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I have now a pile of chicken bones and I have heard they can be useful in making some food. How should I preserve them and where can I use them? Should I cut them into pieces and throw them into a new soup? What is their purpose in the soup? Flavor or something else? I am always looking for ways to cut my costs so any budget-cooking ideas welcomed!

I will outline here ways how I can cut my costs with bones:

  1. According to Wikipedia, bones are a good source of calcium with acid boiling:

A study determined that "prolonged cooking of a bone in soup increases the calcium content of the soup when cooked at an acidic, but not at a neutral pH".

so putting some acid there (lemon juice or something else?) I can cut my milk costs, sounds great.

  1. more ideas like this? How should the internals be handled?
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4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Notice how dogs enjoy gnawing on bones? Ever been to a restaurant where they serve bone marrow?

Boiling bones in water draws flavor out of them. Most canned broth and stock you buy--beef stock, chicken stock, etc--is just this--water boiled with bones for hours.

Most literature I've read suggests using raw bones, but some recipes call for roasted bones--the ones I've seen most often involve roasted veal bones.

I've also made stock from roasted chicken bones. The stock does still take on flavor. It's easier to get good flavor from unused bones, though.

Additionally, I've found another pitfall. I've tried to make stock from the leftover bones of bbq'd ribs. This was not a good idea. The broth had a savory flavor, as intended. Unfortunately it also had the background taste of bbq sauce. Now, when I do make stocks, I'd consider using leftover bones, but

  • there have to be enough bones leftover (otherwise I get very little stock for my time or it's weak on flavor)
  • the bones can't be "tainted" by other flavors (like bbq sauce)

To answer your original question, try this:

  • start with a pot of plain water
  • put about 4 lb of bones in per gallon of water while it's still cold, add ~1 tsp of vinegar per gallon of water
  • Once the water comes to a boil, lower the heat so that it's just simmering
    • this keeps the stock from getting cloudy/white (which doesn't taste bad, just looks worse)
  • leave boiling for about 6-8 hours, minimum. Longer is fine, but you won't get too much more at this point.
  • turn off heat, allow stock to cool fully, strain it for the bones, refrigerate
    • you can speed up this step by putting the pot in a sink full of cool water
    • do NOT put a hot pot in your fridge. It will heat up the fridge significantly and just make the food in there go bad.

Use this to

  • make soups
  • make sauces (reduce it first)
  • as a substitute for water in savory dish preparations (i.e. make rice with stock instead of water. Be creative here)

The main benefits here are flavor and nutrients, but I just do it for the flavor. Cutting bones up does improve the extraction process, but if the marrow is exposed already (most beef/veal bones will be) you're fine. If you save old bones, freeze them until you have enough. Don't bother trying to make stock with the bones from one chicken.

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Eric Hu: what kind of Axe is enough for processing bones? –  user2954 Jul 22 '11 at 9:30
    
@hhh an axe is a bit overkill. For chicken bones, you can use a cleaver and hit it into the bone(s) from about a foot away. For pork, beef, and other large animal bones, the marrow is already exposed most of the time. If you want it cut down further, you should probably doing it with a machine (a meat slicer). These are expensive, so it's easier to have it done at a deli. By the way, most American supermarket delis will sell bones for very cheap (several lbs for under a dollar). Just go up to the counter and ask. –  Eric Hu Jul 22 '11 at 18:04
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@Eric Hu I forgot to mention roasted bones. I agree that they are very good for stock too. hhh had mentioned in another question that he just cooked pieces of chicken in water for two hours. This is why I said that they are not usable, after they have been cooked once, because their content has already been cooked out of them. Raw and roasted are both good for use, just as you say. –  rumtscho Jul 22 '11 at 18:49
    
ah, my mistake, I'll pull that part out of my post –  Eric Hu Jul 22 '11 at 19:51
    
@EricHu I don't know that one chicken won't work. Probably depends on how much you're making. I often use half a chicken to make gumbo; a breast, a couple legs, a thigh, and some wing tips if I have them. Of course I am only making a couple quarts/liters of stock for one soup, so that should be considered. Also, when making stock with full cuts, pull the meat from the stock after about 45-60 minutes, let it cool, pull the meat off, and add the bones back in for another hour or so of cooking. You don't want to over cook the meat. –  JSM Jun 2 at 17:15
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How should I preserve them and where can I use them?

Once you have made the broth/stock from the bones. Either the broth or the finished soup can be easily stored in the freezer. I use freezer bags filled with 1 pint of stock which will keep frozen for a long time. When I need the stock I can rip off the bag and put the frozen stock into a pan to de-thaw on the stove or in the microwave or else place in a bowl the night before and de-thaw in your fridge.

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This book states in the very beginning (page x) that:

stock = 3 parts water : 2 parts bones

Well, I am unsure about this because I can extract more gelatin with time. I think there should be time component somewhere in the formula. Ideas?

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If your bones are the ones from the legs you cooked for two hours, then you can't use them.

Bones are a source of gelatin. Gelatin is what makes stock have a good, slightly slippery texture. This is why they are used in cooking. But when people talk of putting bones in a soup, they mean that you use raw bones with bits of raw meat hanging on them (the meat makes for good taste). These are simmered for a long time to make a stock. The stock is then used to make a real soup together with meat and vegetables.

Cooking with stock is great, but it isn't a low-cost option. You need bones with meat, herbs and often vegetables, which you discard. It is also time consuming, because it takes a lot of time to get a small quantity of good stock, and you have to babysit it and skim off the scum. Practically everybody today uses stock cubes, or another flavorful liquid instead of water, or makes a one-pass soup by cooking the actual soup for longer time with plain water. Alternatives 1 and 3 don't taste as good as a stock-made soup, and alternative 2 is non-traditional, but all of them save lots of time and a bit of money.

As for the cooked bones, everything solvable which was in them has already leached into the water the first time they got cooked. You can and should throw them out; there is no use for them at all.

I also doubt that the occasional soured soup will provide enough calcium to cut off milk. In fact, milk is a very good budget food, offering excellent nutrition for a small price. Feel free to add lemon juice to the soup - it tastes great and could increase your calcium intake a little bit - but this shouldn't be a reason to stop eating other calcium sources.

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It's definitely a low-cost option! You can buy 5 lbs each of carrots and onions and a stalk of celery for a little over $5; pick up some chicken bones for next to nothing (~$0.25/lb) and make 40 quarts of stock overnight, all for the same total price as one inexpensive bird. Now obviously bouillon cubes are cheaper but they also make pretty weak soups. –  Aaronut Jul 21 '11 at 19:04
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I don't understand - you claim that you can use chicken legs instead, but all of the other costs still apply (the meat on a chicken leg doesn't add any of the same flavour as mirepoix or herbs, you still need electricity, etc.) Otherwise it's not soup, it's just boiled chicken. Your electricity calculation also seems to be way, way off; a stove might use 150 W at the lowest heat, which at 10 cents per kWh might cost you 18 cents for 12 hours of simmering. –  Aaronut Jul 21 '11 at 21:01
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Stock does not cost 2€/L to make. Maybe around 0.5€/L. –  Aaronut Jul 21 '11 at 21:12
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@rumtscho: That is an insanely inefficient stove, then; you'd probably save a lot of money every year by replacing it with a new one. Between 1 and 1.5 kW is what a typical stove would use at high. If making small quantities, you could also use a crock pot, which can easily run for 8 hours and use less than 1 kWh of electricity. –  Aaronut Jul 21 '11 at 21:40
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@rumtscho: Yes, your stove is grossly inefficient precisely because you're using a small pot. Once the pot is at temperature, heat loss is proportional to the area of the pot, while stock produced is proportional to the volume. As an equation: E ~ V ^ (2/3) (I use the ~ for approximation here). Thus, quadrupling to 10L batch requires 2.52x as much power to hold a simmer. You are saving roughly 40% on the energy per liter. Going up to a giant stockpot, you can imagine the energy savings. There's an efficiency reason restaurants use GIANT stockpots; I think ours is ~80L. –  BobMcGee Jul 22 '11 at 5:32
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