Originally published on 3-26-13 and moved here for easier mobile viewing.
I’ve seen several food shows that demonstrate how to make homemade chicken stock. While chicken stock has been a staple around the world for time out of mind, it’s still not the easy breeze a 30 minute TV show can make it seem. I’ve been doing this for years, and I’d like to fill in a few holes for first timers. This is going to be a lengthy recipe post with 19 pictures, and some think “overkill” while others weep with relief. THIS is how you make a really good old fashioned chicken stock.
Mine starts with a ceramic glazed cast iron stock pot that I ordered from Ginny’s ®. (NOT being paid to link that. I just really like this pot.) Best pot ever for super slow simmering. The heat distributes well, and you don’t get hot spots like you do with metal pots. If you prefer metal, try to use the thickest heaviest pot you can find so you can control the simmer not running away into a rolling boil on low heat over 2-3 hours.
If this is your first time, the first thing you do is schedule this adventure for a day where you’re not stressing against a time crunch. Do NOT plan the next meal around this, it’s too much work until you get used to it. People in the old days didn’t have technology and hectic lives, or this might never have been invented. I know, nothing like giving you a recipe that is arduous and time consuming, but it’s THE BEST chicken stock you ever tasted in your life. All your other recipes using chicken stock will benefit.
I like using Smart Chicken®. It’s a little more expensive, but looks and smells almost as fresh as a farm chicken I butchered myself and froze back. Whatever chicken you buy, make sure it fits into the pot comfortably. I’ve made mini versions of this with a cornish hen in a large saucepan, whatever takes your fancy. If you don’t have a whole chicken, use a bunch of chicken pieces with the bones still in, wings and legs are good for this. Part of the flavor comes from the skin, fat, and bones, not just the meat.
Rinse your chicken very thoroughly under lukewarm running water, inspecting it carefully for wax (looks yellow), pinfeathers, giblets and/or neck hidden in the inner cavity, etc. Be careful of broken rib and backbones if you reach inside. (If you do cut yourself on a bone, stop immediately and wash your hands with soap and water and cover the wound before you continue. Getting an infection in your skin from raw meat sucks, and getting your blood all over other people’s food is gross.) I like to pull out the stringy goop and cut off the tail and the big wad of excess skin on both sides of the open cavity. After rinsing, place the chicken directly into the pot. Throw away all the extra stuff not going into the pot, and wash your hands and the sink with soap. I wash my hands a second time just to be sure. I grew up on a farm, and we didn’t know back then about raw meats and cross contamination. I threw up a LOT. Be smart and save yourself a bad tummy ache later.
After that is all cleaned up, it’s time to prep veggies. Use a fresh knife, not the chicken knife. Make it a habit to use different utensils for meats and veggies, even if you know it will all be cooked together. Why? Because, in this instance, you only want half of a large onion and 2-3 stalks of celery. Don’t contaminate what you don’t use right away with a meat knife. You’ll also want a couple of large carrots, peeled and cut in half. I like stuffing carrot and celery inside the chicken. Wash your hands immediately after touching the chicken again. Put the rest of the veggies into the pot.
I use 9 flavoring ingredients in my stock-
1 t. salt
1-2 bay leaf
1 T each of rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley, and oregano
1/2 t. garlic powder
On TV shows they tie these up into sprigs and/or a little bag. Making chicken stock is a lot like making tea. Steeping the loose leaf herbs slowly with plenty of room for them to circulate and swell brings such a beautiful aroma and flavor that tying it all into a little bag seems like a crime. Doing that doesn’t really save you any time or work later, because you still have to strain the stock when you’re done anyway, right? May as well go for gold.
When all your ingredients are assembled into the pot, pour water over it all up to 1-2 inches from the top. You want to leave some room in case you walk off and it boils, which I’ve done on more impatient days. You’ll also need splash room, which I’ll get to in a minute.
Put the lid on and turn the burner on low. Trust me. If your chicken was already thawed, 3 hours will be about right on low. If it was frozen solid, give it 4-5 hours, but still keep it on low. If you are using chicken pieces instead of a whole chicken, or cooking a cornish hen in a smaller pot, maybe two hours is good. You’ll get the hang of it.
About halfway through the cooking time, one to one and a half hours for the big chicken, you’ll want to turn it over. It will cook through just fine without turning it over if you leave the lid on, but turning it gives all the meat steeping time in the stock for flavor and juiciness. Some of my biggest messes have happened while I’m turning a hot chicken over in a scalding stock bath, so be careful about burns. If you do get scalded, immediately get ice or at least cold running water onto the burn before it blisters. Your skin will literally cook from that high temp, and you must cool it quickly so it will stop the cooking. Heat denatures protein, breaks the molecular bonds, and the ice or cold water will stop that process. Never ignore a burn, even if it doesn’t hurt that bad. It will hurt bad later when your nerves recover from being cooked alive.
Here’s a good way to turn a chicken. Use a long handled heavy gauge slotted spoon and a very long fork, one in each hand. Guide the fork into the inner cavity while you brace the chicken with the spoon. When you have the fork inserted well enough to move the chicken, lift slightly (lifting higher creates a bigger splash if the chicken slips), and turn like a spit while you use the spoon to help maneuver it on over. Resist the urge to stand real close to the pot for better leverage or bracing or whatever, that is a mistake and you could wind up having to change your clothes and ice your chest and stomach. (Twenty years of experience…) Once the chicken is turned enough to go on over, use the spoon to ease it on down. Put the lid back on and walk away again.
Your chicken will be cooked through soon after, but it’s not ‘done’ until it easily comes apart when you press the spoon down into the mid back. When you’ve reached this stage, turn off the burner and let your stock rest with the lid on. You can take the chicken and veggies out now if you want, or you can let them cool a little in the stock. It will all stay hot for a good hour because the heavy pot is so efficient at holding the heat in.
After an hour, you need to go ahead and get the chicken out onto a plate. It’ll still be pretty warm, but you can cover it in plastic wrap at this point to hold in the moisture and cool on the counter for half an hour. Never put hot food into the refrigerator. Hot food can shatter glass shelves in the fridge, and can encourage mold growth in foods it touches or sits near, because they’ll become less cool being next to something hot and can take too long to cool back down again. Since your chicken just came from a long simmer, it is sterile coming out of the pot and won’t spoil while it’s cooling down on the counter, but don’t leave it out longer than a couple of hours. When it is cool enough to comfortably handle, I put the chicken into a gallon storage bag into the fridge to deal with later.
Strain the veggies out of the stock into a bowl using a slotted spoon, and keep spooning through until you’re pretty sure you’ve gotten the bay leaf and all the stray layers of onion that have floated off. Throw all that away. It might be tempting to think you can use it later somehow, but trust me, it’s not worth it. The flavor and nutrition have steeped out of the veggies into the stock, they’ve done their duty. Throw them away.
Straining stock isn’t hard. Some recipes say to strain through cheesecloth, which is expensive and way messier than this needs to be. Unless you are hoping to make a clear consume or broth, you just don’t need that extra stress. I use a large mesh strainer with a handle so it will sit over a bowl. I set the bowl in the sink so I don’t have to clean up what I spill, and from there it’s a matter of tipping the stock pot just right so all the liquid goes through the strainer. Then I carry the strainer to the trash, clap the crap out, and immediately wash it with soap so I don’t have to mess with it later. The faster you get that strainer cleaned up, the less you’ll hate straining stock. If you leave that strainer sitting around until the chicken fat hardens and the herbs dry, it will be impossible to clean and you’ll never make chicken stock from scratch again.
I really like using tupperware for that stock, put a lid right on it and set it into the fridge. You can leave it alone there up to 3 days, but after that you either need to cook with it or freeze it back. Stock spoils faster than just about any food on the planet. If you open it and it has spoiled, you can’t salvage it. Throw it out because it will only poison you now, no matter what you do. You can kill germs with heat, but mold is a molecular structure that can survive heat and wreak havoc in your body. (Grain molds can cause brain damage if bread is made from moldy grain. Don’t cook mold!!!!)
All the fat in the stock floats to the top, and in the fridge it hardens into a skim on top, which is very easy to remove while it’s still cold. Use a spoon to skim it off and throw it away. What’s left is technically an aspic and wiggles like Jello. It melts right back into stock as soon as you heat it up, and it’s now ready to go into your recipes. You can measure it out by the cup and freeze in ziplock bags. I froze this batch into a quart bag to use in stuffing next Thanksgiving.
The rest of the herbs that got through the strainer all settle at the bottom of the aspic, and will stay there as long as you don’t tip the bowl or disturb it as you ladle the stock into bags. When I get down to that stuff, I just pour the dregs down the sink and flush a little water after it. With the fat and other solids removed, this small amount won’t cause a clog.