Earlier this week I shared a photo of an incredibly warming and comforting soup I like to make at this time of year. The secret to this soup, or any great soup in my mind, is fantastic stock. Yes, you can buy stock cubes or pastes or even ready made stock in a tub, but none of them come close to this. You will not find any weird binders or stabilisers, flour or other thickeners, only simple, straightforward real food.
I’ll share the soup recipe in the second part of this blog post, but first – the magical elixir that is my home made chicken stock. I like to have a few litres of this wonder stuff in my freezer all the time. It’s inexpensive and so nourishing, a larder staple in my kitchen.
Really good meat stock is rich in fat soluble vitamins like A, D & K. The words ‘fat soluble’ here are key – if you eat a low fat diet, there is insufficient fat available to hold or store those vitamins.In fact, traditional diets always included some form of animal fat. Perhaps our ancestors knew more than we did about the need for these vital nutrients? “Sacred foods”, high in these fat soluble nutrients were saved for newly weds before they conceived their children, to ensure the best possible start in life. Our bodies also need these hard to get nutrients to support our fertility. Please, consider this before you try to eliminate fat from your diet. Food for thought…
If you simmer a chicken carcass slowly, over a few hours, you benefit from the minerals & gelatine in the carcass, wonderful for strong bones, plus gorgeous hair and nails (now I have your attention, right?) These nutrients directly impact the health of the gut, which has a knock on effect on mood, immune health and levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Chicken also contains a natural amino acid – cysteine, which thins mucus, hence it is wonderful for shifting congestion in the lungs and healing from a cold or flu. Maybe that South American proverb was onto something with ‘good broth will resurrect the dead.’
Stock is dead easy to make. Get your hands on some raw chicken carcasses (you can use the carcass of a roasted bird, but you won’t get as much nourishment from the bones) or a whole raw chicken. I like to buy organic carcasses from my local farmers market – €2 for 2 carcasses is a no brainer! Put said carcasses into the largest saucepan you have and fill the pan almost to the brim with filtered water. Add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar and a pinch of salt, cover with the lid and leave it for an hour or so if you have the time. (The vinegar and salt begin the process of breaking down the structure of the carcass, making the minerals more available.) Then add 3 or 4 bay leaves, 6 black peppercorns, an onion and a couple of carrots roughly chopped, with some celery if you have it. Use what you have, this is far from an exact science. My favourite kind of cooking.
Next step is to bring the water to a boil. So lash up the heat on your hob and get that water boiling. Once it is boiling, turn it down to the lowest setting and simmer it for an hour or two. If you’re using a whole chicken, after two hours, remove the carcass carefully and pull off all the meat. This will be amazing in soups, sandwiches and satays. Now, RETURN the carcass to the pan, carefully, so you don’t burn yourself and continue to simmer for as long as you can. I usually simmer the carcass for a good 5 or 6 hours on a lazy weekend afternoon and evening. Skim off any grey skummy stuff that comes to the surface.
Allow the stock to cool and then add to glass jars if you have them or ziplock bags and store in your freezer.I’d advise that you do not try to remove the fat from the stock. This is some of the best fat you can get your hands on, if the chickens are organic. Therein lies some amazing nutrients, so please don’t chuck the fat out.
A note on storing food – I try to avoid using plastic bags or containers. It’s one of the many sources of xenoestrogens – chemicals that mimic the behaviour of oestrogen in the body. If you are working on balancing hormones and optimising your fertility, minimising those plastics is one easy step in the process. Sometimes, plastic bags are all I have, as you can see from the photo below, but I always choose glass first.