At my local market, I keep my eye open for packaged chicken parts for soup — mostly backs, necks, and wings. The packages are very reasonable. I buy them as I see them, then freeze them until I'm ready to make a big batch of stock.
Several ribs of celery with leaves. Rinse well and chop into 2- to 3-inch pieces.
Several carrots. Scrub, but do not peel; chop into 2- to 3-inch pieces.
1 large or medium onion stuck with 2 to 5 whole cloves. Do not peel the onion; if large, cut it in half.
Make a bouquet garni with sprigs of Italian parsley, a sprig or tarragon, thyme, or both, a small handful of peppercorns, and a bay leaf. Put everything in a double square of cheesecloth and secure it with kitchen twine.
Place all the ingredients into a heavy-bottomed stockpot. Cover with cold water, add a good pinch of salt, which will help to drain out all the deep flavor from the bones, veggies, and seasonings. Bring the pot to a rolling boil, skimming the foam and scum from the surface as it rises. Let boil for several minutes, then lower the heat to produce a very gentle simmer.
Cover and simmer for several hours, checking to skim more foam and checking the water level. Taste the stock; you should be aware of a nice mild chicken-y flavor.
Rinse a piece of fine cheesecloth, double it, and place it in a colander or sieve. Strain the stock, pressing down on the solids to remove as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids.
At this point, you can chill the stock in the refrigerator, or reduce the stock to half.
Let the stock chill for several hours or overnight. The fat will rise to the top and solidify. It will then be easy to remove the fat by scraping it from the surface. The stock itself, if reduced, gets a little jelly-like, especially if you use chicken feet. See note at the end of the recipe.
Re-heat and taste the stock. It should be fairly strong. Now you can further reduce it for storage in the freezer or use as needed, adding fresh water to reconstitute it. You can also clarify your stock at this point. Any good basic cookbook, such as The Joy of Cooking, will give instructions for this step.
Store or use. Stock may be put in ice cube trays and frozen, then stored in heavy zipper bags in the freezer. Then you may use as many cubes as needed for use in soups, sauces, etc.
Note: If you prefer a brown chicken stock, roast the chicken pieces and vegetables in a 350F oven until browned. Add to the pot, making sure that you scrape off all the bits stuck to the pan. Add the water and proceed.
Note: Use chicken feet if you have a source for them. Soak them in warm water for 15 minutes and scrub them very well. Clip the nails if you wish. Add them to the pot at the beginning of cooking. They will add gelatin to the stock, making it very unctuous. If you don't have chicken feet, you can add dissolved plain gelatin to the stock. Be judicious or else you'll end up with chicken-flavored Jell-O!
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