I was running through the forest so fast I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, pounding so hard it almost flew straight out. The wind was at my heels and I could hear them coming – they were after me. I wasn’t sure if I could run any faster, the ground was falling away from me and the man at the house had told me that I had to get to the kitchen in the forest before they caught me. They wanted my gold. But it was mine! I had cultivated it! No, they couldn’t have it. I refused. I tripped on a tree branch and flew through the air – dammit! They were almost upon me and now would catch me for sure. I hit the ground.
I opened my eyes in semi-darkness. I was in my bed, a little chilly and I was awake. My clock told me that it was a little past 7am. It wasn’t the sun that had woken me up – that was all blocked out and the little that came streaming in through the chinks in the curtain was hitting the opposite wall. No, it was something else. I sniffed the air once, twice and suddenly it hit me: my chicken stock was ready.
I’m certain that there is nothing better in this world than waking up to the smell of chicken stock that has been bubbling away quietly whilst you slumbered, but the effort this involves normally… well. When I was living at Momma Lee’s I once spent an entire night sleeping in the kitchen so that I could keep checking my chicken stock, making sure it hadn’t bubbled over. It was good but the fact that I woke up every hour to make sure that nothing was going to burn down imminently ruined it somewhat for me, plus the fact that I had to keep topping it up with water was irritating. A good night’s sleep I did not have and the stock was so much trouble I didn’t make it again whilst I was living there. Enter the slow cooker.
Guys, if you have to invest in one gadget, invest in this one. A slow freaking cooker. It doesn’t have to be fancy – mine has three functions: off, low & high, that’s it – it doesn’t have to be expensive (I think mine cost me around £25?) and it doesn’t need to be dealt with, you just turn it on and let it go. Honestly, my slow cooker rarely comes out because before this point I didn’t realise how bloomin’ easy it would be to make something as every day as stock in it; I know, I am slow to the slow cooker revolution, but it is simple! So simple I almost want to cry with joy and when we’re done taking this journey together, you will too. So let’s begin.
It began out of necessity. I had all of the things needed to make stock – chicken parts, old carrots, old red onions, celery, bouquet garni sachets (which are so much easier than my usual Bridget-Jones-esque shoddily tied herbs), bay leaves and peppercorns – but just as I was about to embark on my night of stock-making and restless sleep I realised that I didn’t have a pot big enough. Doh. First rule of the kitchen – check what you have and plan accordingly. I could’ve borrowed Momma Lee’s pot, but that would involve driving across town and it was already 7pm. No, I was going to have to think… and then I remembered that I had a slow cooker. Slow cooker chicken stock…? Yes, this could work. No, this would definitely work.
I am not even kidding when I say I banged everything into the pot, topped it up with water, put the lid on, turned it on and went to bed. I checked on it once. Once, people. That was also before I went to sleep. This is lazy cooking to the max, here. My house did not burn down, I did not check it constantly, sobbing with paranoia, I just let it do its thing and good Lord, the smell this morning… I’m pretty sure that if when I die there’s a heaven that smells like chicken stock I am storming the castle, renouncing all of my life’s evils and converting.
You know what else? I didn’t top it up with water once. Because it cooks so slowly and with the lid on, guess where the liquid goes? Nowhere! I also barely had to skim it for scum – I think because it never really “comes to the boil” there are less impurities that are forced out; science people could probably tell you a little better about how the mechanics of that work. Either way, I could wax lyrical about the benefits of a slow cooker for hours – it’s my new #1 kitchen gadget. Easy, awesome and low maintenance… just like me. Just kidding. Sort of.
A few tips on making stock in a slow cooker:
1. Fill the pot right up with water and measure how much your chicken:water ratio is so that you’ll know for repeat stock sessions.
2. If you keep the skin on the onions (provided it’s clean) your stock will have a beautiful colour – mine came out a delicious golden brown.
3. Don’t salt your stock until you’ve finished cooking it – when salted water cooks down the liquid evaporates, leaving behind a very concentrated stock. If you salt to taste when cooking you very often end up with an extremely overly-salty end product – a waste of all of those ingredients and murder for your blood pressure! Salting it at the end means that you get the flavour just right.
4. You don’t have to use leftover chicken carcasses, you can use chicken pieces (though pre-roasted bones do have a lovely flavour). I like to leave the skin on and use chicken legs when I don’t have chicken carcasses – keeping the skin on creates extra oil but also makes a much richer and more delicious stock.
5. Remove all of the meat/bones/vegetables at the end, reserve the meat if so desired (you can shred it into soup or make something else with it) and then strain your stock through a cheesecloth – trust me, it’s totally worth the extra step. It’ll even help to get rid of some of the oil! For the rest, if you let it come to room temperature then put it in the fridge or freezer, the top layer of oil will solidify and be easy to remove.
That’s really all you need to know about making stock. You can season it as much or as little as you like, you can add bones, add marrow, add anything at all that you like – make it your own. You could also make this in the morning before you go to work and come home to a house smelling of awesome. Nice idea, right? Now go forth, my pretties, and make stock.
SLOW COOKER CHICKEN STOCK
1 roasted chicken carcass or 4 bone-in raw chicken legs, skin on
1 red onion, skin-on, trimmed and quartered
3-4 carrots, skin-on and cleaned
2 stalks + the heart and fronds of a bunch of celery, cleaned
Handful whole black pepper corns (or less, depending on how much kick you like)
1 sachet bouquet garni (I like this Schwartz one)
1-2 bay leaves
Water (in my case it was about 2 1/2 – 3 L)
Fine sea salt, to season at the end
1. Place all of the stock ingredients, except the salt, in the slow-cooker, chicken on the top.
2. Add the water to the top of the pot, cover the lid and turn the slow-cooker to high for about 20 mins or as long as you want to stay with it. Before you go to bed or leave the house, turn it down to low and leave it.
3. When you’ve finished cooking it (I left mine for about 10-12 hrs; the longer the better, really) turn off the heat, season with salt to taste and allow to cool slightly. Skim off any impurities then ladle through a cheesecloth carefully into a container/s. It’s a great idea to transfer the stock to individual portion sizes and freeze – it’ll keep really well and whenever you need some stock you can just defrost a single serving. Old large double cream pots work really well for this! Be sure to label and date them, especially if you’re making different stocks.
4. Cool to room temperature, put the lid of the container on and place in the fridge – the cold will help firm up the separated oil/fat on the top of the stock so that you can remove it later.
5. Freeze and enjoy whenever you want some delicious homemade stock!
Until next time (when I’ll tell you a couple of ways to use both this stock and the leftover chicken), peace and love.