The chicken started all the trouble, I just can’t roast a chicken without saving the carcass.
Making a stock from a roasted carcass adds so much more complexity to the stock than just a plain, unvarnished chicken. It’s always a good idea to freeze your carcass after you’ve cooked a whole bird (or your bones from prime rib or veal, or even a ham bone for split pea soup or baked beans, if you make that sort of thing.) And meat is not an essential for stock; if you’re intolerant of meat, you can make a good stock from a variety of herbs and vegetables, adding, really, almost anything you might have in your refrigerator.
Stock is so effortless and freezes so well, that it’s a shame, really, to use store-bought stock, but there are times when your supply may run out, and you have to use store bought. There are some good store bought stocks on the market, Trader Joe’s offers a very nice free range, organic one, and I’ve sometimes used it to supplement the roasting pan, or even to enrich a gravy. If, however, you’re going to make a soup and call it homemade, I do think you need to make your stock from scratch. To paraphrase Aunt Constance in Gosford Park, “Store-bought stock? Very feeble, I must say.”
It’s perfectly easy to make stock. All you need do is to toss your browned bones into an 8 quart or larger stock pot, fill the pot with water to cover, and bring the whole thing to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to a simmer, and skim off any grey scum that may appear until it is gone. At this point, you may simply walk away, if you choose, and let the stock simmer for a minimum of two hours, covered or uncovered, checking it from time to time. If however, you desire a more complex composition, you might add an onion, carrots, the darkest heart of a celery, and herbs, such as parsley and thyme. A bayleaf or 3 will do the concoction no harm, and of course, you will season it to taste with salt and add a handful of black peppercorns. You may add such other herbs and vegetables as you choose: lettuce, cabbage, tomato, ginger, but remember that some choices will limit the versatility of the stock.
Once you have simmered your stock for the appropriate time, remove it from the heat, let it cool for 30 minutes, and strain it into a bowl through a colander lined with cheesecloth (or a lightweight kitchen towel that is impeccably clean, but ready for the rubbish bin.) As the colander drains, you may twist the cheesecloth (or towel) at the top and wrest from it as much liquid from the bones and vegetables as you may. Or, some culinary stores sell cheesecloth sacks in which you may place your stock ingredients and simply pull out the sack when you are done, if you are lazy.
A wonderful, versatile, and terribly easy soup to make is leek and potato. It’s perfectly easy to make. You just soften your leeks in butter, add diced potatoes and stock, and simmer it until the potatoes are tender. Served warm, chunky and rustic, it is hearty peasant fare. Puree it with an immersion blender and add a few lashes of cream, and it’s a warm winter entrée, combined with a green salad and some crusty bread. Chill it and serve it in a two handled soup cup with a garnish of watercress, and you have vichysoisse: elegance personified.
There are so many soups to be made, and so many variations of different kinds of soup, soups from every nation’s kitchen, that you need never complete your repertoire. And by making your own stock, you are effortlessly controlling the ingredients, creating a base as healthy or as full of taste as you like. You need never open a can of soup again.