As you saw in my last post, I recently made Chicken Stock. Right now, my freezer is pretty full, so I’ve finally decided to give something a try that will allow me to preserve a larger amount of stock for future use. I know this isn’t for everyone, but I’m finally going to give pressure canning a try. I have spent years preserving using the more common method of water bath canning. For anyone who isn’t familiar with canning techniques, here’s a brief overview:
Water bath canning involves boiling jars with specially constructed two-part lids in a large pot of water, to both sterilize the contents and seal the jars and make them shelf stable. This is only safely done with high-acid foods, like jam, pickles, and some tomato preserves.
For lower acid foods, like vegetables, soups, and meats, the only safe way to can them for shelf storage is to use a pressure canner. This takes the same principle as water bath canning, but uses the mechanics of a pressure-cooker to allow for higher heat processing, to render the contents safe for storage at room temperature.
I recently bought a pressure canner on Craigslist. They are pretty expensive new, but while I was buying a few cases of used jars from a guy, he mentioned he was looking to sell his pressure canner, and I jumped at the chance. It has been sitting around getting dusty, and I finally got up the courage to give it a try. I guess the challenge is that I’ve never even used a pressure cooker, and all that super-heated steam seemed a bit scary…and the thought of poisoning myself is also frightening. But this was as good a time as any, and I have to tell you, there’s nothing to it. Just follow trusted instructions for timing and pressure, and you’re good to go. Check out this site for more details.
For the chicken stock, I used pint jars. You can definitely use quart jars, but my stock was very concentrated, and I wanted to have the flexibility to use small amounts at a time, for making sauces and adding to dishes (not just for big batches of soup). The process is pretty simple.
- Fill the canner with at least 3 inches of water and start it heating. It should be at least simmering when you place the jars in it. You don’t want to cover the jars with water, as it is steam, not water, that causes the pressure canning process to work
- Heat the lids and rings in simmering water (to soften the rubber). Feel free to use the heating water in the canner
- Clean and sterilize your jars (I usually boil them in water, but you can also heat them in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes)
- Fill the jars with the stock, and then screw on the tops loosely (just finger-tight)
- Load up the canner with the jars. Mine holds 8 pint jars, and based on the amount of time involved, I definitely always plan to fill it to capacity
- Next you lock on the lid and turn up the heat to high. Each pressure canner has a unique process for locking on the lid. Mine has screws to tighten
The key to a pressure canner is that there is a steam vent in the lid, and a weight is placed on top of the vent to allow pressure to build up to a specified level, which lets the water inside heat beyond the normal maximum boiling point of water, 212 degrees. This super-heats the contents of the jars, ensuring that the contents are sterile and will not spoil or carry harmful bacteria. This is a basic review of the process, though it varies a bit by manufacturer.
- Seal the lid, which in the case of my canner involves lifting up the screws and tightening them until they are all firmly sealed. The best strategy to ensure a good seal is to tighten the screws across from each other at the same time
- Turn the heat to high, watch for the steam to begin to escape, and let the steam vent for at least 2-3 minutes
- Then add the weight to the vent. For chicken stock, the proper weight is 10 lbs of pressure at my altitude (near sea level)
- Watch the dial on the canner, and begin counting processing time when it reaches at least 10 lbs of pressure. Mine ended up at 11, which is fine. Then time the appropriate processing time. For stock, it is 20 minutes for pints, and 25 minutes for quarts
- After the time has elapsed, turn off the heat, and leave the canner alone for at least 30 minutes. Then remove the weight, and see if there is any pressure released. If so, give it another 15-20 minutes to completely remove pressure.
- Then unscrew the tabs on the lid and remove it. EVERYTHING WILL STILL BE REALLY HOT! Using a jar lifter and being careful, place the jars on a cloth to completely cool. You can always wait longer if you would rather not deal with the hot jars. I always tend to be doing these things at night, and am impatient to get finished…
- After the jars are completely cool, check the buttons on top for a seal. When you press, they should not bounce back. If any jars do not seal, store in the fridge until use (1 week max)
Then find great ways to use your amazing chicken stock! Beyond soups, you can use it as part of your liquid when making rice or quinoa, use it as a base for making meat sauces, or whip up a fantastic risotto.
FYI, don’t worry if there is a bit of sediment on the bottom of the jar, and an off-white cloudy layer on the top, as in the picture. The sediment is harmless, but can be strained out if you like when you use the stock, and the white layer is separated chicken fat–it will re-incorporate when you heat the stock.