Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Homemade canned chicken stock

Ok, I say chicken stock, but I'm not sure if it's technically stock or broth. It's thick, made from bones, and it will gel up in the fridge, so I call it stock.

I started out with my usual steps for chicken stock. I thawed out my bag of chicken parts. I save all the necks, backs, gizzards, hearts, anything I don't use when I cut up a chicken, and pop them in a big zip lock in the freezer until the bag is stuffed full. One bag holds about 4 lbs of parts! I lay it all on a roasting pan with some onion (skins on), carrots, and celery - give it all a misting of olive oil, and pop in a 450 oven for an hour or so.

Once that's done the house smells so incredible we're all wondering why we didn't just roast some chicken, but no, we're working on stock! Instead of putting it in the big pot with water and simmering it for 20 hours or so (like usual) - I put it in my new pressure cooker.

I learned to use the pressure cooker/canner at the food preservation classes I took last summer, but I didn't have a chance to actually buy one until a couple weeks ago when a friend got a really great deal on some and sold me this one, brand new, for about half what they go for in the store.

Lots of people are scared of pressure cookers, but they are not as scary as they seem, as long as you understand them and remember to always treat them with respect. Modern canners have some important safety features to protect you. As the water in the pot heats up, steam is vented through a vent pipe. Once it is ready to cook, you put a weight on top of the vent pipe which is just heavy enough to allow the canner to pressurize to the amount you want, and it wobbles back and forth letting out excess pressure. As the pot pressurizes the Lid Lock pops up and prevents you from removing the lid until it is de-pressurized. In the back of the lid is a tiny black rubber plug which is a safety valve. If the pressure gets too high it will blow that plug out and release the pressure - so no worries about the lid exploding off. The dial gauge is nice to have just so you can monitor the pressure. Gauges should be checked every year for accuracy.

** That weight on the vent pipe is probably the most likely thing to cause a problem. You put it on to pressurize the pot, but you can't remove it until the pot has cooled off and depressurized on it's own. If you remove it, scalding hot liquid could come out through the vent as it rapidly depressurizes, and that would be BAD - so once the weight is on, don't touch it again until the gauge reads zero!**

After only 20 minutes in the pot, 4lbs od chicken was reduced to a soft mash (which I gave to my chickens and they really enjoyed)!

And I had a couple quarts of the most flavorful stock I've ever made! Seriously, this tasted more like chicken soup than any I've made so far.

So once I had enough stock to can, I had to set up my canning gear. This includes:

My turkey fryer/water bath canner - just to sterilize and heat up the jars so they won't crack when filled with hot broth. Also a small pan with hot water for the lids. And all the canning tools. And towels. Gosh, what a production. And of course the pressure canner, cleaned up and ready to go again.

As I filled each hot jar with hot stock, I put it in the pressure canner to wait for a full load.

Finally they were all in, and I had to vent the air out of the canner. This is where you wait for a steady tower of steam shooting out of the vent pipe (hard to see in the picture above). You wait until it is steady steam, and let it do that for 10 whole minutes!

Then put the weight on and let it pressurize. Notice the canning weight is different from the cooking weight. You cook at 15 lbs pressure, but you can at 11 lbs. Again the weight sits there and wobbles, letting out pressure and keeping the canner at 11 lbs. Because I wanted to roast my chicken and make the stock with vegetables, I consulted with the other master food preservers and decided it would be safest to can the stock using the recipe for vegetable soup - 75 minutes processing time, instead of 20 for plain chicken broth.

I hung around the kitchen the whole time, watching the pressure gauge, making sure the weight was still wobbling away. If it goes below pressure you have to start the time over! Finally it was over, and I moved the pot off the heat to cool. There's a process that must be followed for canning, and I followed it precisely! Improperly canned stock could contain botulism, and I didn't want to chance that!

Beautiful! 8 Pints of shelf stable stock, going in the cupboard instead of filling up my little freezer!

And with the leftovers I made some Northwoods Bean Soup - and even Dave thought it was great! You can't make good soup without great stock. Making it myself is probably the one thing I have learned that really makes a big difference in my cooking.


"Lois Grebowski" said...

I'm forwarding this tutorial to my oldest stepdaughter. This fall we gave her a large pressure canner. Oh, and I had to click on that northwoods bean soup recipe. That looks so darn delicious! YUM!

I'm bookmarking that.

Thanks for posting this. I'm still with ya but lurking... Now would this make your chickens cannibals? LOL! Oh my....


StefRobrts said...

Tell her to get a copy of a new Ball Blue Book - should be available wherever canning supplies are sold. It's considered the bible of canning - good, safe, reliable recipes. Follow a tested recipe, follow all the canning steps, and she should be good to go!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Fascinating post! I'm one of those folks who are intimidated by pressure cookers probably because I remember my stepgrandma and stepmom experienced serious burns and explosions when canning and using their pressure cookers.
It's great to know there are good safety measures in place, though.
If I get around to buying one, I'll be sure to check back here to learn how to use it properly and to ask for advice.

Oh and I like how you feed your chickens ALL of your leftovers. Some folks think I'm nuts if I feed my chickens any meat, including beef, chicken and even bacon fat, but chickens require protein and they will eat bugs, mice, even dead birds to get it. Why not feed them leftovers from your own home that you know are healthy and fresh?