This is going to be the least visually appealing recipe on the planet. However, I make these all the time and use them for soups, gravies, casseroles, any place that would call for a boost of flavor and texture.
Basically, I freeze and save all the trimmings from any vegetable dishes I make, as well as the bones and skeletons of any chicken I serve. This is very thrifty. It could include what’s left of a rotisserie chicken, chicken wing tips, legs and thighs that have been pressure cooked and had the meat removed, the backbone left over from spatchcocked chicken. Anything that has bone, a small amount of meat, and cartilage left is primo for this application.
Pieces of celery (the leaves and parts you wouldn’t use, the end bulb), carrot trimmings, onion odds and ends, celery and carrots that are about to go bad, carrot peelings, leek ends. All of these still have a LOT of flavor left in them so it would be a shame to waste.
Now this may seem gross, but the plan here is to pressure cook it, which essentially sterilizes it, so it’s very safe. I killed the Instant Pot shown above (it died a horrible death) and I am currently using the Instant Pot Max and I LOVE IT. (affiliate link)
I add about 4-6 cups of water and pressure cook for about 4 hours in an instant pot, and more if it doesn’t quite look right to me.
Basically, the goal here is to extract the collagen (gelatin) from the chicken skin and cartilage. This is achieved by heat, pressure, and time. It’s also why things like wing tips, feet, backbones, and leg joints (parts that are high in collagen) work particularly well in this recipe.
Basically, you know it’s cooked long enough by looking at the pieces of the chicken. You should see some bones, some meat (that hopefully all the flavor has been extracted from) but no white pieces of cartilage left. If there are some left, I will continue to cook.
What is the reason for cooking until the cartilage has dissolved into the stock? There are several:
- Flavor (obvs!!)
- Texture: the extracted collagen adds a lovely, velvety texture to whatever it is added to.
- Health benefits: many of us take collagen supplements for joint health, as well as skin, hair and nails. There are many types of collagen but I typically believe getting nutrients from food is the most healthy way to do it. May not be scientific, but I can guarantee it’s better for your soul.
- Gut health: There is some anecdotal evidence that it can help with IBD and “leaky gut”. I’m skeptical but I’ll throw it out there anyway. There are many studies that show that homemade chicken soup cures a lot of ailments. INS, IJS. If you ask me, it’s a thing.
So here’s where I take a regular cooking practice and push it just a bit to get something that is delicious, healthy, and convenient:
After you strain out the goop in your stock, bring the liquid back up to a boil. Boil until it’s reduced by about 2/3rds. i.e. 1/3 is left in the pot. How long this takes is dependent on how much water was added initially.
Add the liquid that is left to a 9X9. I find that a silicone 9X9 inside a metal 9X9 works best. I’ll explain why later.
Here’s where you can change it up if you want it to have less fat: prior to pouring in 9X9, flash freeze long enough for the fat to congeal (but not long enough for the stock to gelatinize). Then pour the remainder in the 9X9. I do not do this because fat is flavor and it feels like a sin.
Chill overnight in the refrigerator so that it gels up. The metal pan makes it easier to manipulate.
Slice into cubes (I use a butter knife so I don’t tear up the bottom of my silicone pan)
Freeze for an hour and re-score near the same lines as originally cut. I usually do this several times, cutting once per hour. The more you do this the easier they are to break up later.
Freeze overnight, and pop out of the pan. Here’s where the silicone is VERY useful because you just peel it off your square.
Break into cubes at the scores.
I keep this in gallon bags in the freezer so they’re always available to make things like Cream Gravy. I also add it to one-pot meals to amp up the flavor and texture.
You will notice that I did not add salt (though there may be some from however the original chicken was cooked). The reason is because in many recipes I will use these cubes for some flavor and texture, and then add chicken or beef base (depending on what I am making) to contribute a double-POW of flavor. The problem with bases is that although delicious, they also contain high sodium content. Not salting the stock definitely helps to control the amount of sodium in the final product (as well as allowing maximum meaty flavor).
You can do this with beef or seafood as well (shrimp tails, lobster tails, beef bones, etc) but I have found that the chicken is neutral enough that you can add beef base or seafood base and have the end product taste like whichever you choose. Also, I just seem to have a lot of spare chicken parts hanging around!
So not sexy, but definitely a great thing to have on hand to really amp up your gravies, sauces and soups.
Update: I have recently taken to using these silicon ice cube makers and they are much more convenient to making the cube (easier, and more consistent in size). The size is perfect for recipes.