Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What to do with the chicken bones?

I'm a nay-sayer. A cynic. Suspicious by nature. When someone suggests I try a new dish - like mushroom soup or spaghetti with squid ink (such a thing exists, it's true) - my gut reaction is to pause, dramatic, and scrunch up my face. That's my inner editor butting in, you know. She isn't partial to my writing life alone. More often than not, she sticks her nose into my business at the table and in the kitchen, as well. Even with familiar dishes, if I haven't tried it before, well, there's no guarantee.

A few years ago, I visited my closest and dearest friend in Texas. As our conversation rose and fell over kids, dinners, and grocery budgets, she told me she'd figured out how to make one grocery item stretch over several meals: buy a whole chicken instead of chicken breasts.

"Bake the chicken and serve it for dinner. Use the leftover meat for chicken salad later, or toss it into a pasta dish. Then," she continued, "boil the bones with veggies and make your own broth. One batch of chicken broth can last for weeks." She shrugged, as if to say there's nothing to it, and I dreamed, for a second, of walking out of the grocery store with money left over.

Still, I thought, it couldn't be so easy. I've known her for years and she's never lied to me, but she's good at lots of things I'm not. Baking a whole chicken was one of those things; turning that chicken into broth from scratch was even further out of my league. I imagined a long and arduous process.

But the next time I stepped into the grocery store, I re-considered her idea, tired of paying so much for a few small chicken breasts and using broth from a box or a grainy mixture processed by a company that's boasts theirs is the best. I stood in front of the meat freezer, tapped my fingers on the handle of the cart, picked up a chicken, put it down. Walked away. Walked back. Finally, I reached over and took hold, of the whole chicken and the dream of broth from scratch. Then, I pushed my cart and stomped away, ignoring the voice in my head that insisted I was about to embark on a huge waste of time and a doomed-to-fail project, too much for a busy mom and writer.

That nosy little nuisance in my head was wrong. My friend was right: the chicken was easy to work with and good for much more than one meal.

One whole chicken, rubbed with herbs and cooked in a crockpot for five hours, yields a tender dish for dinner. So tender, that gathering the leftover meat is simple. Use the meat for another dish later that week, or store it in the freezer for when you need a quick addition to a meal further down the road. Then, place the chicken bones into a pot, that same night or even the next day, with an onion or two, a few carrots, some sticks of celery. Add fresh garlic cloves if you like, but don't worry about additional seasoning; the chicken you just cooked has all those yummy flavors built right in.

Bring it all to a boil and let it simmer for an hour and a half. Write about it while the fixings simmer. Better yet, write a draft to a short story.

Once cooked, drain the whole mixture into a separate bowl, using a colander, and let the broth cool. Discard the bones and vegetables, then separate the broth into several jars. Pre-measure some of the broth and store it in smaller jars. Keep them in the freezer until needed. Even more fun, give some away. There's plenty to share. 

Do you make your own broth? And, if you're vegetarian, how do you dress up the veggies for that added boost of flavor?


  1. Christi, you are braver than I am! (and I remember not only watching my mother cut up the chicken, but helping her behead and de-feather it as well; the smell of singed pinfeathers stays with me to this day)

    The jars of broth in your photo are poetic.

    I have made veggie broth on occasion by using big chunks of onion (leave the skin on for more flavor), potatoes, carrots, parsnips (not too many--they leave a strong taste), mushrooms, and lots of herbs and spices (must-haves are bay leaves, thyme, and cloves). You've inspired me to do it again soon!

  2. Thanks for the veggie broth tips, Lisa. I wouldn't have thought to leave the onion skin on!