for 4 hours. Done. You don't even have to monitor the pot except for once in a while to make sure it's still simmering, so you can make stock on a day when you'll be home for 4 hours but have other things to do like laundry or yard work.
You probably won't save money by making your own stock - you're doing it for quality rather than cost savings. Having said that, you still want to minimize cost where possible. I found the best deal on chicken at Costco - 4 small fresh chickens for a total weight of almost 15 pounds cost $14.50 The recipe calls for 3 (5-pound) chickens but 4 smaller chickens work equally well. Some people may be dismayed because you use whole chickens only to throw them away afterwards, but all the flavor from the chicken goes into the stock and the meat becomes tasteless. I tasted the meat at the end of the cooking time and can confirm this is true.
About the tools: this is a bulky project so your normal pots and pans aren't going to work. You need a 20-quart stockpot, which I bought at my local restaurant supply store for around $25. You want a light pot to make it easier to move around, and one that's tall rather than wide so it will fit on your home burner. They're actually not as big as you think.
You also need an 8-to-10 quart pot or bowl to hold the stock after it's done if you want to refrigerate it overnight and then skim off the surface fat. If you want to skip that step, you don't need the smaller pot. You need a colander to strain the solids, but you probably already have one. And finally, you need a spider/skimmer to remove the solids from the pot. If you don't know what that is, this is what one looks like. You can find them at Target, Bed, Bath and Beyond, etc. If you don't want to buy one, tongs would probably work also.
Here's a tip: move the pot to the stove before adding the water. (It reminds me of the time when our vet had to anesthetize our dog to take an x-ray of his hip. The only problem was that after they put him under they realized the x-ray machine was across the room and our dog was an Irish Wolfhound who weighed 160 pounds. Heh. That must have been an interesting transfer to watch.)
People who make chicken broth regularly have suggested buying the type of plastic quart containers you get from the deli, which I did online but you could also buy them at a restaurant supply store. You can use any type of container to freeze your stock but these are convenient, re-usable, and are cheap enough to give away with leftovers from your next big dinner.
As I said this is Ina Garten's recipe, with a few tweaks: I described how to move the big pot around to make it easier to handle and easier to get the solids out. She says to strain the entire contents of the big pot through a colander, but I can't imagine trying to tip over that entire thing without making a huge mess and who has a colander that big anyway? I also made the salt optional: I've found Ina's recipes are often too salty and I always use unsalted chicken stock anyway. She originally called for 2 tablespoons of kosher salt; I lowered it to 1 tablespoon and made it optional.
This was actually a pretty fun afternoon project. The Lawyer provided the muscle for moving the large pot and tipping it over; you may want to have someone else around to help you just in case (unless you've been doing your crossfit regiment faithfully). The resulting stock is miles ahead of anything you can buy at the store in terms of flavor and well worth the effort. One last note - the recipe says it makes 6 quarts but I actually ended up with 6 1/2. How can you only lose 2 cups of liquid volume after simmering uncovered for 4 hours? It's a mystery.
Homemade Chicken Stock
Makes 6 quarts
3 (5-pound) roasting chickens
3 large yellow onions, unpeeled and quartered
6 carrots, washed, unpeeled and halved crosswise
4 celery stalks with leaves, washed and cut into thirds crosswise
4 parsnips, washed, unpeeled and cut in half crosswise
20 sprigs fresh parsley
15 sprigs fresh thyme
20 sprigs fresh dill
1 head garlic, unpeeled and cut in half crosswise
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon kosher salt, optional
Special equipment: 20 quart stockpot, an 8-10 quart pot or bowl, a colander and a spider/skimmer
Place all ingredients in the 20 quart stockpot and place on the stove. Add 7 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer, uncovered, for 4 hours, checking occasionally to make sure you maintain a simmer.
Remove the stockpot from the stove and place next to the sink (you may want help to move the pot). Place a colander in the 8-10 quart pot or bowl, and place the smaller pot in the sink. Use a spider (skimmer) or other large slotted spoon to remove the solids and place in the colander to drain (you may need to discard the solids and repeat). After getting rid of all the solids, remove the colander from the smaller pot. Allow the chicken stock to cool somewhat for easier handling before pouring it into the smaller pot. Cool to room temperature (this could take several hours), then place in the refrigerator overnight. The next day remove the surface fat.
Pour into containers and freeze for up to 3 months.