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Taking Stock: Simmering Up for Winter

Last weekend’s destructive storm and power outage had me checking my freezer for spoilage. Happily, everything including my “dead birds” shelf of chicken carcasses was safe. Since the shelf was chock full, I decided to make a huge vat of stock in preparation for more fierce weather yet to come.

As it turns out, that was a great idea. Another storm yesterday and continued rain today has caused still more Bay Area outages—it’s soup weather for sure.

Homemade stock is the perfect thing to make during horrible winter weather for lots of reasons. First and most obvious, it’s the base for fabulous soups, stews, and sauces—which is exactly what you’ll want to eat when it’s nasty outside. The stock’s lengthy four-hour cooking time warms the kitchen, while its aroma comforts the soul and helps erase the gloom of winter.

I’ll turn my stock into three soups this week. Today it’s Spicy Cauliflower-Potato with an exotic Indian flair. Tomorrow the kids get homemade Chicken Vegetable Alphabet soup, and will spend most of lunch identifying their letters. For the weekend, there’s nothing better than a huge pot of Corn Chowder on the stove to keep everyone going.

This stock is beyond easy. Don’t worry too much about the proportions, and know that the recipe can easily be reduced or increased depending on what you’ve got on hand. I’ve made small batches with just one carcass and up to 40 quarts with my flock of dead birds. I used a 12-quart pot for this latest batch.

Barbara’s Chicken Stock

4 chicken carcasses with bits and skin
~ cold water
1 large onion
1 head garlic
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
10 whole cloves
20–25 whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf

Directions

1. Place the chicken carcasses in the stockpot and fill it with cold water.

2. Halve the onion, leaving the skin on (it adds color to the stock). Cut the garlic in half across its center. Add both to the stockpot.

3. Cut the celery and carrot into three or four large pieces and add them to the brew.

4. Toss in the cloves, peppercorns, and bay leaf.

5. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring the stock to a lively simmer. Do not boil it, however, or it will become cloudy.

6. Notice that scum floats to the surface as the stock begins to simmer. These are proteins and easily removed with a slotted spoon.

7. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 3 ½4 hours. The stock is ready when the broth is intensely flavorful.

8. Remove the chicken bones and pieces and set aside

9. Cool the stock to room temperature, then strain through a large sieve.

10. Refrigerate overnight, then remove and discard the fat that has risen and solidified on the surface of the stock.

11. For convenient storage, freeze stock in small portions in ice cube trays or zip-lock bags, then thaw just what you need for everyday use.