The waste-not-want-not-soup, embracing carcasses, and making use of leeks and rutabega

Here’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to accept since I started cooking: sometimes my intentions are far grander than my reality. I hate to admit it — it genuinely causes me some pain to admit this —but I sometimes wind up wasting food. I buy a bunch of potatoes for a lattke kind of thing that I’m just certain everyone will love…then, by the time I actually get around to making it, the potatoes have become sad, soft, shriveled, little things covered by gnarled eyes, utterly beyond hope.

Like turning chicken leftovers into soup. The concept is so easy: roast a whole chicken one night (sprinkle some spices over the top, then bake in a 425-degree oven until until a thermometer inserted through thickest part of breast to bone reaches 170°, or 180°, roughly 20 minutes a pound), then boil up the carcass the next day for a fabulous soup.

Except…I’m not always so good with the follow-through. My intentions: so good, so good, I tell you. My reality until recently went more like this: Blair tries to throw the carcass away, and I shout, “No! I’m going to make soup from that!” He eyes me skeptically, but obliges. Then I put the carcass in the fridge, and I leave it there. Eventually, the refrigerator smells just a little funky. If I leave it long enough, it smells beyond-funky, and Blair asks kindly, “are we really going to do anything with this?” and I have to reply, sighing, “it’s probably too late now…”

Not anymore. Because I have learned two key things:

1. Timing is key. You gotta’ bake the chicken on a Friday or Saturday, so you can let the soup simmer away on a Saturday on Sunday. On a week night? It’s just not going to happen.

2. I have been stymied by an actual understanding of how to effectively use the carcass. I mean, yes, there’s great meat on those bones, but boiling a carcass also releases all kinds of tiny, unidentifiable bones, and mysterious chewy parts that feel all wrong in your mouth. What’s the best way to keep the good stuff, without fearing the bad?

There are lots of options. This gal, who reminds us that looking at a carcass is like being jilted by a bad lover that maybe you don’t want anyway, says to boil up the carcass with veggies for an hour – the good stuff will have been released, the bad stuff remains behind. This recipe, on the other hand, say to boil the carcass for three hours, then strain, discard everything that remains behind in the strainer, and cook the veggies in what remains. This cook says to boil the carcass for an hour and a half, then add veggies and boil for 30 minutes more.

Whatever you do, it’s worth it. Because it’s kind of like a free meal. The carcass? Free. The veggies? Face it: you’ve got a bunch of veggies lying around that you might never use if you don’t throw them into the pot. Out these two things together, and you’ve got a soup that is cost-free and guilt free. Free soup! You waste nothing! You spend nothing! All you’ve gotta’ do is embrace that carcass.

Here’s what I did: I boiled the chicken in water, plus I threw in an unopened boxed chicken stock that was ever-so-slightly expired. Only ever-so-slightly, though. Weeks. A month, tops.

I also added a touch of vinegar, as the Weston Price Society tells me that vinegar helps pull valuable minerals from the bones. I’ve read that elsewhere, too. I boiled for a little over an hour.

Then I strained it using a colander (don’t forget to put another pot underneath!) picked off the chunks of chicken, and added that right back to the broth. Here’s a photos of the leftover bones I admit that it’s not as pretty as some other photos I could paste here, but we’re embracing the carcass, folks, and I want you to see the reality. Plus, there is something about Elmo’s face sticking out beneath these bones that really sort of appeals to me (what is wrong with me?):


Meanwhile, I fried up those veggies, along with a teaspoon or so of thyme, and a bay leaf. In my case, the veggies were 2 mega-leeks, garlic, and carrots:


The carrots were from an old bag that’s been in back of the fridge for too long:


Oh, and don’t I have an old rutabaga lying around somewhere?


And how about some potatoes before they become unrecognizable:


Once the leeks are soft-ish, pour the broth back over the veggies, add kosher sea salt and pepper to taste, with maybe a tad more vinegar, and simmer away, about a half-hour:

Then serve-’er-up:


Try it. You will find that you have just made your best soup ever. It was the leeks, you’ll think! No, wait, maybe it’s the rutabaga (such an underrated vegetable, the rutabaga)! Maybe it’s the mineral-rich broth, so very nutritious and tasty. Or maybe, it’s that wallet of yours, which — for once — you didn’t have to touch to make a meal.

Whatever the reason, the soup is good. Like, really, surprisingly, unbelievably good. So good, that your family will finish every single drop:


And you can feel great. You wasted not. You want not. You are happy and satisfied. And you no longer fear the carcass.

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17 Responses to “The waste-not-want-not-soup, embracing carcasses, and making use of leeks and rutabega”

  1. 1 Matt January 28, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    I get to be the first responder! Awesome!

    Here is what I do when confronted with the same situation. I either put the carcass straight into the freezer to be used at some point in the future (no chance to rot) or I put it straight into the pot and start cooking it for stock. When I cook it immediately I put the stove on super low and then go to bed. Get up a little early and then I pick the carcass in the morning.

    Never, never put it in the fridge. It never makes it to a pot then.

    Alton Brown always told me never to boil a carcass. You need to just barely have a bubble come up every now and then to get out all the gelatin from the bones. But I think making homemade stock is one of those things where everyone has their own way and are convinced they are right. ;-)

  2. 2 Amy January 28, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    We always have a chicken carcass or two in our freezer, and they don’t stay there very long. DH is really, really good about baking the chicken early in the weekend and then making soup on Sunday. He actually carves off the last of the good meat, mostly white meat for me and son, then cooks the carcass with an onion and any expiring veggies. Drain, then refill with new, fresher, veggies. I’ve found I can sneak in lots of stuff the kids will never eat at this point, because the next step is crucial. I take the whole thing to the food processor and whip it into shape (actually, we have a hand held wand with a blade on the bottom of it). The result is a thick veggie stew. Then throw back in the chicken bits, some veggie pasta or rice and you are good to go.

  3. 3 Fairly Odd Mother January 29, 2008 at 3:50 am

    Oh. . .my. . .God. . .how do you know that I just dumped a container of chicken stock that I had boiled from a carcass but didn’t use in time? The guilt!

    I did freeze one jar of it (well, two jars but one was a tad too full and exploded in the freezer—good times), so I’ll have to check out your recipe when I get around to using it.

  4. 4 Janet January 29, 2008 at 4:23 am

    I learned a trick just this past Christmas that vastly eliminates the carcass-in-the-fridge problem. My brother-in-law, after carving the turkey reasonably clean, turned to me and asked, “Should I just put it straight into the pot?” Eureka! Brilliant! Of course! So he did, and then a couple of days later, I took pot from fridge, placed it on stove and added water. No muss, no fuss. Didn’t even waste foil covering the darn thing while it waited its conversion to soup. Hooray!

  5. 5 Lisa C. January 29, 2008 at 5:47 am

    I make stock with my chicken carcasses. I freeze them right away so they’ll keep until I’m ready to use them. With stock approaching almost $4 (!!!!) a quart in the grocery store, I get a lot of bang for my buck, even though I had to make an initial investment in a stock pot and big strainer. I also use the “leftovers” of vegetables (pepper tops, carrot tops and greens, parsley stems, onion skins, broccoli stalks, etc., etc., etc) so it is pretty much a free byproduct of cooking. Awesome!

    I have been making a lot of soup on the weekends because it keeps easily, is perfect for work lunches or Wednesday leftovers, and tastes fabulous.

  6. 6 anna January 29, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    I think you feel great because you actually used that sucker for once. Thanks for the inspiration…

  7. 7 greg January 29, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    You’ve hit on one my main food principles: Total Utilization.

    I try to live by it in every kitchen, professional or home. Your freezer is your best friend. Save your squishy, but not yet rotting, veggies in the freezer. save scraps and bones from everything from beef to celery bottoms to herb stems and pull them out when you make stock. Get every last inch of flavor out them. Buy a big ‘ol pot and save your frozen bones and scraps until you have enough to make a couple gallons and then freeze the stock. It keeps for ever. (Martha’s trick of using an ice tray to keep small usable quantities on hand for sauces and little recipes is great)

    As for chicken (& all meat stocks) start with really cold water. I am not exactly sure why this works (something about contracting proteins and then opening them up) but it works better than vinegar and doesn’t flavor the stock. You can add your veggies anytime prior to the last half hour in chicken. Beef stocks take longer so don’t add the “aromatics” until the last hour or two before you plan on being done.

  8. 8 greg January 29, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Did I mention I freeze the rendered chicken fat from the top of the pot for schmaltz to make matzo balls and other Passover goodies?

    You can use almost everything!

  9. 9 Pamelotta January 30, 2008 at 12:03 am

    You should have seen me nonchalantly asking my in-laws at Thanksgiving, “Hey, are you guys gonna do anything with that turkey carcass?”

    Oh the looks I got. The soup, however, was fabulous!

  10. 10 kmum February 5, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    We do this in our house too. Well, when I say we, I mean my husband, as he is the chef of the house. If there is any left after everyone has had a bowl, we like to thicken the broth and make it into a pot pie. I make a pie crust and he lines a casserole dish, fills it up with thickened soup and covers it. Yummy!

  11. 11 Chile February 10, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Found you through the Naturally Nerds site. Before I went veg, I used to make awesome turkey soup after Thanksgiving. Everyone would freeze their carcass for me to pick up when I had time. After thawing it, I’d pick off all the meat I could – usually getting about 2 cups’ worth. Then I’d put it in the pressure cooker with a couple bay leaves, a dozen or so whole peppercorns, a splash of vinegar, and water to cover. If I was feeling ambitious, I’d prep all the vegetables for the soup then, too, and put the scraps in the pot. Stuff like garlic and onion skins (but not the roots with dirt all over them), carrot and potato peels, etc. I’d pressure cook this for just 10-15 minutes. Strain everything, picking out any obvious pieces of meat that are left. Then proceeded with the soup. It was awesome, free, and easy.

  12. 12 Anna February 19, 2008 at 4:20 am

    Don’t tell anyone, but I even grab the leftover bones off the plates while I’m clearing the table after a chicken dinner (I never cook boneless skinless chicken). They go into the “chicken bag”, a zipper freezer bag I keep for such purposes. After all, they get cooked again in that slightly acidulated water.

    I also have a veg broth bag in the freezer, for odd bits of veg trimmings that are not good enough for the meal, but too good to discard in the compost bucket (washed leek tops, semi-chopped limp carrots & celery, etc.).

    And the best broth I have ever made is from the carcasses used for Cooks Illustrated French Chicken in a Pot in a recent issue. That method of cooking seems to really concentrate the flavor. I also add the leftover cooked down pan juices from the chicken. My son declared that soup broth the best ever.

  13. 13 Sally Parrott Ashbrook February 22, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    I hopped over from Ethicurean, and I just wanted to tell you I’m loving your blog!

  14. 14 Marcia Brazil April 16, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    I have a chicken carcus with half the meat left on it in the fridge for a week. Is it too late to use it for soup? Thanks for your reply!

  15. 15 Ali B. April 16, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Marcia – as with everything in life, it depends – on things like the temp of your fridge, and how long it sat on the counter before you refrigerated it, and how clean the knife was that you cut it with, etc. If you have heated/reheated more than once, I’d toss it. If it smells funky (and I can’t define funky, but you’ll know it when you smell it), you don’t want it. However, if you refrigerated it shortly after you cooked it, and you haven’t been heating/reheating, and it smells okay, then I’d say go for it. Basically, trust your instincts, but don’t cave to pure fear – after all, you’ll be boiling the sucker. But use it tonight! Go forth! Boil boil! Enjoy! Hope it turns out great.

  16. 16 Louise November 23, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    elmo’s face peering out is funny-I like the way you think and the recipe sounds fab-thanks! Louise D

  17. 17 Rault March 19, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Hi! I found your post somehow, I think through google, and was VERY happy I did — I was in the same boat of guilt about throwing out chicken carcasses with about half the meat uneaten. Excellent article!

    I did two things differently, one good, one bad, that other readers might appreciate (or know already, from experience): I picked the chicken pretty clean before I boiled it and saved the “good” meat scraps, so they wouldn’t get totally destroyed, and then added them back in the last 10 minutes before serving. That worked well, and the meat was in nice fresh chunks.

    The bad thing was that I put my carrots and potatoes in at the start, thinking I could just pick them out. Trying to separate everything (I made 3c. of plain stock in addition to the big pot of soup) was a huge pain, and I realized after the fact that I could have strained the chicken (and onions and garlic chunks) and then add in the carrots to simmer a half hour more. I was trying to save time, since I didnt’ start until 6:30, but picking the good bits out took almost a half hour by itself — AND the carrots and potatoes were overcooked.

    All in all, though, you inspired me to make my very first homemade chicken soup! And it was delicious! (Had to add a lot more salt than I thought, though… is that normal?)

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