I’ve mentioned before that I’m a couponer, and I really hate getting ripped off at the grocery store. One thing that is so overpriced and tasted like crap is canned chicken stock. I was glad when I realized a couple of years ago how easy it is to make your own chicken stock. Big bonuses: you get to control the ingredients (quality of chicken, organic produce, etc), and can choose the storage method (freezing, canning).
Before I get into the actual cooking of it, let me throw a few reminders at you. Chicken stock isn’t just for when you are sick, although it is really good for that too. It is full of great minerals, vitamins, and tastes great too. You can choose how much fat you want to skim off your broth, but I recommend you leave some since it is good and healthy for you.
Now… to the stock!
Homemade Chicken Stock
- large stock pot
- Something to skim the “crud” out of the pot. I use a little mini strainer like this one, but a spoon will do in a pinch.
- Either a whole chicken, or 4 leg quarters. You can also use leftover chicken bones if you roasted a chicken.
- 3 stalks of celery, cut in quarters
- 1 large onion, quartered
- 3 carrots, quartered
- 1 T of whole black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
(by the way… when I say quartered, it really doesn’t matter “lengthwise” or “widthwise”, you just want to make sure water is going to get at the goods of the veggies.)
First you need to deal with the chicken. If it’s a whole chicken, you should at least make a good faith attempt at cutting it up. (See my half-assed attempt below.) Please don’t feel like it needs to look pretty, because the end product is the stock, not the chicken itself. Just like the veggies, the whole reason I want you to at least cut it up a little bit is so the water can get at more of the chicken, and more of the “crud” can float up to the top. More on that in a second.
Once you’ve got the chicken cut up (or, if you got the leg quarters or chicken bones, you’ve just been sitting here laughing at my crappy chicken cutting skills), throw the pieces into the pot. Now, fill the pot up with COLD WATER until the chicken is thoroughly covered. Why cold water? I read somewhere that the goodies in the chicken bones come out better if it starts in cold water. I’m not a scientist or anything, so if you weren’t paying attention and were still laughing at my mutilated chicken while you merrily filled your pot up with warm water, i’m sure your stock will still turn out just fine. Just know that we’re even now.
“But Ellie, what about my veggies?” Hold your horses, now. I learned this great trick with making stock. See, we’re gonna let this water/chicken/bones mess barely boil for a bit (don’t let it do a rolling boil, just barely bubble), and soon you’re gonna start to see some foamy muck float up to the top. You need to scoop that out, or your broth isn’t gonna taste as good and is going to look cloudy. If you’re veggies were already in there, it would be harder to scoop out the muck. See, I’m looking out for you! The reason that we have the water just barely boiling is if it was a rolling boil, that foam stuff would go right back into the stock and ruin it. When the foam starts to slow down, jiggle around the chicken to see if any foamy bits want to come up.
Once it’s been about an hour since you turned on the burner, it’s veggie time. Throw in the veggies and seasonings, adding water if needed to bring water level back up to cover everything. Now comes my favorite part… the part where you get to let the stock cook and you get to watch TV or read a book or knit a sweater or whatever it is that you want to do. Check on the stock every 30 minutes and add water if the water level gets too low. If any muck has come to the top, scoop it out.
Ideally, let it simmer for a total of 4 hours. I’ve cooked it for as little as 2 hours as as many as 6, so if you have other things to do, or you really get into knitting that sweater and time flies by, that’s okay. Flip the burner off. Strain the liquid into containers and let cool in the fridge. Tomorrow, you can either transfer the containers straight into the freezer, freeze the stock into ice cubes for easier use in recipes, or can it. You also have the option of keeping it in the fridge for up to 3 days. Just bring it up to to a boil before using. Remember that this stock doesn’t have any salt added, so you’ll want to add some when you cook with it. The reason I don’t add any when I make it is to make it more versatile. If you add too much when you make the stock and then you do a reduction, you’ll end up with a big salty mess.
A few final notes
There are lots of different ways to make chicken stock. When you make chicken throughout the week, you can save the bones in a zip-loc bag in the freezer along with any discarded carrot ends and veggie shavings and such. There are also other veggies and herbs you can add to your stock, like rosemary, thyme, garlic, parsnips, and much more. This is just the way I tend to make my stock, because I always forget to freeze my chicken bones. Do what works at your house. It’s also not going to be the end of the world if you can’t get organic vegetables, or can’t get a free range antibiotic free chicken. Heck, if at the end of the day, you decide that making your own chicken stock is too much work, I promise that life will go on! But for those that have never tried to make it before, try it once. See if you mind the little bit of hassle, and if you prefer the taste. If it is worth your while, I hope my tips were helpful. If you think this was all a big pain the butt, you now at least have the bragging rights to say you’ve made homemade chicken stock.
You’re welcome to save the meat off the bones and eat it, although a lot of the nutrients have been stripped from the meat. I personally don’t find it appetizing, but you can do whatever you want. I’ve heard that some people re-use the bones and make stock several times from the same bones; until I see solid scientific data that shows that there is still sufficient nutrients coming out after reusing bones, i’m going to continue to treat them as a one time use only thing.
Be well, and happy eating!