Sunday, March 22, 2009

Crockpot Poultry Stock

During my stint in the Peace Corps, I lived with a family in rural Central Asia and noticed that very little goes to waste. There are no grocery stores that provide you with the choice of paper or plastic for free. If you want to carry your groceries home, you either brought a bag with you or bought once in the bazaar. Similarly, food and household items rarely come in packaging. What packaging made it home was either saved and repurposed, or (what little there was) burned in the oven to bake bread.

Bread was eaten until it was gone, and although I never saw moldy bread, we ate our fair share of hard, almost-stale bread. Food scraps were deposited in a bucket that doubled as the cow's trough. It was difficult to waste food.

Here, it is much easier. Without a cow in the backyard or a wood-burning oven, I attempt to use every food scrap possible, but certainly come up short (I have no qualms about throwing away fat); and I can't directly repurpose every piece of paper that comes in the door, but just hope that my diligent recycling makes some sort of difference. As a novice environmentalist living in a rented house, I haven't yet delved into the world of composting. As with many environmentally responsible undertakings, I feel as though I need to know more about composting and I need some capital to start the project. I haven't yet gotten around to acquiring either, so when the opportunity to make a turkey carcass into another meal presented itself last Thanksgiving, I was excited to give it a try. It is incredibly easy, and no carcass has been wasted in the Green house ever since!

I started by adapting a Joy of Cooking recipe for stock, cooking the following ingredients on low for 10 hours:
  • Turkey carcass / bones
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1-2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 bouquet garni (a combination of fresh herbs tied in a cheesecloth)
  • A few peppercorns
  • 6-8 cups of water, or enough to just cover the ingredients
The result was fairly fatty, which I later learned (after reading the "about" section in Joy of Cooking) was because I included the skin in the stock. I was under the mistaken impression that stock was supposed to have some fat in it. Not so! Strip the carcass of any skin and fat that you can. Otherwise, you will have a fatty stock on your hands and it will be a little ... er ... greasy. Yuck!

I have discovered four ways to reduce the fat in your stock:
  1. Trim all the fat and skin from the carcass.
  2. Cool the stock and scrape the fat off of the top.
  3. Use a fat skimmer when the stock is done. You will need to strain the stock anyway, so the fat skimmer can double as a strainer. I, however, couldn't get the hang of this method when I used my simple skimmer, so I bought a fat separator, which I think is the lazier (*ahem* more efficient *ahem*) method.
  4. Use a fat separator that has a strainer. Not only is it ... er ... more efficient, I think it's just cool how it works: With the stopper in the spout, the spout stays dry; with the stopper out, only the water-based liquid rises through the spout. The fat stays at the surface and out of the spout until it's almost empty. In the photo below, I think I did a fairly decent job of keeping the fat out of the ingredients, because the line at the top is pretty thin.
Stopper In

Stopper Out

Since that first time, I have made stock a few times and learned that improvisation is fine. I never include the celery -- just because I never have it on hand -- and use dried herbs (thyme and oregano) instead of putting together a fresh bouquet garni. Beware your main ingredient, however: Last week, Mr. Green smoked a Jamaican jerk-flavored chicken on the grill and that carcass yielded a spicy stock. I added it to reconstitute a ginger butternut squash soup I made and froze earlier in the month and it destroyed the delicate ginger taste of the soup. Don't get me wrong -- it was still a nicely flavored soup -- just not the flavor I was aiming for!

I have now gotten into the habit of getting out my crockpot whenever getting a chicken ready for the oven or grill. Once those giblets come out, they go straight to the crockpot, soon a few carrots and an onion join them, then the chicken; and I cook the stock overnight. In the morning, I divvy up the stock into freezer or fridge containers. I try to cool them quickly so they don't raise the temperature in the freezer or fridge and don't sit too long on the counter at a bacteria-inducing temperature.

This is a great way to turn one meal into two or three distinct meals -- the first being the roasted /grilled chicken -- and the stock and meat can easily be converted into:
  1. Chicken Barley Soup (prep: 40 minutes, due to barley cooking)
  2. Chicken with couscous, onions, and raisins (prep: 15 minutes)
  3. Salad with chicken (prep: as long as it takes you to chop up the salad vegetables!)
Mr. Green smoked another chicken (seasoned with lemon, garlic, and rosemary) the other night ... please share other quick meals for roasted chicken and chicken stock so I can give them a try -- you may see them here!

1 comment:

  1. You are right on with using the cubes.
    Have you looked into vermicomposting? You can do it indoors and apparently it doesn't smell. We have been waiting out for a local source for red wiggler worms. They are only in my town during fishing season. If you can't find a local source and really want to get started, you should get them off Ebay. There are lots of sites that sell them for a bit less, but Ebay assures that you'll get what you're paying for. The worms eat food scraps and produce compost. :)
    One more way that I get rid of fat in stocks is to leave it in the fridge for an hour or so. The fat hardens into a thin layer and can usually be scraped off pretty easily.
    Living in an appartment can be limiting, but there's a ton of information out there about how to maximize your space. (apartment living is great!)
    I've got a great recipe for chicken enchiladas, and you could use both in my chicken tomatillo soup!