Chicken Soup (with no chickens in it)

When my vegetarian child is ill, his one concession & only request is homemade chicken stock, so long as it has “no chickens in it.”  This makes for tedious straining, but results in a clear mass of liquid gold.

Here’s how it goes:

Maybe you have a ziploc bag in the freezer full of chicken bones & carcasses from previous roasts & dinners because you have inherited your Lithuanian grandmother’s Depression-baby tendencies & always save bones (see also: rubber bands, aluminum foil, sugar packets).  If so, take out of freezer, rinse, & toss them in a good, tall pot.  You should have at least 2-3 carcasses/4-6 pounds of bones & bits.


You are not a bone-saver/you’ve already exhausted all but one freezer-carcass, but the supermarket has roast chickens on sale. Buy two. Let them cool, strip the meat & reserve in a tupperware for later. All the bones & bits go in a tall pot, with the freezer carcass/bones.  Consider adding wing tips (good) or 3-4 chicken feet (better — & these days, you can find them anywhere from Asian markets to Whole Foods); both are rich in collagen & will result in a velvety, rich broth.  Add cold, filtered water, enough to cover everything by an inch or two.

Put pot of bones & water on stove.  Heat, bringing it just barely to a boil, then immediately reduce heat so it gives only the slightest indication of simmering.  You don’t want bubbles, just the smallest murmur disturbing the surface.

As it murmur/simmers, scum will collect on the surface. Skim it off, every 10-15 minutes, for the first hour of cooking.

After the first hour, add to the pot:
4-5 onions, skin on, cut in half/quarters
1 bulb garlic, cloves separated & smashed
Tablespoon of whole cloves
Tablespoon of whole peppercorns
sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme, & sage
kosher/sea salt, to taste

No, not carrots. Stock with carrots take on a sweet, carrot taste, & we are not making carrot soup. & not celery, which is a useless vegetable when not a vehicle for peanut butter or hummus. & not parsley, which turns the stock a sickly green & gives off a metallic, bitter flavor. & not bits & ends of whatever wilted, sad produce is in the crisper bin or cupboard. We are making stock, not compost.

After adding veg & herbs, allow stock to continue to just barely murmur (not burble), uncovered, for 6-8 hours,  & up to 12-18 hours.  Once or twice per hour, skim off fat/scum that rises to the top.  Taste the stock as you do, & add salt in small increments.  Otherwise, do not muck about or stir it up, or your end stock will be cloudy. Yes, it will reduce; concentrated stock is good for flavoring recipes, & you can add back water to dilute it later when you’re reheating it to eat as soup.

When broth is tasty & done, turn off heat. Place a Pyrex bowl/measuring cup in a larger bowl of ice water. Ladle broth, in small batches, through strainer lined with cheesecloth (or, if you have no cheesecloth, coffee filters; it takes forever, but the result is worth it), into the Pyrex sitting in the ice bath (this to chill it down quickly). Strain again, if necessary, to clarify the stock. Pour strained broth into storage containers & refrigerate overnight. The cheesecloth/coffee filter will have removed much of the fat, but some may rise & solidify on top when chilled, making it easy to take out.

The stock should have taken on a wibbly-wobbly gelatinous consistency— this is good, & is from the collagen in the bones (esp if you’ve added wing tips &/or feet).  The desirable Jell-o-ness will melt & dissolve when reheated (taste; if too concentrated, add cold, filtered water to desired brothy-ness) & will give the stock a rich, full-bodied umami mouth-feel.

Store in refrigerator for 3-4 days, or freeze in portions.

When reheating, be gentle— do not boil your stock to death.

When reheating, be creative. Add things: shredded chicken from the aforementioned carcasses, chopped vegetables, cooked rice/rice noodles, Pennsylvania Dutch egg noodles (cook, rinse, & keep in fridge; toss in a handful or two as you’re heating the stock— do not store the noodles in the stock, or they’ll absorb it & everything will go gummy), spinach leaves, bits of fresh dill.

Or just heat a ladle-full of stock to a bare simmer, serve in mug to sick child.

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