The roast chicken is that moment in your favorite romantic comedy where the male lead chases down the female lead in the rain and captures her heart with a passionate kiss. The stock you make from the bones of that roast chicken is the first 5 minutes of UP. The best part about both the roast chicken and the stock is that it is so much easier than actual love...or movie making for that matter. Cheaper too.
Hoover promised a Chicken in Every Pot, but I think he was underestimating the economy of this simple bird. With six bucks and a few things you've probably already got in the fridge or freezer you can make an amazing dinner and stock your freezer with liquid gold. Stock adds flavor, protein, and nutrients to almost any dish to which you would normally add water or wine. It's also about 99% cheaper than store bought stock and 1000 times better. Where is the downside here?
If I don't have you convinced let me just give you a few tips that make it even easier and cheaper.
1. Save a Ziploc freezer bag and any time you have any discarded chicken bones or uncooked meat, carrots, celery, or onions (yes, the parts you cut or shave off work beautifully, even the skin) throw them in the bag.
2. Use your slow cooker. Jam it with the contents of your full freezer bag and the bones of your roast chicken then fill it to the tippy top with water. Set it on low to simmer away while you're at work.
3. Freezer Ziploc bags in quart sizes, gallon sizes, or mason jars make freezing your stock a breeze.
4. Skimming the fat off the top of your cooled stock before filling your bags or jars means you have control over how much fat your stock has. It also give you schmaltz! Schmaltz is chicken fat and delicious. Store it in a separate jar in the fridge for a few days or in a Ziploc in the freezer for... well, forever. Storing it in the Ziploc bag in the freezer in a horizontal position means you can just break a piece off when needed.
If you're still reading then you're likely convinced and are ready for the process.
You can go in a hundred different flavor directions with a roast chicken but let’s keep is simple this time: A couple tablespoons of butter, olive oil, salt, pepper, half an onion, and a couple of bay leaves, and half a lemon, and a few sprigs of thyme. Make sure you set all of this out before touching your chicken. Confession: I totally did this with just the salt and paper... still amazing.
Oh, you'll also need a whole chicken. You can go organic, free range, or even frozen. If you get frozen, you'll need a couple of days to thaw it in the fridge, though.
After you open your chicken, reach in the cavity and get the bits and pieces. You don't need to know what they are, but save them. They go in your stock later. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry. Using your hand massage the butter under the skin of the breasts. The coldness of the chicken can make it a bit difficult to spread smoothly so sometimes I cut the butter really thin and kind of slide the slices in rather than rub.
Next you'll want to put a bay leaf under the skin on each breast and then drizzle the bird with olive oil. Salt and pepper generously. Put your half an onion in the cavity, along with a half of a lemon.
You don't want the wings and legs flopping around, so fold the wings back behind the neck of the bird. Cut two small holes in the loose skin near the cavity. Cross the chicken's legs, yes it's a lady, putting the legs through the holes you've created. You know what. Just watch this video, it explains everything. Trussing a Chicken
Put your bound bird in a large cast iron pan or a roasting pan or a casserole pan or any oven safe container that's large enough to accommodate it with some breathing room around the sides. We could really get picky here but I am a firm believer in no excuses cooking. Don't let the fact that you don't have exactly the right roasting vessel keep you from making this.
You could get as lazy as putting the bird in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes, or until the juices run clear and/or a meat thermometer reads 165. Or you could put it in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes to get a really rich, crispy skin, then drop your temperature to 350 for another 30 minutes or so until your bird reaches the aforementioned 165.
At this point it's a matter of letting your bird rest for about 10 minutes. This is the perfect time to set the table, make the couscous, have a martini. And because I really shouldn't be telling anyone how to carve a chicken here's Jacques Pepin to show you his fancy technique. Or go in with a fork and butter knife. You know, the butter knife because it’s so tender. A word of warning to get those bay leaves from under the skin before serving the breasts. I've been accused of attempted murder...twice...by the same person because I forgot to take them out
And now for the stock!
In addition to your newly stripped chicken carcass you'll need
- a slow cooker or large stock pot
- some aromatics: carrots, celery, onion halved, 1 TBSP whole peppercorns, 1 halved onion, OR that bag of frozen bits and pieces you've been stashing. Don't bother trimming or skinning anything. Just cram the slow cooker or stock pot full full full.
If using a slow cooker fill it to the tippy top. If you're using a stock pot leave some room for simmer. Put the lid on your slow cooker, set it for as long as you want on low, at least 6 hours. Umm... I cheated a bit and after 6 hours scooped out the liquid and filled it back up again and let it cook overnight again. The first batch was a super rich dark stock and the next batch was lighter in color. I didn't combine my two batches but you certainly could. I like the idea of having a richer stock for a serious punch for soup and gravy or a lighter stock for replacing water in rice and deglazing.
If you're going the stock pot route bring it to a boil and simmer for as long as you can, a couple of hours skimming the top of any residue.
Strain your stock through a sieve, let it cool, skim off the fat and choose your method of storage. That's it. I make no promises but if you stay tuned someday I might post some recipes that take full advantage of your stock prowess.