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Should you discard chicken after you make stock?

Kathleen Purvis
Kathleen Purvis is the Food Editor for The Charlotte Observer.

Is it wise or wasteful to toss out chicken after you’ve made stock from it?

It depends on the cook, the chicken, the stock and the circumstances.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a story on building flavor into dishes that are sometimes disappointing, like watery chicken soup. That brought a round of discussions about my advice that you should discard chicken after you make stock from it.

And yes, the stock conversations were much more interesting than talking about the weather.

So, should you pull the chicken from the pot and try to salvage it, chopping up the meat to use in your soup? Or should you simply accept that if you’ve made a really good stock, you’ve cooked all the flavor from the meat and vegetables and it’s OK to pitch them out and use fresh ingredients for the soup?

Several readers took me to task for wastefulness for suggesting that you should consider throwing out chicken after you make stock from it.

Now, that stung a bit. I’m an advocate of making use of kitchen trash, I keep a stock bag in the freezer for chicken scraps and I’ve been known to throw in onion skins and carrot tops for good measure. Why, I’ve dried celery leaves and ground them up just because they smell good.

My boss, Michael, told me about the ongoing debate in his mother’s house over whether to eat “soup chicken,” his mother’s phrase for the chicken she used to make a base for soup. He and his mother eat it, while his aunt refused to stoop so low.

My favorite cooking priest, Father Steven from Seattle, told me about a phrase he loves from the French master chef Auguste Escoffier, who referred to chicken used in broth as “spent chicken.”

That led me to dig around in my own copy of Escoffier’s “A Guide to Modern Cookery,” that modern masterpiece from 1909, where I stumbled once again on his great quote on stock-making:

“Indeed, stock is everything in cooking, at least in French cooking. Without it, nothing can be done. If one’s stock is good, what remains of the work is easy; if, on the other hand, it is bad or merely mediocre, it is quite hopeless to expect anything approaching a satisfactory result.”

That search, in turn, led me to novelist Pat Conroy, who wrote his own book on cooking a few years ago. His own discovery of an old copy of Escoffier led him to teach himself the art of stock: “The making of stock is for poets and philosophers, dreamers and deep thinkers with a dinner party coming up populated only with people you love.”

In the art of compromise, Conroy himself does something I have done many times: Cook the chicken for an hour, then pull it, trim the best meat from the bones and return the carcass to the pot until it truly is spent.

Spent or spendthrift? It’s up to you.

Join the food conversation at Kathleen Purvis’ blog I’ll Bite, at obsbite.blogspot.com, or follow her on Twitter, @kathleenpurvis.

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