TDB Homemade: Chicken Stock

Making your own stock is a good way to make the most out of your food.  And it’s great as a base and flavor enhancer for things like soups, sauces, and rice dishes.  It is not particularly complicated or difficult to do.  It requires time, but very little actual work – just a little forethought and planning, and you can have a constant supply of homemade stock at your fingertips.

A stock can be made from a variety of things leftover from your normal cooking — chicken, vegetables, lamb, lobster, and fish, to name a few.  The kind of stock that is called for most commonly in recipes is chicken stock, so that is what is being explained below in six easy steps.  Keep in mind that the process can easily be applied to make any kind of stock you want.


Save it! Start by saving the bones from your chicken dishes.  Some purists or restauranteurs suggest that a good stock should be made from raw meat and bones purchased solely for this use, but I just use the scraps from dinner with great results.  If you normally eat boneless chicken breasts, consider buying the bone-in split breasts or whole roasting chickens instead.

Unless you have a large family to feed, it’s unlikely that you will accumulate enough bones in one meal to make the stock, so I suggest keeping a gallon-sized zippered storage bag in the freezer (or some other suitable storage container), into which you can toss the bones and any leftover meat that never makes it onto a plate.  Fatty skins can be discarded, especially ones that have been grilled, crusted or coated.  The unused parts of some vegetables can also go in this bag.  Onions, carrots, and celery (also known as the Mirepoix in French cuisine) do a great job at adding flavor to stocks, so I save my unused peels and trimmings from those, too.

Cook it! Once your storage container is full (with about the equivalent of two entire chicken carcasses), you can make your stock.  Place all your reserved trimmings in a large pot (at least 6 quarts).  Cover the contents with just enough water that everything is completely immersed, about 4-5 quarts.  If you have room in your refrigerator, this step can be done 8-12 hours ahead of time (or overnight), which will reduce your total cooking time by about an hour.  Place your pot on the stove and slowly bring the water to just under a boil.  You can add a few peppercorns, a couple bay leaves, or other dried herbs, if you like (such as thyme or rosemary) for flavor.  You do not need to add salt.  As it heats up, a white foam may form on the surface.  This comes from fat and impurities, so scoop it off carefully with a spoon and discard.  Once it is steaming, with just a few small bubbles breaking the surface, and the foam seems to have subsided, cover the pot, turn the heat to the lowest setting and let it cook for 3-4 hours.  You don’t want it to come to a full boil, or even a heavy simmer, because more impurities will be released, which will cloud and pollute your stock.  Check the pot on occasion — add more water, if needed, to keep the contents covered.  Your house will begin to smell divine!

Strain it! Turn off the heat and let it sit for 15 minutes.  This allows it to cool just slightly so that you won’t burn yourself terribly.  Using tongs, or a large slotted spoon (I have a large wire scoop meant for fishing items from a fryer that works well), remove all the large bones and vegetable pieces and discard them.  Don’t worry about squeezing out every drop of liquid because that, again, can add unwanted impurities to the stock.  Next, carefully pour the remaining contents of the pot through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl (you may need more than one bowl).  A second pass through some cheese cloth, a coffee filter, or the sieve again is a good idea, to remove the small particles and clarify your stock as much as possible before cooling.

Cool it! Next is the trickiest part of the process — cooling the stock quickly enough to avoid bacterial growth without heating the contents of your refrigerator to the point that everything spoils.  If the weather outside is 40° F or below, and you have an outside location that is clean and isolated from pesky intruders, cover or seal it tightly and put it outside to cool off.  Otherwise, cool it slightly before placing it in the refrigerator by bathing the bowl in ice water or surrounding it with some reusable ice-packs.  Replace the ice packs / ice bath as needed until it is just warm (not hot) to the touch.  Try not to disturb the stock (by shaking, stirring, etc.) while it is cooling.  The fat contents will rise to the surface, and it’s best to leave that process uninhibited.  Let the stock cool overnight in the refrigerator.

Skim it! Once the stock has completely cooled, you will find a white layer coating the top, which is fat (sometimes called the scum or the schmaltz).  This needs to be carefully removed with a spoon.  Sometimes it coagulates as you skim the surface — just scoop it up and discard it before it sinks.  The stock itself may be gelatinized from, well, the gelatin in the chicken bones.  This is fine because it will liquefy as soon as it is heated.

Store it! Unless you intend to use your stock to make a large pot of soup right away, it is best to store it in the freezer.  I find it convenient to freeze stock in 3 different amounts.  One-ounce ice cubes are perfect for adding to sauces, stir fry, gravy, etc.  One-cup portions are perfect for adding to savory grain dishes, such as rice.  One-quart sizes are great for soups and stews.  Be sure to store each in a baggie or container that is designated for the freezer (breast milk storage bags are perfect for the one-cup size).

The stock will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator and at least 3 months in the freezer, but a batch never lasts much more than a few weeks for me.  It’s one of the easiest ways to infuse flavor into your meals.  Below are a few ideas for how to use chicken stock.

Mushroom Wheat Berry Pilaf Recipe by Alton Brown – There’s a lot of depth to the flavor of this recipe.  I’ve served this several times to family and friends, and people always go back for seconds!

Italian Wedding Soup Recipe – I have tried a lot of recipes for Italian Wedding Soup, and this is very good.

Lentil Soup – One of our Two Dancing Buckeyes favorites!

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  1. Chili (with ostrich) « Two Dancing Buckeyes

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