Chicken Stock

Today Sean and I hiked Tiger Mountain in Issaquah, a suburb of Seattle. As we slowly ascended through layers and layers of trees, the scent of the evergreen trees instantly transported me to memories of the summer camp I loved as a kid.

When I was in middle school, I looked forward to summer camp more than anything else. I spent a week every summer at Cascades Camp, which rested in the shadow of Mount Rainier, usually at the ranch. I rode horses every day, mucked stalls, swam in the lake, and took very few showers. Every year, my mom would show up to take me home and I would refuse to speak to her for the entire day. She’d drive home with all the windows down (I smelled like a barn) while I pouted silently. I didn’t want to leave.

Once I was old enough to work at the camp in high school, I became an assistant counselor — at Cascades, I was called a SALT (a “service and leadership trainee”). Today’s evergreen smells reminded me of my favorite camp tradition: Halfway through the week, I’d load my campers onto horses and we’d “trek” to a “Native American village” buried in the forest. Realistically, the village was just a group of teepees about a mile away from the camp — but as we wove the campers through a winding route of trails and streams on our way there, nobody seemed to notice or care. Once we got to the village, we set up camp for the night. Each cabin group slept in a teepee. We roasted marshmallows and dough boys (pizza dough stuffed with nutella, wrapped in foil) over the fire. We sang songs and told stories.

One year, a camper was allergic to the hay that lined the tee-pee floor, so I had to sleep with her out under the stars. I remember laying there after the campers were all asleep, slightly afraid but mostly alert, breathing in the smell of those evergreens that’s so native to the Pacific Northwest, staring up at a blanket of bright stars, and listening over my heartbeat for the snaps of branches that would signal a possible attacker. Of course, nothing came to get us and I eventually fell asleep. Still, the memory of laying watch under those stars somehow branded me with a deep need to be outside, to smell those smells and see those things and feel that adrenaline.

During my hike today, I felt similarly alert. We moved into our new apartment less than a week ago and everything is still very new: the muddy lake smells of Lake Union, the muted, dull roar of a nearby highway, the chime of boat horns in the channel below our apartment, and the blurry twinkle of the lights on the buildings a few blocks away. This week I’ve been hyper aware of all of it, moving quickly to avoid thinking too much about what this move means and how I’ll be in this new place. I know that soon, I’ll stop noticing all these things. Soon, all of this will become normal to me. But for now, as I return to a place I used to know so well, most things remind me of other things I thought I’d forgotten, like dough boys and tee pees.

To find familiarity, I’ve been cooking cooking the things I know: pasta salad, panzanella, quiche, roasted veggies, homemade bread… and cthis hicken stock. There’s nothing that says “I’m setting up a kitchen” for me quite like homemade chicken stock. It might seem like a lot of work, but I promise that it’s very much a “leave it and walk away” recipe that will deeply improve your life (and your freezer, and your soups) for weeks to come.

Chicken Stock

Makes 6 cups. Recipe adapted from Epicurious.
  • 2 frozen chicken carcasses (leftover from roast chicken)
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped into large chunks
  • 2 carrots, cut into large chunks (no need to peel them)
  • 1/2 head garlic (no need to peel the cloves, just toss them in, papery shells and all)
  • 1/4 t whole black peppercorns
  • 4 quarts water
  • Optional: 2 thyme sprigs, or 8 parsley springs, or a nub of ginger

Throw all the ingredients into an 8-quart stockpot and bring the water to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours, occasionally checking on the pan to skim the surface — you’ll want to remove any fat or foam you see.

After 2 hours, strain the stock through a cheesecloth or fine mesh sieve. Let the stock cool for about an hour, then skim off the extra fat with a spoon and discard. Transfer the stock into mason jars and store in the fridge for up to 10 days, or in the freezer for several months.

When you go back to your fridge to use this chicken stock, you might be dismayed by how it looks. But if it’s congealed, you’ve done things right! The thicker the stock, the more rich your soup will be. Plus, it’ll thin out as you heat it up — but if it needs to be thinner, just add a bit of water. You may also find that you have jars of liquid stock covered by a layer of fat. This is also okay — just heat it up and the fats and liquids will reincorporate, I promise. You want both.

This stock is great as a base for any soup. It’s also awesome in risotto, or as a base for a pasta sauce, or even in gravy. Enjoy!

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