How I make chicken stock

I’ve had this blog for *mumblemumble* years, and I just realized I’ve never posted about chicken stock. So let’s fix that, because this stuff is a mainstay in my kitchen.

Homemade chicken stock is a lifesaver in so many ways. For folks like me who are avoiding onions and garlic, it’s an indispensable substitute for storebought broths. And because it tastes great on its own, it’s become my secret weapon for simple, brothy soups like egg drop soup, hot-and-sour soup, or avgolemono. I like to cook matzo balls, wontons, or tortellini in salted water, then float them in warm chicken broth. I use it as a base for miso soup and ramen. Even if you’re not a soup person, this stuff is great for cooking grains—rice, quinoa, buckwheat, etc—and it makes for a damn fine risotto.

Chicken stock is also an important part of my self-care these days. When my gut is acting up and I just can’t stomach the thought of solid food, I’ll heat up some stock and sip it from a mug, adding a generous pinch of salt and maybe a few slices of fresh ginger. It’s a nice reminder that food doesn’t have to be complicated and fraught, and that it doesn’t actually take much to nourish myself.

How I Make Chicken Stock

Ingredients

I like using a mix of raw and roasted chicken bones for making stock. Raw bones don’t have much flavor, but they do have collagen, which dissolves into gelatin and gives homemade stock its sticky-rich texture. Roasted bones provide plenty of flavor, but not much collagen, so they make for a watery broth. Combine the two, and you get the best of both worlds. And if your bones still have some meat clinging to them, all the better! That meat is what makes chicken stock taste chicken-y.

For every batch of broth, I start with two things:

  • 1 1/2 to 2 lb chicken bones or assorted chicken parts. Whenever I roast a chicken, I save the carcass, the neck, and any leftover bones, gristle, and skin. Everything goes into a gallon-sized zip-top bag in the freezer; when the bag is full, it’s stock-making time. If you don’t cook a lot of bone-in chicken, you could just buy some raw chicken parts—wings are especially nice, but any bone-in cut will do.
  • A 12-oz package of chicken feet. This is a must in any stock I make, for two reasons. One, they’re an inexpensive way to bulk out a batch. Two, they have a ton of connective tissue, which means lots of collagen, which makes for an extra-sticky, satisfying stock.

And that’s it! I don’t usually add vegetables to my stock, since I think it’s more versatile when it’s just pure chicken. That said, if I’m running low on chicken parts, I’ll sometimes throw in any or all of the following:

  • A few green leek tops (I like to stash the toughest outer leaves in the freezer for stock, and cook with the inner tender parts)
  • A large carrot
  • 1-2 celery stalks
  • The leftover stems from a bunch of parsley
  • 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A few whole black peppercorns

One conspicuous omission: salt. I don’t salt my stock until I’m ready to use it. This means I can control how much salt I’m adding to a dish from the very beginning. (If you’ve ever tried reducing storebought, full-sodium chicken broth to make a sauce or glaze, you know what I’m talking about. Salt lick city.)

Stovetop method

This is the way I made stock for many years. It’s easy as can be, and requires no special equipment. You just have to be willing to hang out by the stove for a while.

Thaw your chicken parts overnight in the fridge, if needed. Combine all your stock ingredients in an 8-quart stockpot. (If you’re so inclined, you can snip off the claws from the chicken feet with a pair of kitchen shears before adding them to the pot. This supposedly helps the collagen break down, though I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes.)

Pour over enough cold water to mostly cover the chicken parts—I usually start with about 2 1/2 quarts (10 cups). Bring to a boil over the highest heat the pot can handle, then back the heat down so that the water is just barely simmering, with a few bubbles breaking the surface every now and then. Cover and simmer for a long time—2 hours minimum, 4 to 5 hours maximum. Keep an eye on the heat and adjust as needed to maintain that low, low simmer. After an hour or so, skim off any foam or other crud from the top of the stock

A good way to tell that the stock is ready: use a pair of tongs to pick up a chicken foot and give it a gentle squeeze. If it falls apart, that means all of the connective tissue has dissolved.

Electric pressure cooker method

Now that I have an Instant Pot, I love using it to make chicken stock. It’s a sealed environment, which means I get a stronger-tasting stock using less water. The high pressure means I can use frozen bones, which you shouldn’t do on the stovetop for food safety reasons. And I don’t have to babysit a stockpot—I can just push a few buttons and walk away.

To make pressure-cooker stock, place the chicken parts in the inner pot and add 2 quarts (8 cups) of cold water. (Make sure the liquid doesn’t rise past the max fill line.) Seal the lid and cook at high pressure for 60 minutes. If you don’t mind a cloudy stock, you can manually release pressure right away when the timer beeps; for a clearer stock, let the pressure come down naturally (this takes about 40 minutes for my Instant Pot).

Cooling and storing the stock

Remove the stock from the heat and use a skimmer or tongs to remove as many of the solids as possible. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer into a metal bowl. Fill another, larger metal bowl about halfway full with ice water and place the bowl of stock into it. Let the stock sit, stirring occasionally, until it’s completely cooled. (In my kitchen, with my bowls, this takes about 20 minutes).

Depending on how fatty your chicken parts were, there may be a substantial layer of fat floating on top of the cooled stock. You don’t have to remove it, but a lot of people prefer to. The easiest way to do this is to refrigerate the stock overnight; the fat will solidify on top, and you can scrape it off with a spoon the next day. And save that fat! It’s a fabulous cooking medium—we Jews call it schmaltz—and can be used in place of oil or butter in savory dishes. I love roasting vegetables with it, and it’s a no-brainer in matzo balls.

Once the stock is fully cooled, strained, and defatted, I portion it into deli containers or quart-size zip-top bags and freeze it. I tend to freeze stock in 1-cup or 2-cup portions, but you could also freeze some of it in ice cube trays and then transfer the stock-cubes to a zip-top bag for storage. The stock will keep in the freezer for 4-6 months, but I always use it up well before then. (Unsalted chicken stock is highly perishable, so it’ll only last a couple of days in the fridge; you can stretch it an extra day or two by leaving the layer of fat on top until the last minute.)

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