Right now, most of us have a lot more time on our hands – and at home – than usual. Maybe you’re looking for ways to fill that time. Maybe you’re looking for ways to stretch a buck. Maybe you want to be more environmentally conscious by using every part of the animal. Maybe… you just really like chicken stock. I’m here for you, I get it, let’s do it. I think you’ll really like it.
I don’t know about you, but we use a lot of chicken stock in this house. I have been enjoying making my own for about the last year now – it genuinely makes me happy to use every bit of a chicken that I can. It’s a really neat thing when you sit down for a meal and you realize that a lot of it – or all of it – was made from scratch. Some days I find myself saying “I didn’t raise the animal or grow the veggies, but everything else is mine.”
We roast a whole chicken, or throw one on the grill (spatchcock), probably at least every other week – so there are always ingredients for stock hanging out in my freezer.
To make things easier before you get started, here are some things I have learned:
Whole chickens are your friend. I very, very rarely buy a pack of boneless skinless breasts, or just thighs, etc. I find that buying a whole bird and breaking it down into the parts I need is more economical – and frankly, I enjoy it. It’s like a game. How much money can I squeeze out of this? When you buy the whole bird, you get the carcass with which you can make stock. When we cook a whole chicken, since it’s just the two of us here, we usually eat the dark meat on the first night for dinner (and one or two slices of breast, because my husband can’t help himself) and then we save the leftover breast meat for one or two meals throughout the rest of the week. Think of all the things you can do with cooked chicken. Throw it in a soup. (make this stock and have chicken and dumplings!) How about ramen? Shred it up and make chicken enchiladas or tacos. Mix it into pasta. Make chicken salad sandwiches. The possibilities are endless. It saves time on a busy weeknight, and it’s seasoned just the way you like it.
Save the carcass / bones in your freezer. After you pick as much of the meat from the carcass as you would like to keep, seal the bones in a gallon size zip top bag and toss it in the freezer. You can make stock with one chicken’s worth of bones, but I usually wait until I have two chickens’ worth, to make a big batch. This goes for any chicken bones – even if you aren’t roasting a whole bird. I save bones from when I just cook bone-in thighs, drumsticks, wings – anything. If you are buying a whole bird and breaking it down into pieces, you’ll have at least the backbone and the wing tips on day 1 – but probably the breastbone too – I usually remove the breasts boneless. Then as you cook up the parts, you save the bones and toss those in the bag too. Try to keep your pieces small, so they submerge easily in your stock water. I usually cut the backbone in half and separate the ribcage down the sides so I have a breastbone half and a backbone half. It’s more work up front, but it makes the stock simmering day a lot simpler.
Schmaltz is liquid gold. Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat. You know when you roast a whole bird, or just the thighs, and you get those amazing drippings that season any veggies in the pan to perfection? Those drippings are called schmaltz, and you can render it and keep it in the fridge to cook with anytime you like. When I’m breaking down a whole chicken, I remove the skin and any fatty sections, cutting them down with scissors into smallish, maybe 1-2” pieces, and I fill a small zip top bag to toss in the freezer with my stock bag. (I render the schmaltz on the same day as I make stock – the house smells insane on those days.) On my stock and schmaltz day, I defrost the skin/fat and add them to a small pot to cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. Eventually, the skin starts to crisp and turn golden, and all the fat will render down into liquid. When all the skin is crispy and brown, I strain it through cheese cloth (disposing of the skin) and keep the schmaltz in the fridge in a small glass container. It keeps forever. I use this most often to make a chicken gravy for chicken pot pie. Schmaltz is the bonus prize from your whole-chicken purchase.
Veggies and herbs – whole or scraps! In normal life (remember normal life?) I make stock with whole onions, carrots and celery. Self-isolation has made everyone’s shopping trips fewer and further between, and our produce on hand shows it. If you find yourself with a shortage of veggies – save your scraps from other meals instead. Onion ends and skin (scrubbed clean), root ends of carrots, the bottom of your stalk of celery, the stems from your thyme, rosemary, sage and parsley. We can use up all these things – no waste – and make a great stock with them. Keep your scraps through the week, you’ll be amazed at how it adds up.
Yellow onion skins are where you get that golden color. Don’t toss the skins! Scrub your onion to remove any dirt, then cut through the root end, keeping the skin intact. As the stock simmers, the skins will release some of their color to the liquid. You eat with your eyes first – and golden stock is gorgeous.
Add your veggies, herbs and peppercorns after you’ve removed the scum from the surface. I have read so many recipes for stock that have you add all your ingredients to the pot at the beginning, and this drives me crazy. When you start the stock, only add your chicken pieces and cover with cold water by a few inches. Once it has been simmering for a few minutes, scum/foam will begin to collect on the surface. All recipes (including this one) will tell you to skim the scum off the surface and discard it. What they don’t mention is that peppercorns and herbs float. So, if you add them before you’re done skimming, you’re going to end up throwing out most of the peppercorns you put in. Also, the veggies and herbs get in the way… it’s a whole thing. If you start with just the chicken, you can get all the scum removed first. Once it’s been cooking for maybe a half hour and you seem to have gotten through the scummiest part of the cooking, toss in your veggies, herbs and peppercorns. They’ll still have plenty of time to flavor the stock, and you won’t waste your time or ingredients trying to fish around everything. (alternately, you could contain all your herbs and peppercorns in a piece of cheesecloth and plunk it in there, but I really just think waiting until the scum is removed is easier.)
If you have a “pasta insert” for your stock pot, now is the time to bust that bad boy out. I don’t have a pasta insert large enough for my big stockpot, but this is a daydream of mine. Instead of straining the solids out in batches when the stock is done, you would just pull out your insert and be left with just stock and some tiny pieces of chicken, veg and peppercorns. One run through a strainer lined with cheesecloth and you’d be DONE. I have GOT to figure out who makes a pasta insert the right size for my giant stockpot because… that is such a dreamy situation. Please know that if you have one, I am very jealous. Very. Jealous.
Without further ado, here is my rough, endlessly adaptable and basically un-measured throw it in a pot and walk away “recipe” for chicken stock.
- 1 gallon size zip top bag full of chicken bones, most of the skin removed
- 2 small/medium or one large yellow onion, scrubbed and rinsed clean, sliced through the root in half or quarters if large – skin intact
- 2-3 stalks celery, scrubbed clean of dirt
- 2-3 carrots, scrubbed but no need to peel
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, optional
- 10 or so parsley stems (save the leaves for another use)
- Any other fresh herbs of your choosing: oregano and thyme are my favorite. Oregano can be strong so go light on that. Same goes for tarragon and rosemary, you don’t want to overwhelm the flavor of the stock, so a little goes a long way with those, unless you are trying to make tarragon stock for a very specific use or something and in that case, you do you!
- 2 dry or fresh bay leaves
- 1 Tbs whole peppercorns
- Kosher salt, to taste
One day ahead: Move your frozen stock bag to the fridge in a leak proof container to defrost. (Or, day of, submerge it in cold water for a little while in your sink. It doesn’t have to be perfectly defrosted, but it’s easier to get the parts out of the bag and into the pot if they aren’t one solid brick.)
Add the contents of your stock bag to your largest stock pot. Cover the bones by a couple of inches with cold water. Bring to a simmer over a moderate heat, skimming any scum that rises to the surface, and stirring occasionally. (I usually prep my veggies during this stage, to multi-task.) When the scum seems to have subsided, add all your other ingredients except the salt. Feel free to tie all the fresh herbs and stems together with a piece of kitchen twine for easy removal later.
Reduce the heat to a very slow simmer and cook for 4-6 hours, checking occasionally to stir, remove scum, or add water to keep the ingredients submerged by an inch or two. I’ve decided that using a lid is best, so you don’t lose as much liquid, but if for some reason you don’t have a lid for your stock pot, you can make stock without it. You’ll just add more water throughout the day, no big deal.
After at least 4 hours, examine the color of the broth and taste it to determine if you have achieved the level of chicken-y-ness that you are looking for. At this point you can begin adding salt. You don’t want to salt at the beginning of the process, because the liquid level is going to change, and you can’t remove salt once you’ve added it. It’s safest to add it toward the end, and not end up with a too-salty stock.
Salt is necessary. When you first taste the stock, you’ll see what I mean. It’s going to taste flat. You’ll think it’s watery and bland and boring. Then, you add some salt and taste again. It’s more chickeny. Add a little more, taste again. It will start to come alive. It takes a little bit to get the salt just right but when you do, you’ll know. Suddenly, you can taste all of the flavors you added to the stock. You aren’t looking to taste the salt – you’re adding the salt so you can taste everything else.
When your stock is seasoned to perfection and you feel you’ve extracted as much flavor from the chicken and veggies that you are going to get, remove the pot from the heat and let it cool slightly. Don’t put it in the fridge until you’ve removed all of the solids! Homemade stock becomes slightly gelatinous when chilled, so you would have a very strange, loose aspic on your hands. It is liquid when warmed back through. (If you don’t know what an aspic is, google it. You’re welcome for that weird thing you won’t forget.)
Set a strainer over a large bowl or measuring cup, and line it with cheese cloth. If you have a big pyrex measuring cup (I have an 8 cup), that would be perfect for this job, so you have a handle and a pour spout for transferring the stock into smaller containers.
When the stock is cool enough to handle, ladle it through the cheesecloth lined strainer, and transfer from your bowl/measuring cup into smaller vessels for freezing or refrigeration. I like to reuse 24 or 32 oz Greek yogurt or ricotta containers for this task (clean, obviously). Remember to leave a little space at the top of any container you intend to freeze, to allow room for expansion.
I also have Souper Cubes, which are like giant silicone ice cube trays, where each “cube” fits 1 cup. I freeze some stock in those so I can just pop out a cup or two of stock when I only need a little – instead of thawing a whole yogurt container of stock if I don’t need it all. As made evident by the name, you can also use them for freezing soup, I’ve used them for beans in their bean broth, etc. This isn’t an ad (I mean sure pay me if you want though) – I just really think they are great! They come in other sizes, too. I’m sure it won’t be long before I invest in another set.
When you’ve strained out all of the liquid from your stock pot, discard the solids and thank those chicken bones for their service. The stock will last for about a week in the fridge, and a few months in the freezer. I usually get about 160 oz of stock, maybe a little more. That will last me a month or two, depending on what I am cooking.
I tried to remember every bit of info that you will need – and any tip I have figured out along the way, but if you have any questions, please reach out!! I am always happy to chat about stock.
Everyone stay safe and healthy.