Stocking Up

I have been busy in the kitchen these last few weeks, playing working with my new favorite kitchen toys tools.  In my spare moments (when I’m not picking beans and cucumbers), I’ve been dealing with all those chickens we put in the freezer on butchering day.  They can’t stay there for long, because on Labor Day we’ll be adding 20 birds to the stash, Lord willing, and the freezer is already full.

So, we had a few options.  1) Eat LOTS of chicken till then (along with all those beans and cucumbers.)  2) Buy another freezer.  3)  Finish all my fall and winter chicken-roasting and soup stock-making in the next three weeks to empty out the freezer enough for the new arrivals.

We chose #3, so I wanted to share the process with anyone who may be unfamiliar with making chicken stock (or canning it), and to publicly exclaim how much quicker and easier it is when you have the right equipment!

While I’ve found a crockpot to be very useful for cooking a chicken to de-bone (as well as for subsequent stock-making), it only holds a single bird.  Um, I have a deadline here.

Enter my new Nesco 18-quart Roaster, which accommodates three cockerel-size (humongous) broiler chickens and greatly speeds up the process.  I think this will soon become my crockpot, because my boys are growing and need I say more?

If you have time and space, I recommend brining (minus the sugar) first, not only for flavor, but to retain moistness especially in the breast meat.  Then cook until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender.  The one thing I love about this roaster is its versatility; you have much greater temperature control than with a crockpot.  So how long I cook the birds depends on what temperature I cook them at (a slow-cook or a roast or anywhere in between), and that depends on what’s going on with the rest of my day.

When chickens are done, remove them from the roaster to cool slightly, then remove the meat from the bones, and toss all the bones back into the roaster oven.  Add a few bay leaves, a small handful of peppercorns, several big glugs of apple cider vinegar, and 3-4 large coarsely chopped onions.  You can also add parsley and chopped celery and carrots, but I don’t always do that.  Then fill up the roaster with water and continue cooking.

I’ve been chunking up the meat and putting it in quart-size zipper freezer bags, using a very inexpensive vacuum sealer (a sturdy plastic straw and a few robust inhalations.)  Flatten the bags somewhat so they’ll store efficiently, and date.

I often end up de-boning in the evening, so that’s naturally when I begin the stock too.  I’ll let it simmer all night and part of the next day.  The bones will release nutritious minerals, leaving you with a rich, delicious, healthy chicken stock, and lots of it.

All-American Model 921, holds 7 quarts (or 19 pints)

When your stock is done, you’ll need to strain it, of course.  I use a large, mesh strainer to scoop out all the bones, and then a small, fine-mesh strainer nestled in my canning funnel to strain even more as I ladle-fill each quart jar.  (You’ll probably want to skim off some of the fat as well, but don’t skim it all off.  The fat has a lot of flavor, and it’s not so unhealthy as we’ve been led to believe.)

And for dealing with all those jars, meet my new kitchen helper—the All-American Pressure Canner 921.  In the past, I’ve always frozen my stock, but if you’ve been paying attention, you know that isn’t an option right now.  I may end up canning some of the meat also, depending on how much room is left in the freezer come Labor Day.

Meat and stock must be pressure-canned, not water-bath canned.  Under pressure, the temperature is able to go higher than 212 degrees, making meat products and low-acid canned foods safe to eat.

I wasn’t completely thrilled with the instructions that came with my canner (not enough details), but after reading the USDA guidelines, a phone call to the company expert, and talking with pressure-canning friends, I’ve worked out the kinks and no longer break out into a cold sweat when it’s time to remove the canner lid after processing.  We’ve also partaken of the canned stock and have lived to tell the tale, so I’m here to encourage anyone who may be intimidated by rumors of botulism or exploding canners and the like.  Fear not; you can do it too.

I am very happy with the performance of this model.  This line of canners is American-made, has both a regulator weight and a dial gauge, and is gasket-free.  That’s right—it’s a precision-machined metal-to-metal seal.  I thought those wing nuts would be a pain to work with screwing them on and off, but they’re not at all.  You do not unscrew them completely—after a few quick spins they swivel down, always attached to the canner base, which is very convenient and easy.  This is a fine piece of equipment with no parts to replace, and Amazon has the best price, along with free shipping.  Did I mention I’m an affiliate?  ;)

Batch after batch, my count is now up to a whopping 53 quarts of chicken stock.  I have never canned as much food as I’ve canned this summer, and it’s exciting to see rows and rows of ready food, with no dependence on electricity.

I’ve lost count of how many quart bags of chunked chicken meat I’ve put back into the freezer, but it sure takes up a lot less space than full birds.  And it is going to be sooo easy making soup when the weather cools.