There are so many recipes for making chicken stock but I challenge the fact that you need a recipe for it at all. As many recipes as there are, claiming to be “the best chicken stock”, I believe that best stock will be the one that you can make easily, with whatever time and ingredients you have.
You may be thinking about buying the stock that comes in tetra packs… a method that requires no time or ingredients. While there’s no way of beating the convenience of store bought stock, there is SUCH a difference! Do a taste test if you don’t believe me, and you’ll quickly understand that spending a little bit of time making your own and freezing it for those times when you need to grab-and-go is SO worth it.
Stock vs. Broth
Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but usually there is a distinction.
Stock is the result of gently simmering bones, vegetable scraps and maybe even herbs and spices for a long period of time to extract the flavours and nutrients from these components. The solids are strained out and the stock is not salted or seasoned, as it’s not intended to be consumed on its own. Stock is what you’ll often see as part of a recipe – a component of many soups, sauces, stews, etc..
Broth, on the other hand, is delicious on its own. It’s similar to stock in the way that it’s made, but is then salted and seasoned for direct consumption. Simmering meat, in addition to bones, is common, and it isn’t always cooked for as long. Bits of meat or vegetables are often left behind or added to the broth.
Bone Broth: Ancient Remedy and Latest Trend
Stock and broth have been around for a very long time and have their place across almost every cuisine and culture. While modern research is only starting to be done, they’ve been used as nutritional remedies for many generations.
Simmering bones in water leeches out many of the bone minerals and makes them accessible to us in an easily digestible and assimilable form. Connective tissue (e.g. joints, cartilage) have many nutrients as well, such as gelatin, glucosamine, and chondroitin sulfate. The effects of these compounds on the support of our own connective tissue is being researched and evidence is starting to emerge to support some of the claims.
I’m so glad to see that bone broth is coming back into North American culture as a standalone drink. Many people are starting to talk about the positive impact that consuming bone broth is having on on their digestion, immunity, skin/hair/nails, and joints. While all of this anecdotal evidence should be taken with a grain of salt, I don’t see a reason to wait for the research to come around to get on board with consuming something so delicious and highly esteemed across generations and cultures. I don’t really care for trends, but I’m totally thrilled to see them going in this direction.
Even if you’re not into the whole broth drinking thing, using high quality home-made stock in the preparation of other dishes is a great way to reap the supposed benefits.
Use What you Have
Think about the way that our ancestors made stock. They didn’t have Google or Pinterest telling them about the “10 best chicken stock recipes that you need to make TODAY”. Making stock and broth was about using up your scraps. It was about making the most of your meat and turning your “waste” into something delicious and nourishing. So skip the ingredient list and open your freezer and fridge instead.
What about having time? Making a good gelatinous stock full of minerals takes a while, as you need to simmer it for a long time to extract the flavour and valuable nutrients. That said, if you don’t have the luxury of a day at home with a pot on the stove, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make stock. This article by Serious Eats compares three different ways of making stock (stove top, slow cooker, and pressure cooker). They found that stock from a pressure cooker (made in an hour) actually took the lead in flavour and body, though I’m not sure about the effect that cooking it at a higher temperature has on the nutritional value.
While you may not get full flavour or nutritional benefit, you can also just do a short simmer of bones and veggies. The result is still delicious and free of additives. Short simmer > store bought stock in my books, especially in the summer months. Some sources say that adding a small amount of acid to the cooking water helps speed up the extraction of minerals, but I have yet to try it.
How to Make Chicken Stock Without a Recipe
I’m focusing on chicken today, but this applies to any meat bones that you have.
1) Bones + Water: The first step is to take your raw or cooked bones (I usually use 2-3 raw carcasses in an 8L pot) and cover them with water. The higher your bone to water ratio is, the richer your stock will be, but don’t worry about it too much at this stage, as you can always add more water or reduce the stock later on. The key is to have enough water to submerge your bones and veggie scraps and have enough of a reserve that you can leave it on there for a while without worrying about it all evaporating. Start with bones and water, leave the other ingredients for later.
2) Boil, Skim, and Simmer: Bring it all up to a boil, then skim off the foam if you wish. All that foamy stuff at the top is coagulated proteins and bits from the meat on the bones. It’s probably nutritious, so you can leave it in there, but taking it off yields a clearer stock. Up to you! I skim mine and feed it to the dog.
Lower the heat so that you’re at a gentle simmer. You can cover the pot to slow evaporation, leave it partially covered, or uncovered. I like the latter in the winter, as the evaporating liquid acts as a humidifier for the dry air in the house. Just make sure that you keep an eye on it if its uncovered and refill the water as necessary.
3) Leave it Alone: Leave it on for as long as you wan. Remember that longer simmering = more flavour, body, and nutrients, but the limiting factor here is that you may not have all day to keep an eye on the pot, so do what you can.
4) Add the Aromatics: Add in your veggies, scraps, herbs, and spices an hour or two before you think you’ll be done.
Here are some ideas for what you can use to flavour your chicken stock:
Vegetables: carrots, turnips, parsnips, parsley root, rutabaga, celery stalks, celery root
Alliums: cooking onions, shallots, garlic, leek tops
Herbs (fresh or dried): rosemary, thyme, parsley stems, bay leaf, sage, lovage
Spices: peppercorns, fennel, star anise, cloves, cardamom, allspice, juniper
5) Cool + Strain: Once you’re done, close the pot and let it cool to room temperature. Pass the stock through a strainer, reserving any meat-lined bones. There’s usually a substantial amount of chicken left on the carcasses, which I pick off and either add back to a soup that I’m making or turn into something like this. I feed any stock soaked root veggies to the dog (I have a very lucky dog, if you haven’t noticed) and discard everything else.
6) Refrigerate + Adjust Consistency: Refrigerate the stock for at least 4 hours or overnight. Depending on the amount of skin and connective tissue in your chicken bones, the fat and gelatin content will vary. It’s hard to get full on jello from chicken (unless you’re using feet), but you will see it thicken slightly when refrigerated, which is a good sign of gelatin presence. The fat will accumulate and harden at the top. At this point you can remove the fat if there’s too much, reheat and reduce your stock if it’s not rich enough, or add more water if its too rich or there isn’t enough volume.
7) Use or Freeze: Use the stock within a few days or freeze chilled stock in ziplock bags/containers for future use. Don’t forget to label the volume and any specific flavours/aromatics to make it easier to incorporate into other recipes.