I will no longer be held hostage by my tiny apartment kitchen.
I may not have room to store a 12-quart pot, but if I want to make chicken stock, I will make chicken stock. If I have to use a small 3-quart pot, I will use a 3-quart pot. If I have to save random bones over a period of weeks because I don't have the means to roast a couple whole chickens at a time (no room for roasting pans, either), then I will save random bones for weeks.
And that’s what I did.
The hardest part about making chicken stock (for the first time ever!) with random bones is finding a recipe to work from. I worked with Ina's recipe. Like hers, many recipes call for using several chicken carcasses at once, and there's no clear guidance on how to adapt a recipe to work with four split-breast bones and seven thigh bones, which is what I had. I got the random-bone-chicken-stock idea from Nigella's book, How To Eat. In it, she says that she saves all her leftover bones until she has enough to make a pot of stock, and she even talks about how, when she's dining with friends, she'll ask to take home their leftover unwanted chicken bones. For some reason, this inspired me. I thought, If Nigella can make stock from bones she's gathered from friends' houses, then I can make chicken stock from a few bones tossed into my meager excuse for a stock pot.
I've read that certain parts of a chicken carcass, such as the back, are great for stock. I didn’t have those parts, so I knew my raw material was lacking a bit. I didn't let that stop me. I cut Ina's recipe down to a third of the original and used that as a guide, but it as a very rough guide. I let the bones I'd frozen thaw, and then I piled them into my pot with an onion, two carrots, one celery stalk, six garlic cloves, eight sprigs of thyme, seven sprigs each of dill and parsley, half a tablespoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of peppercorns. I was able to fit about ten cups of water into the pot after that. I brought it to a boil then let it simmer away for four hours.
Ina's recipe instructs you to leave the pot uncovered, but I noticed that my liquid was rapidly being lost to the air. Since I was already making a fairly small batch of stock, I greedily determined to not lose another drop. I added about a cup of extra liquid back into the pot and clamped on the lid. This stifled the glorious homemade-stock aroma that had been wafting through my apartment, but I thought it was worth it.
When the four hours were up, it was time to strain the stock. Using a slotted spoon, I removed the bones and vegetables. Then I set a wire strainer over a large glass bowl, lined the strainer with a couple coffee filters (cheesecloth would be great, but I don't have that), and set to work. It was a slow process, as you might imagine. Per Ina's recipe, I let the stock chill in the fridge overnight so that I could skim the fat off in the morning. There wasn't much, but I was able to remove a small amount of fat the next day. When I was done, I had about 8 cups of stock. I don't know how I lost so much of my original liquid when I'd had the lid on the pot; all I know is that, in the end, I was able to fill four two-cup plastic containers. I stored them in the freezer, where'd they'd sit until I figured out how I wanted to use them.
They didn't sit long. I decided pretty much right away that I knew how they'd be used. It's already March, and we've had a couple 65-degree days here in
As the story goes, my mom used to make me chicken noodle soup with mashed potatoes when I was little, because I was very thin and didn't eat much, and this was a way she devised to sneak some potatoes into me, which I didn't used to like. I find it very difficult to imagine a time when I didn't used to like potatoes; furthermore, every time I tell this story I find myself longing for the alleged time when I didn't eat much and had problems gaining weight. But, so the story goes.
The method is, obviously, very simple: just dollop some mashed potatoes into a bowl of chicken noodle soup. You can stir the potatoes into the broth right away if you want, but I prefer to let them seep in on their own, slowly imbuing the broth with their rich potatoey goodness. To aid in this, I make the mashed potatoes a bit stiffer than I normally would, just so they don’t ooze apart the second they hit the broth. You can flavor the potatoes if you like (add a few garlic cloves to the cooking water or mash them with buttermilk), but I think it's best to just use a small amount of butter and a bit of milk or cream. You don't want any competing flavors to mask the taste of the stock you’ve made, which, by the way, will turn out delicious. There's much more nuance in the taste of homemade stock. You get hints of all the herbs and seasonings, and there's a depth and sophistication of flavor that just doesn't come in a box. It's fabulous. And, in case you're wondering, my four split-breast bones and seven thigh bones made a wonderful stock, even if it wasn't just like it would be if I'd used an entire carcass or two. The lesson I've learned here is that stock-making doesn't have to be an exact science: work with what you have, learn from what you've done, and enjoy your own homemade deliciousness.
For the soup, I used this recipe as a guide. It calls for precooked chicken, so, if you're making the stock and the soup close to the same time, it would probably work well to add a chicken breast to your pot and let it poach as your stock simmers. Then you can shred the meat and save it until you're ready to make the soup. But, just as with stock, the making of chicken noodle soup is a very forgiving process, and you can pretty much do what you like. Change the seasonings, add a bay leaf, use linguine instead of egg noodles. It all works, and it's all delicious. Just don't forget the mashed potatoes.