Chicken Stock

All photos as of 3-10-2013 120

My uncle once said: “kill a fish a day and eat it.”  I was 15; he and my aunt had just finished sailing down the coast in a 43 ft boat they had built in their driveway on Long Island.  Now they were down in Miami, staying with my dad and hanging out with me for the first appreciable time in my life before moving on to the Keys.

He went on to say that the commercial industry is abusive of the fish and the environment, causing overfishing and then leaving too much inventory of fish on store shelves to go bad and get thrown out.  If you have to take from nature, I believe he said, you should have to go through the labor of procuring the food yourself to understand the value and the sacrifice of the animal.  And you will limit yourself to what is sensible for you.  He thought people are lazy and repugnant for plucking cellophane packages off the shelf and looking for the best price without having to lift a finger or acknowledge the slaughter.

Having been 15, just exiting my “MTV” phase and entering my “intense literature” phase, I had little exposure to this type of culinary philosophy.  I found it intriguing.  I didn’t do any of the household food shopping and also did not have knowledge of or access to fishing.  So I found the idea both academic and exotic.  I didn’t know my aunt and uncle very well at that time, and just wondered whether they were out there killing fish in their lives.  Later I came to find out that indeed they were out there hunting their daily food.  And not the lazy way with a fishing pole in a boat; but with a spear, on a breath hold, free-diving into the water.  Throwing the fish up into the boat, and skinning it.  True hunters.

We cannot all be hunters; I am not.  But I still value the idea of taking only what you need, and really getting everything out of it out of respect for nature.  So I make chicken stock.

When I first started cooking after college, I was timid about handling raw meat.  I made only chicken breasts.  Then I discovered roasting the entire chicken.  When you do that, you can also make a stock out of the bones and use that.  So I overcame my squeamishness for a greater cause.  You could even cook the liver separately, which I am still looking into.

But at least if you cook a chicken whole and make stock, there are a number of things you can feel good about.  I start with chickens from local farms or at least from “natural, organic, humanitarian” brands rather than Purdue.  I try to zero in on sources that value and respect the chicken.  Small-time chicken farms are less likely to put chickens into an abusive, over-farming situation.  Small-time farms are more likely to just sell the chicken whole, rather than chop the chicken up into piles of parts immediately with industrial machines.  I just find this gruesome and disrespectful.  Even appetizing-looking plates of wings piled high just remind me of how many chickens had to have their wings cut off for this amusing dish.

Then when you cook a chicken whole, you know all the parts are consumed and accounted for, and are not sitting on shelves unevenly as extra inventory.  Whatever chicken is leftover after a few days becomes a feast for the very happy dog.  And then once I’ve made the stock, I feel I’ve done everything I can with this food, and gotten all my money’s worth.  I don’t think I will be buying chicken stock any time soon either – picture the industrial process and ingredients used for that, compared to the batch I made with my own spices.  I guess I would rather keep everything closer to home.

So in my way, by collecting whole chickens for cooking, making stock, making homemade soups, caring for other chickens and eating their eggs, I think I am upholding my uncle’s principle of “kill a fish a day and eat it.”  What’s your food philosophy?

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4 thoughts on “Chicken Stock

  1. I haven’t attempted chicken stock yet, much to my grandmothers’ chagrin, but I can tell you that chicken liver is delicious in deviled eggs.

    • Really…… now I will have to really think about the livers. Because deviled eggs are already freakin delicious!!

      Yeah your grandmother must be tsk-tsking! It’s pretty easy to do but can get a little messy. You know.. you boil a bunch of chicken water and now you have stock and chicken parts. You can strain the stock from the pot into another big bowl, and dispose of the parts. But then you have a big bowl of stock. I used to freeze it just like that but that’s dumb because then you have to reheat the whole thing and then use only part. But now I use my aunt’s trick of ladling the stock into ice cube trays, then putting the ice cubes into ziplock bags, 12 cubes a bag (I think that’s 1.5 cups). That’s more modular and useful. But time-consuming with all the steps.. still Renata… most delicious matzoh ball soup base you will ever taste.

  2. This article is definitely ‘food for thought’!
    When I was a kid, I would eat meat without any thought whatsoever for the animal it came from. The light bulb must have begun flickering a little later on because when I caught a fish, I’d apply a deadening blow to the hooked fish’s head to end it’s life rather than see it frantically swimming in circles in a pail of water, or flopping on the floor of my boat. I would then scale it, gut it, and my mother or father would cook it, and we’d eat it along with many others.
    In my twenties, the bulb burned a little brighter when I found a billboard advertisement extolling a barbecue restaurant’s ‘finger-lickin’ good baby-back ribs’ to be so disconcerting that I never visited the restaurant again. It reminded me of an animal house of bone-crunching horrors rather than a pleasant dining place.
    As time went on, I began to use meat less as a main course, and more frequently as an accent, and that only after a couple or three days of eating no meat. I guess I am a vegetarian ‘wannabee’, but one who acknowledges that I would probably become ill if I stopped eating meat altogether. Why? Because in our culture, we just aren’t used to not eating meat and getting the proteins and vegetables in the right combination without meat isn’t as simple as people think it is. But I want to add that the vegetarian people of India whom I have seen, generally appear very healthy and robust. I admire them and wonder what their secret is.
    When I use meat, I use as little as possible. But, I agree with Miss Goodies that a good home-made chicken stock is beneficial to have around. I use a very small amount of chicken, about the same portion as what would be found in a ‘chicken finger’ (now there’s a thought . . . a chicken FINGER), I put it in a pot of water with an onion, two garlic cloves, a handful of fresh cilantro and a tablespoon of Celtic sea salt and simmer it for a couple of hours. The liquid is very healthful when one has a cold or sore throat coming on. I freeze the remaining portion in plastic containers to use when I want to make something else, such as cream of tomato soup.
    All things considered, I think I have made progress in my lifetime in terms of respecting the animal whose flesh we inevitably want to gobble into our bodies. I have wondered really, what human beings are, if their idea of success is to kill and eat any animal they can find as rapidly as possible. (Ooh, have you ever eaten giraffe, or ostrich, or oh, we can get fresh bison in the next county over!! Oh boy, finger lickin good!)
    Another thing which remains odd in my perspective is eating lamb on Easter! As if eating lamb on Easter is good idea because the resurrection of Christ is celebrated on a Sunday in spring. OY!
    I happen to sometimes crave baked turkey wings. But not today. Maybe the light is shining still a little brighter in me, but you know, somewhere down the road those Golden Arches are going really catch my attention. I just know it.

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