The majority of the meals I make are from scratch. In my kitchen, that means if a recipe calls for an ingredient, I usually make the ingredient as well. And right now, with it starting to be Artic weather (read, 50 degrees for this California girl), I’m turning to making lots of soups and stews. Which means I need lots of the basic ingredient: chicken stock.
For a long time, I made soups from canned broth. Before I knew how to cook, my meal consisted of a cup of white rice cooked in a can of broth, with a Gorge Forman grilled chicken breast (oh, college in the early 2000s). But once I started to be more focused on my ingredients, and wanting to waste less in the kitchen, I turned to making my own. Which, it turns out, is super, super easy!
How to Make Your Own Chicken Stock
The first thing I do is gather up my ingredients. There are many different things you can put in stock, but my basics are chicken parts, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, (parsley if I have it) and a splash of apple cider vinegar. I also don’t measure anything. This is a much simpler ingredient list than store bought stock, which often includes MSG, partially-hydrogenated oil, and other strange things.
The chicken is often the bits leftover from culling a hen or a rooster, including the feet, neck and giblets. Or if I roast a whole chicken, I’ll use the leftover carcass. Just one chicken usually doesn’t warrant the effort, so I’ll keep the bits in a bag or a bowl in the freezer until I have enough. If you’re buying chicken, and don’t want to invest in a whole bird just for stock, ask for the necks, wings, or backs. They are often available and at a significantly discounted price.
When I buy celery for a miscellaneous recipe, I almost never use the whole bunch, so I’ll stick the rest in the freezer to use for the stock. The garlic I use are the tiny cloves that are too small to bother with, and I keep a bowl on the windowsill where they live until I make broth. They get thrown in whole, skins and all. The apple cider vinegar is reported to help leach the nutrients out of the bones of the chicken.
Other ingredients you can use in stock are thyme, leeks, mushrooms, potato peelings, parsnips, fennel, corn cobs, fennel, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, marjoram, basil, celery root, sage, rosemary, chard, Parmesan cheese rinds, and Jerusalem artichokes. Some ingredients may impart a flavor to your stock, so think about what you’ll be using it for. Ingredients to avoid are turnips and rutabagas, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, beets, artichoke trimmings, and anything spoiled. Stock is a great way to use up the bits leftover from other meals, but it’s not a catch-all for everything.
I dump all my ingredients in a big stock pot, and cover with water. I use my largest pot. Once again, I don’t bother measuring, but the general rule of thumb is 4 quarts of water per 2-3 pounds of chicken.
I then simmer for as long as I have time for. Ideally, 6-24 hours. A crock pot is a great use if you have one! There are many sources that say to skim off the foamy stuff that comes to the surface, but I don’t bother. There are also instructions on how to clarify stock, to make it clear, and I don’t bother with that either.
After the stock has cooked, I do the first strain. The broth gets dumped through the pasta colander, simply to make it easier to get into smaller containers. I usually have to get my husband to help me with this task, as a full pot is heavy! Depending on my chicken, sometimes I’ll have lots of fat in my broth, other times not much at all. I believe that fat is an important part of our diets, and I think it adds flavor, so I don’t have any problems with it. If you are concerned, once the broth is strained, you can let it cool and then skim off.
If you let your stock cool, you might notice that it ‘jells’ up. THIS IS GOOD!!! The first few times I made chicken stock from scratch, I thought something was wrong and I tossed it out. Don’t make the same mistake as me! This is gelatin, which came from the skin, tendons, ligaments, and/or bones. That’s why using whole chickens or chicken parts, instead of just boneless breasts, is a good idea.
Gelatin is an aid in digestion and allows the body to utilize proteins, that are consumed when you use the stock. (And unless you’re having meat flavored Jell-o, it’s not the same thing). Even if your broth doesn’t jell up, you’re still getting great nutrients from it. There is a reason why chicken soup has been the treatment for colds and flus for centuries, but it’s not the soup, it’s the broth. Sally Fallon, in her book Nourishing Traditions, states that “modern research has confirmed that broth helps prevent and mitigate infectious diseases.”
After this strain, I then do a second strain through a fine mesh colander. This gets rid of any small particles of veggies, the occasional feather from the chicken, and the peppercorns. I strain the broth into wide-mouth pint mason jars, which is how I freeze and store the broth. Stock keeps for about 5 days in the fridge, but will keep for months in the freezer.
This size jar holds just shy of 2 cups, which conveniently, is just the right amount for cooking a cup of rice. It’s also very equivalent to a store-bought can of chicken stock, so it’s easy to know how much to pull out of the freezer when a recipe calls for cans. When freezing in jars, make sure you use ones that are straight sided, and leave room for the chicken stock to expand. I fill only to the bottom rim of the mason jar.
Make sure to label your jars! Trust me from experience, a jar of chicken stock looks just like a jar of lemon juice. I hope that you add making homemade chicken stock to the rhythms of your kitchen! Please leave me a comment and let me know, do you make your own stock? What ingredients do you put in it?
I hope that you add making homemade chicken stock to the rhythms of your kitchen! Please leave me a comment and let me know, do you make your own stock? What ingredients do you put in it?