In my new series, Basic Building Blocks, I thought it would be fitting to begin with something that is really the base for so many recipes: Chicken Stock. Sure, you can buy decent stock at the store these days; the ones that they sell in the carton used to be my go-to until I realized just how quick and easy it is to make your own stock at home, not to mention money saving. Making your own gives you so much more control over the flavor, and just as importantly, the salt. I’ve posted previously about Pressure Cooker Chicken Stock, but the stock I usually make is this one.
All it takes is a little bit of organization. A very little bit. Any time you buy chicken for a dish that includes a whole chicken, make sure to ask for the innards. They will give you a bag that usually contains a neck, a gizzard, a heart (I’ve sometimes gotten bags with up to 5 hearts!), and some liver (throw the liver away – it will make your stock cloudy).
Cut the chicken up, or have your butcher do it for you. Any supermarket butcher should do this if you ask. Make sure they give you all the parts, including the back. After you’ve cut your chicken up, place the neck, the stuff from the innards bag, and anything else you’re not using (I never use the wings, so I include those) into a ziplock freezer bag. Label it, and toss it in the freezer. Make sure you do this any time you are making a recipe that includes a whole chicken.
Something else to get into the habit of, is to keep a ziplock bag, or an empty paper milk carton, in the freezer. Whenever you cook something with leeks or fennel, wash the tops and instead of throwing them out, toss them in there. You could even put them in the bag with your chicken parts. You can also use onion skins, peelings from carrots, tops of celery; anything aromatic that would normally end up in your compost. Keep it all in the freezer.
Now, you’re ready to make your stock! You can do this while you’re cooking dinner, or on a weekend if you like to spend some time in the kitchen. You could even do it after dinner while you’re watching a movie or binging that new Netfilx tv show.
Start with a really large stock pot. If you’re going to make stock, you might as well make a lot, right? Take one or two (I usually use two) bags of parts from the freezer and dump them in the pot. At this point you just want to put the chicken in. Fill up the pot with water until it reaches about 1 or 2 inches below the top. Turn it on high, and just before it comes to a full boil and spills all over the stove, turn it down to a simmer. During the first 10-15 minutes of simmering, you’ll see some scum come to the top. Spoon that off with a fine mesh spoon or strainer and discard.
Once the chicken has stopped giving off its scum, add the rest of your aromatics. This can be anything you have on hand, including that freezer bag of trimmings. I usually use, at the very minimum, an onion (you can leave the skin on if it’s clean), a carrot, a stalk of celery, a few sprigs of parsley, about a tablespoon of whole black peppercorns, and about a tablespoon of whole coriander seeds. I don’t measure any of this. What you do not want to add is salt. This way, you will never have to guess how much salt to add to a dish because you’re starting from zero. With store-bought stock, you never know how much salt is in there.
Now, give the whole pot a stir, keep it at a very low simmer for at least one hour, but you can go up to 3 or 4. The stock will get more and more concentrated and flavorful as you let it simmer away.
Once you’ve let it simmer as long as you want, you just need to drain out the solids in the pot. In order to avoid a big splashy mess, I put a fine mesh strainer over a big bowl, take a pair of tongs, and fish out as much of the stuff as I can get and place it into the strainer. Give it a minute, then dump those contents into the compost. Now you can pour the rest of the pot into the bowl through the strainer, and dump the remaining solids that collect into the compost. Let the bowl cool to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge.
The next day, take your bowl out of the fridge. You’ll see a thin layer of solidified fat floating on the top. Use a fine mesh spoon or strainer to scoop it out and dump into the compost. You now have a beautiful, clear, low-fat, no-sodium stock. Place it into containers to put in the freezer. I use a combination of ice cube trays (⅛ cup cubes for when I need just a little stock to add to a sauce), 8 ounce, 16 ounce, and sometimes 32 ounce deli containers. Make sure to label and date them, so you don’t end up with a mystery container in your freezer in a month. For the ice cube trays, once the cubes are frozen, transfer them to a ziplock bag for easy access.
Easy Homemade Chicken Stock
- 1-2 bags of frozen cut up chicken parts neck, back, wings, gizzards
- 1 onion cut in half
- 1 carrot cut in half
- 1 stalk celery cut in half
- fennel tops, leek tops, vegetable trimmings
- 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
- 1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
- Dump chicken parts into the largest stock pot you have
- Fill pot with water
- Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and skim off any scum that rises to the top during the first 10-15 minutes or so
- Add all of your aromatics
- Simmer very slowly for 1-2 hours (or up to 4 for a richer stock)
- Strain out solids through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl (you may need two bowls)
- Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight
- Skim off solid layer of fat and discard. Divide stock into ice cube trays and deli containers. Label and freeze.
- Stock will keep in the freezer for 3-4 months. Then you’re ready to make a new batch!