Some say the mother of invention is necessity, but I might attribute it to a lack of freezer space.
A recent week of mine began with a daunting to-do list, having abandoned the usual ordered approach to weeknight dinners, shopping and planning over the weekend. So roasting a chicken on Monday night was a no-brainer.
When faced with the remains of a roast chicken dinner and a busy week ahead, I would ordinarily pop the resulting carcass into a freezer bag, adding odd bits until I had enough to make stock.
There are few things more satisfying for this home cook than a simmering pot of stock, say, on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It steams up the kitchen windows, fills the house with familiar aromas and comforts me by the quart.
Did I mention it was a busy week?
Stock making was not going to happen for days, and in what seemed like a cosmic piling-on, there was not one spare inch of space in the freezer. I’m much too practical to throw out a perfectly good end-of-chicken-dinner, so I thought about the ease of a slow-cooker.
I began to imagine a flavored, enhanced stock that would provide the basis for a quick soup the next night. The metamorphosis might not seem unusual, but in this case it did the trick — because the process was just about hands-free.
The first step was roasting the chicken bones to eke out every iota of flavor, which can be done while I’m cleaning up after dinner. I even add a little extra flavor boost by rubbing them with tomato paste beforehand. I tossed the leftover chicken skin into the roasting pan as well; the crisped, rendered skin would add umami and color to the stock.
Next, I transferred the roasted bits to a pot, added lots of water and brought the mixture to a boil. Aromatics go straight into the slow-cooker. Star anise and cinnamon sticks could complement a pho; lemon grass, ginger and fish sauce would be right for tom yum soup.
After reviewing the available ingredients in my freezer and pantry — onion, chipotle in adobo and Mexican oregano — the flavor profile of my stock headed distinctly south of the border.
Once the boiling mixture was combined with the aromatics in the slow-cooker, the stock simmered while I slept. In the morning I strained the stock and cooled it down, then refrigerated it during the day. That way, the fat’s easy to skim and discard.
At night, all that’s left to do is heat the stock with a few pantry staples tossed in, including canned, fire-roasted, diced tomatoes with green chilies. In the time it takes to prep some garnishes, the soup is done. The level of peppery heat is not too intense, but a tablespoon of adobo sauce and and plain crushed tomatoes may be substituted for a family-friendly meal.
Around here, we’ve been watching our calories during the week. This soup, served alongside a sandwich or salad, makes a low-fat, flavorful, warm bowl of dinner on a midwinter night.
Barrow, co-founder of Charcutepalooza in 2011, teaches canning and baking classes in Northwest Washington. She blogs at mrswheelbarrow.com.
Makes about 8 cups
Roasting the bones deepens the color of the stock and adds another layer of tastes.
You’ll need a 5 1/2- to 7-quart slow-cooker for this recipe.
MAKE AHEAD: The stock can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Because the stock’s intense flavor diminishes quickly, freezing is not recommended.
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Carcass and skin from 1 whole roast chicken
1 large unpeeled yellow onion, cut in half
2 large carrots, cut crosswise into 3 or 4 pieces each
1 rib celery, cut crosswise into several pieces (may substitute a handful of celery leaves)
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon dried thyme (may substitute 4 stems fresh thyme)
6 stems flat-leaf parsley
1 chipotle in adobo
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano or marjoram
1 bay leaf
8 whole black peppercorns, crushed
2 teaspoons kosher salt, or as needed (taste for salt if your roast chicken was salty)
10 cups water
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a shallow roasting pan with parchment paper.
Rub the tomato paste over the chicken bones, then arrange them and the chicken skin in a single layer in the pan. Roast for 15 minutes or until fragrant.
Meanwhile, combine the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, parsley, chipotle in adobo, oregano or marjoram, bay leaf, peppercorns and salt in the slow-cooker, but do not turn on the heat.
Transfer the roasted bones, skin and any accumulated juices to a large pot. Pour in the water and bring to a full boil over high heat. Skim off any foam from the surface, then carefully pour the mixture into the slow-cooker. Cover and turn to LOW heat; cook for 8 hours or up to overnight. It will smell wonderful as it cooks.
Seat a large, heatproof bowl inside a larger bowl half filled with ice (to create an ice bath). Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer into the heatproof bowl, discarding the solids. When the stock has cooled enough for fat to form on the top, skim and discard that fat. The yield should be about 8 cups.
The stock is ready to use, or it can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.
Makes a generous 12 cups (6 servings)
While the soup is heating up, prep any or all of these toppings: minced scallions, chopped cilantro, Mexican cream (crema) or sour cream, pickled jalapeno, avocado slices, hot sauce and homemade tortilla chips/strips.
8 cups Overnight Slow-Cooker South of the Border Chicken Stock (see recipe above)
2 cups (9 to 10 ounces total) cooked, shredded chicken
15 ounces canned, no-salt-added pinto beans, drained and rinsed
15 ounces canned, fire-roasted diced tomatoes with green chilies, such as Muir Glen brand, including their juices
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen corn
2 cups cooked ditalini or other very small-shaped pasta (optional)
Kosher salt (optional)
Lime wedges, for serving
Combine the stock, chicken, beans, tomatoes and their juices, peas, corn and pasta, if using, in a soup pot over medium heat. Cook until the frozen vegetables are thoroughly heated through, stirring as needed. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
Divide among large individual bowls; garnish with any or all of the toppings listed above.
Serve hot, with lime wedges for sprinkling.