In this, the last of my three-part series on What To Do With A Chicken, I’ll talk about the process of preserving the stock. You did make chicken stock, right?
Once you have made the stock, and skimmed it of fat, you’ll want to keep that golden treasure. When I make stock from a roast chicken, I usually end up with about four quarts of stock. Your next decision is this: can, or freeze?
Your equipment may make the decision for you: stock, being non-acidic, requires a pressure canner: this is the only safe way. Fortunately, a pressure canner is not an expensive item. I use a Presto 16-quart canner, which will hold 7 quart jars or 9 pints. I’ll often can stock in pint jars, which I find most convenient in cooking for my 2 person household – but it’s simply a matter of preference.
To prepare: begin with impeccably clean nick-free jars, and keep them warm until ready for use. Submerge the lids in simmering water and set clean unrusted bands ready to hand. Put the proper level of water into the pressure canner. I like to add about a tablespoon of white vinegar to this water, which keeps film from my jars once they’re canned. Heat the water, so that when the hot jars go in, the water is also hot.
Heat chicken stock to a boil. Ladle hot stock into hot jars, leaving one inch headspace. Wipe rims, center hot lids on jars, and apply the bands. Tighten the bands only fingertip-tight: they shouldn’t be cranked on too hard.
Close the pressure canner, and follow instructions to process filled jars at 10 pounds pressure for 20 minutes (pints) or 25 minutes (quarts) – you may need to make adjustments for altitude. Once the time has ended, let the canner stand to cool and return to zero pounds pressure on its own. When it may be opened, remove jars to a towel-lined counter, and let them stand for 24 hours, then check the lids for proper seal. The lids should not flex up and down when the center is pressed.
Advantages of pressure canning stock: you end up with ready to use product that is shelf-stable at room temperature, in the size jar you prefer. Disadvantages: I suppose storing the canner is a disadvantage – but I keep mine in its box in the garage, so no big deal.
You can also freeze stock. Of course you may use various plastic or glass containers purpose made for freezing. And as you might guess from the photo up top, I always freeze a little bit in my handy silicone ice cube trays - these stock cubes are perfect when I need only a little bit, and each cube is an ounce of stock. I’ll list some other nonstandard strategies below. What are your freezing suggestions?
- quart or gallon zip-top bags: fill them halfway, close all but a corner, and remove all the air you can. Lay flat on sheet pans to freeze them so they’ll be as flat and stackable as possible – you should be able to move them after 4 hours or overnight.
- small bread or muffin pans (mini loaf size) – or especially handy if silicone. These hold 2-3 cups each. Freeze, release from the pans, store in zip-top bags with as much air removed as possible. Essentially, 4 oz mega-cubes.
- concentrate the stock by reducing its volume by half or even more: simmer it at not-quite-a-boil until much of the water has evaporated away. You’ll get twice the punch in half the volume.
Advantages of freezing stock: takes little extra equipment. Easy. Wider range of storage sizes available from tiny to huge (depending on the space in your freezer). Disadvantages: takes a LOT of space in the freezer.
Here in Michigan, winters are cold and long, and as I write this, we are in number two position for snowiest winter ever. I am warmed, though, by the thought that I have jars of stock ready for sauces or soups; that I have some frozen stock cubes for the finishing touch; and that I have used every scrap of the chickens that I bought.