Making Chicken Stock or Broth

I delight in making my own home made chicken stock because it’s really like making something from nothing. And you really won’t believe how easy it can be. Like I’m pretty sure you can’t screw this one up. If you could, I would have by now, trust me. The closest I’ve come to screwing it up is forgetting about my stock that was cooling on the counters and not realizing it until the morning when it was too late. Several quarts of beautiful stock down the drain.

Before I begin with the how-to portion of this post, let me persuade you to seek out a locally raised chicken. I know, shock and surprise since everything I post is about local foods. But hear me out. The difference between an okay stock and an amazing stock lies in the quality of chicken you start with. You wouldn’t think the bones of an animal would be any different, but really, truly, a healthier, well cared for animal is not only much healthier for you, it’s also much tastier. We have many options for our purchasing local chicken in West Michigan. (Or you can be all-in like us and raise your own. Raising your own animals can be fun but it’s also a lot of work, so do your research. I mean, I never thought I’d be inside a chicken tractor, in the pouring raining, face to face with 10 unhappy muddy chickens, laying down as much dry bedding as possible while my husband dug a moat around the chicken tractor to re-route the water. Yes, this happened. And it’s part of the reason we never waste a morsel of chicken in this house.)

Now back to making chicken stock or broth. First, the difference between the two. Stock is made from bones, simmered for a long time, resulting in a more robust flavor and having more of the good-for-you gelatin from the bones. Broth is made with meat and bones. Like you can dunk the whole chicken in water, simmer for a long time and boom, have broth. In my world, the difference is whether I have the patience to cook up a whole chicken or if I say,”Screw it!” And throw the whole bird in the water bath. Each way is easy and will result in something beautifully delicious.

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Making a whole chicken and broth in a slow cooker. Minus the carrots because I ran out.

Let’s start with the easiest, set-it-and-forget-it way. Get your slow cooker out. Add either your whole chicken or the chicken carcass. Add water to fill it up. Turn the slow cooker on low. And wait several hours (I’ve swiped some stock out of the slow cooker after 6-8 hours but the longer it cooks, the more it releases the good stuff in the bones). I generally get this started first thing in the morning and let it simmer in the slow cooker for around 10-12 hours.  It can be as easy as that. Just make sure if you’re using the whole bird, you use a meat thermometer and make sure it reads 165 degrees. And make sure if you’re using a new slow cooker, you don’t try to leave the slow cooker on for more than 12 hours because apparently some newer models turn themselves off after 12 hours, unbeknownst to the user resulting in a very sad and angry person in the morning. Not that that happened to me or anything.

But most people add some accompaniments for a tastier product. Throw in a few rinsed, roughly cut carrots, some celery stalks, garlic cloves and a quartered onions. Sometimes I add in a bunch of fresh parsley if I have it. But if you don’t, it won’t make or break the stock. You can add in salt at the beginning, but I like to add it in the end or not at all. I’d rather salt the dish I’m making with the stock. You can always add salt. You can’t take it away.

One tip I learned years back is to add some vinegar to the mix. Vinegar helps break down the bones. Don’t worry, your stock won’t taste like vinegar. I only add about 1 Tablespoon and it does the job. Just don’t be freaked out when your stock cools and it’s all wobbily like Jell-O. That’s a very good thing. That’s the gelatin from the bones and it’s very good for you.

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Frozen celery from the end of the season

Another super cheapo, corner cutting tip: You can freeze your kitchen scraps for making stock! After you rinse your veggies well, you can peel your carrots and freeze the peels to throw in your pot for stock. Sometimes I freeze the celery if it’s gone a little floppy (but obviously not moldy or anything). Make use of the leafy tops you don’t normally eat by freezing them. I froze a bunch of celery from our garden (see the photo above) when the stalks were too skinny for eating but the end of the growing season was near. You can even freeze your chicken carcass until you have time to make stock. Get this: you can even freeze that turkey carcass from Thanksgiving and make stock with that. Shut. The. Front. Door. There, I said it for you because that’s what you were thinking, right?

Moving right along. Now for the slightly more difficult version requiring a tad more of your attention. If you want to make a lot more stock at once, grab the biggest pot you have and get to work. We have a 5 gallon pot we use for everything from beer brewing to making pickles to boiling down maple syrup. You don’t need something that big but it helps when you want to make lots of stock at once. If you have a huge pot, you can add two bird carcasses and make some kick butt stock. The “recipe” is still the same: add carrots, onions, celery, garlic, and some fresh parsley if you have it.

Cooking the stock on the stove has it’s advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is you can make more at once than you can in a slow cooker. The biggest disadvantage is that you will need to keep an eye on the pot. First, you will need to bring the pot to a boil over high heat. Once it’s at a boil, lower the temperature to a simmer. You will need to simmer the pot on a low temperature for at least 4-6 hours, preferably more. I generally let it cook for anywhere from 8-12 hours. It’s not like you need to stand there watching the pot the entire time. But if you filled your pot pretty full with water, you will want to make sure it doesn’t get out of control and boil over. Just check it from time to time to make sure you have a nice slow simmer.

I’m purposely not making this into a recipe, saying exactly how much of each to add. I literally just throw in a couple of each. Once the hubs didn’t add any vegetables, only a chicken carcass, to the pot, and it was delicious. Once I had no carrots and it still worked out. Really truly, it’s pretty fool proof.

Now for the messiest part, pulling everything out of the pot. Take your pot off the heat and let it cool. Then, I take two grocery bags, one inside the other, and use tongs to get the biggest chunks out of the pot. Next I get the smaller stuff out with a fine mesh strainer. Last, I ladle the stock/broth over another mesh strainer into a container. We buy big two quart containers (I think they were from Tractor Supply. I’ve seen them lots of places with the canning supplies). I generally fill up a few smaller containers to use when making rice or recipes that only call for one or two cups of stock. I will cool these off in the refrigerator over night then put in the freezer to store. If I’m going to use it within the next few days, I will ladle it into quart canning jars and put them in the fridge. If you have a pressure canner and the know-how, you can most certainly pressure can the broth. I’ve yet to do this, simply because we tend to use the stock up pretty quickly, so I don’t want to take the time to pressure can it.

 

Once you have some beautiful, homemade stock or broth, the possibilities are endless! The most commonly made soup in our house is chicken noodle soup. But my new favorite is the Bearded Man’s ramen bowl. To. Die. For. Other favorites are broccoli cheddar soup, cauliflower white bean soup or an incredibly easy minestrone. All very easy to make if you keep some basic (and local!) ingredients on hand.

If you enjoyed this post, leave some love for me in the comments section below!

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