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Stewing Hen Stock

Lots of people enjoy chicken, and that's exactly what a stewing hen is, a chicken. However, stewing hen being much older than the average chicken you may find on your plate will have a depth of flavour that is nothing short of amazing! Stewing hens do require slightly different preparation methods in order to prevent tough meat at the table. Thankfully, stewing hen will also loan itself well to 'forget-about-it' cooking techniques. Here is a simple way to make a rich chicken stock and get the most out of your stewing hen.

Ingredients - 1 or more stewing hens

Method: Thaw the hen (or hens) and rinse well.  Roast in a 350 degree oven. I like to roast about three hens at once, to save energy and time, but one hen at a time is fine too. If I am roasting 1 hen, I use a covered roasting pan, if I'm roasting 3, I place them on a cookie sheet and cover with foil. If there is any fat on the hen in the abdominal cavity, this can be removed prior to roasting and saved for rendering. Check this page for information on rendering fat. 

When the hen is fully roasted, (or even if it isn't) remove it from the oven, and allow to cool slightly. Remove as much meat from the carcass as you can now. This is why you cool it a bit first. The meat you remove can then be frozen to use in recipes that require pieces or cubes of chicken. I recommend freezing the chicken in large chunks of meat, so it doesn't dry out when frozen. It can be diced, cubed, or shredded prior to using. If you will be using the meat in dishes that require cooking, it doesn't matter if the meat comes off the bone not fully cooked. If you plan of using it for salads, make sure you keep the cooked meat separate from the meat that is not fully cooked.

Take the remaining bones and any juices from the roasting pan and place them into a heavy bottomed pot and cover with water. If you don't have a heavy bottomed pot, bend a piece of wire to place on the stove between the pot and the element. Leave the chicken bones on a low heat. You want it to simmer gently, but not boil.  

You can let the stock simmer for 12 − 48 hours. I know my stove well enough and I'm using a large enough pot (holds about 16L)  that I can leave my stock pot unattended for hours and hours at a time. This allows me to make stock and still get all my outdoor work done. You CANNOT do this with a smaller pot. The risk of the water evaporating away and burning the bones is too high. 

When you are done simmering the bones, skim the layer of fat off. This can be kept and refrigerated for later use. 

I use a canning funnel with a small wire strainer set in it to pour off the liquid stock into jars. Put the lids on right away, and once cool, store in your fridge. If you've done your job right and not let the stock boil, it will turn to gel once cooled. If you have a pressure canner, you could then process the jars of stock so it can be stored on your pantry shelf.

In our family, the scraps in the bottom of the pot are divided into three piles:

Bones - If they are still brittle, they are thrown out. If they are soft and crumbly, we feed them to our dogs and cats, or use them in the garden as bone meal.
Meat - Usable meat is kept to use in slow cook dishes like curries and stews where they will pick up the flavour of the dish and regain some moisture it will have lost in the stock making process. 
Cartilage and skin - Bits that I know my family won't eat without putting up a fuss are saved and fed to pets as well.

Alterations: 

-Add in veggie scraps when making the broth.

-Add salt or seasonings to the broth before pouring into jars.

-Add pieces of chicken to the jars of stock. The stock will need to be used sooner if you do this.

-Stock can be frozen in a few ways. Cool and then pour into freezer bags, or leave a generous amount of head space in glass jars before freezing. 

-If you are freezing your stock, reduce the stock as much as possible on the stove top first. This will give you a concentrated stock that takes up less space.

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