Today is a monumental day... today is the first day of the rest of my life. I love teaching, but - having taught now in multiple schools in multiple states - I have come to the following profound conclusion: all schools are not created equal. OK... maybe it's not profound, but it really has impacted my life. This is the second time I have gotten stuck spending a year at a school that has discipline (read: lack of) issues. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but that just doesn't fly with me. And so, I start a new chapter in my life. Granted, this last chapter wasn't that long, but - work with me here. It feels significant. I can breathe again!
I can cook again! This last weekend, I canned chicken broth. I really like having homemade chicken broth on hand. I know a lot of people freeze it, but as it is very often a last minute dinner ingredient for me, I prefer the convenience of not having to thaw it out first. Plus, it doesn't hurt that I don't have to fill up my freezer with it.
Can you believe that I made chicken broth for less than I can buy it at the store? I think I was recently paying somewhere between 65 and 85 cents a can for Swanson's recently. Depending on where you live, you may have to spend a lot more! I bought a ten pound bag of fryer legs for less than nine bucks. From that, I canned 18 pints of broth, had two meals from the broth that didn't fit in one canner batch, and put four cups of chicken meat in the freezer for later. Even with incidental costs for canning lids and vegetables, I still come out ahead. And it tastes better! For folks watching their salt intake, it's a heck of a deal.
You can sometimes get really cheap chicken parts from your butcher (backs work well and are usually quite cheap), but what I really liked about using the fryer legs was that I could then save the meat and freeze it separately to use later. The cost savings just keep on adding up!
The hardest part about this process is getting comfortable with a pressure canner. When I first got mine, despite the fact that I knew there were multiple safety mechanisms on them to keep them from blowing up, I was nervous. I'm over than now. I'll tell you what, you take my word for it and skip right ahead to being over it too. Pressure canners are so wonderful! To be honest, they're less work to use than a water bath canner (if you aren't up to speed on the difference between the two types of canning or on the basics of how to can, read this).
Place the chicken in a large stock pot. Please note, for this recipe, I really mean large! You can cut this recipe down however much you like, but for the amounts I used, you need at least a 20 quart (5 gallon) stock pot. The good news? This is not a hard and fast recipe. Exact proportions are not required, so use what you've got and wing the amounts. It'll turn out fine.
Roughly cut up a bunch of vegetables. I like to use the traditional combination of celery, onions, and carrots.
Throw the vegetables into the pot with the chicken and then add a few sprigs of parsley, and small bunch of thyme, a couple garlic cloves, a teaspoon of whole peppercorns, a few bay leaves, and some salt. Add 2 1/2 gallons of cool water and turn on high. When it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. I cover mine to help it heat up faster and then cook it uncovered at a simmer.
Unfortunately, cooking chicken in this way does not lend itself to being a pretty sight. For that matter, the aroma isn't that great either. Have faith; all will be well in the end. Cook until the chicken pieces are cooked through (I use a thermometer to be sure). Remove the pieces and let them cool until you can handle them to remove the meat to save for another use. Return the bones and skin back into the stock pot and simmer another hour.
I got four bags of pulled chicken to put in the freezer (about a cup of meat each) to use for quick meals. I love the added bonus.
Prepare your jars and canner following the instructions for your canner. When the broth is done, ladle it through a sieve. For the best clarity, you don't want to pour the broth, but I was lazy this time and poured away and it didn't turn out too cloudy. Your judgement call here. Pints process for 20 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure, quarts for 25 minutes. Fill the jars leaving a 1/2 inch head space. Be sure you don't start your processing time until the pressure control starts jiggling (or however your canner works - be sure your 20-25 minutes starts after the pressure is sufficient for processing). Let the canner cool off at room temperature before opening and removing the jars.
Again, I got 18 pints out of this batch; this should last me a good while, don't you think?
Yield: approximately 22 pints of broth
10 lbs fryer legs
2 1/2 gallons water
4 celery ribs with greens
2 bay leaves
1 tsp whole peppercorns
2 garlic cloves
1 TBS salt (or to taste)
Chop the onions, carrots, and celery into large pieces. Place all ingredients into a 20 quart stock pot. Cover and turn heat to high. When broth comes to a boil, uncover and simmer 1 hour, until chicken is cooked through (it may take a long time to come to a boil). Remove chicken pieces onto a plate or tray and let cool until you can handle them to pull the meat. Return scraps and bones back into the broth and continue cooking another hour at a simmer.
Prepare your jars and canner according to your canner's instructions. Ladle broth through a sieve and then pour into jars so that there is a half-inch head space at the top. Can at 10 pounds of pressure, 20 minutes for pints, 25 minutes for quarts. Allow canner to come back to room temperature slowly. Check for a proper seal before storing in a cool, dark place.