Soup is a favorite of meal of mine. It is a low skill meal for less than $1 per serving. In soup, one chicken breast can be turned into a meal for four. When we discovered that whole chickens cost $0.79/lb in my local market, my idea factory went into overdrive, and now we have fresh soup twice a week with minimal costs at the Market. To do so though, it helps to know how to make a decent “cast off” stock.
My “Cast off” stock is just that. It is the cast off waste from the days before. For example, if I’m roasting a chicken, I’ll peel a couple of potatoes and some carrots to have alongside the meal. Instead of throwing that stuff out, I’ll put the (washed) shavings, peels, trimmings, etc. into a container in the freezer. I’ll also throw in any meat scraps I may have cut off, bones, giblets, or anything else I don’t need. I even de-glaze the roasting pan back into the same container. In the end I have a container full of scraps and cast offs. I cook with the motto of “Never Waste Flavor.” With the exception of vegetables from the broccoli family, most things go just fine in a stock, or at least won’t hurt it.
After the chicken is picked clean the next evening, I’ll take the carcass, still filled with flavor as well, and toss it in a pot with water to cover it and set it to simmer for an hour or so. Then I survey my cast-off bin and toss that in. Ideally, I want celery (2 stalks or so, leaves are okay), carrots (peels and trimmings of 3-4 carrots or 2 whole ones), and a small onion (or half a large onion I didn’t use in some other meal) to go into the soup stock. On top of all that, I add some herbs and I wait. For herbs, I usually use a couple bay leaves and a tablespoon of bouquet garni, an aromatic blend available in many supermarkets or spice stores. I use the “set it and forget it” method to decide cooking time, usually coming back in about an hour and a half and finding the soup stock fragrant, delicious, and done. I strain out the vegetables and bones, and if this is a meal for guests, I restrain it through a coffee filter to get it nice and clear. I then let it cool to skim off the fat that the chicken gave up.
Compared to commercial stocks, this will be on the heavy side. It can be diluted down to resemble a commercial stock, and you will need to add plenty of salt to it as well. Personally, I like to control the salt when I make the final product, and I like the heavier taste. Either way, you can make a soup out of it with just a couple carrots, half an onion, 2 stalks of celery, some chicken (or tofu) and another hour of simmering.
Committed to my “waste nothing” approach, I’ll compost the vegetables from the stock, or eat them if I used whole celery and carrots. Unless you live in an arid climate or added salt before you strained out the veggies, the slight amount of salt won’t hurt most compost piles. Also, the scraps won’t have enough fat to attract most rodents, but if you have a very small compost pile you should discard cooked vegetables in general.
With minimal effort, a couple of hours, and a commitment to wasting nothing, you can make delicious, home made, cheap meals for your whole family with this basic plan. it works with beef bones as well if you are so inclined. Experiment and see what comes out. At worst, you boiled scraps you were probably planning to throw away anyway.