Homemade Chicken Stock Recipe: Why Settle for Store-bought?

home-made chicken stock

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Part 2 of 2 in a series: If you read my previous post on chicken noodle soup, you may know that I had planned to post the below homemade chicken stock recipe article last week. Unfortunately, I spent last week keeled over with a fierce cold. So rather than an elaborate post describing the joys of stock-making, things got shuffled up a bit as I jumped right to the subject of using the resulting chicken stock in a quick and dirty cure for the common cold. For those, who feel cheated, here now – and a week late – is my recipe for home-made chicken stock. If you’re only just joining us, keep reading and then check out part 1 in the series for a perfectly good use for the resulting chicken stock.

I found myself in possession of a chicken carcass yesterday. And a chicken carcass, as they say, is a terrible thing to waste. See, I had roasted up a nice, big, organic chicken for another project and after having hungrily picked all the meat off the bones, I was left with a considerable pile of bones, connective tissue, skin and what have you. Now, normally, we would probably think it natural to dump all those nasty, greasy pieces in the trash, but I am here today to tell you that there are other ways… And that those ways are not only rewarding in more ways than one but also money-saving. I’m talking, of course, about making home-made stock.

“Homemade chicken stock, one of life’s simple pleasuresHomemade chicken stock, one of life’s simple pleasures

Now, I know what you’re thinking: it’s okay to discard of any evidence left behind from Saturday night’s roast chicken dinner. After all, making stock takes time, is complicated and totally not worth the trouble, right? Ahem, not quite so, friends! Actually, first and foremost, I’m willing to bet that if you think home-made stock is not worth the trouble, then you’ve either never made home-made stock or you’ve not done it quite right. In either case, I feel for you, and hope I can inspire you to try (again) and by trying, prove yourself wrong. Secondly, while buying ready-made stock is certainly easier, making stock at home – as we shall soon see – is by no means particularly complicated. The fruits of your labor are, however, considerably better than store-bought stock and a million times more gratifying:

Home-made stock is not only cleaner, leaner, tastier and more natural than most anything you’ll find at a store, it is also one of those must-conquer tasks for any budding home cook; an item to cross off the bucket to-do list while proudly (and loudly) proclaiming: “I fuckin’ made this! HIGH FIVE!

But home-made stock is more than good eats and bragging rights, it’s also a cheap way of wringing more flavor from toss-away scraps and it helps us make the most of the food we buy. The latter, actually, is a subject I’ve given a lot of thought to in the early weeks of 2015 and part of the reason I wanted to bring up the subject of stock-making.

 

Food is a terrible thing to waste: a New Year’s resolution

Those of you who have been following my writings and musings for the past year, will know that 2014 is the year I went really big on quality of ingredients and, specifically, quality of meat. Being a great animal-lover as well as a passionate meat-eater, I’ve spent countless posts advocating organic, free-range meat from reputable producers. Having not faced a noticeable change of heart in the new year, I’ve continued this desire to eat better and more ethically in 2015 – only this year I’ve combined it with another food-related dogma: to reduce the amount of food I put to waste!

“A Beautifully roasted chickenA beautifully roasted chicken is just the beginning!

What this means is I’ve started thinking more about the food I eat and about making the most of it. It’s in no way about changing what or how I eat, it’s simply a matter of eating better and making best use of what I purchase for consumption. By, for example, thoroughly picking the meat off a roasted chicken, using it in various different applications, and then using whatever’s left to make stock. I do not do this for new-found, idealist, hippie reasons, I do this simply because I love food and I wish for myself and future generations to continue to enjoy good food.

Our current production methods are putting extreme strain on the planet and once I realised that a large part of our current food production ends up in garbage bins in the Western world, I sort of figured we could do better, that I could do better. So now I try, and the results have been pretty spectacular so far. Granted, the actions of one little man may not matter much on a global scale, but at least overproduction and senseless killings of animals isn’t happening on my watch and it’s my hope that with this one man being a moderately popular and somewhat trusted food blogger, that my little stint might actually inspire others. Coincidentally, this new “crazy” idea of mine has not only helped me eat better and with more diversity, it has also helped me save a bunch on groceries. And it may help you, too.

How is that, you ask? Well, even if we can deduct, in a totally non-scientific manner, that, say, an organic free-range chicken is at least twice as tasty as a conventionally bred chicken, justifying the extra cost may still be tough for some, present company included. The obvious solution here would, of course, be cheaper organic products, but until that solution magically rolls around, the best solution at hand is to try our damnedest to squeeze as many flavorful meals as possible out of our organic chicken at hand, thus justifying spending the extra money both ethically and financially.

One way of doing this is by buying a quality bird, roasting it low and slow to preserve volume and juiciness, then carefully dismembering and picking the bones, making sure to pick off every scrap of meat and using it up in some way, shape or form, whether for soups, casseroles, sandwiches, chicken salad or what have you. The things that we cannot eat, try as we might: bones, cartilage, connective tissue, wing tips, left-over skin and whatever, we will save for stock-making. Thusly, something that we would otherwise just throw away, given a little time and a few scraps of veggies, will help us create a product (i.e. stock) that we would otherwise gladly spend a few dollars on at the store. And a dollar saved, as they say, is a dollar earned. Or a dollar less paid for chicken!

Chablis, always a winnerNeed more excuses to make home-made stock? White wine is a vitally important totally optional ingredient.

Don’t feel like making stock just now? Cooked a chicken, don’t quite have the time or energy to make stock? If you have room in the freezer, freeze the bones and put them to good use later.

Still don’t think it’s worth it? Let’s break it up: A large organic chicken, aside from feeding 3-4 hungry diners with bits to spare, will easily make 4-5 liters of kick-ass home-made chicken stock at the added expense of a few bits of vegetation, some water, a few herbs, some gas or electricity and a couple of hour’s worth of your time. How’s that not worth it? Did I mention chicks really dig a guy who can make his own stock? And guys, too, probably dig chicks who… Ahem, but, I digress. Now, where was I? Oh right, stock!

As I was hinting in the beginning of this post, I have been feeling quite under the weather lately, and as the old saying goes: when life gives you colds, make chicken soup. But to make soup, first one must make stock. And while I know now that stock-making is not the most fun project to undertake when you’re batteling a head cold, it’s actually – under normal circumstances – an easy and exceedingly rewarding task to undertake on a normal lazy Sunday afternoon.

 

Dark chicken stock: Taking stock of the situation

A good soup, as well as most great sauces, stews and other good things start with a good stock. And a good stock is a horribly complicated thing to make, right? Well, you’d think so judging by the questions, pleas and at times downright terrified enquiries I get from friends and readers alike. But making stock, my friends, is not difficult. Honestly. It merely seems that way because it’s a somewhat lengthy process involving quite a few steps. In actuality, making stock is no harder than making stew. It is, in fact, an eerily similar process. And as with stews, all you need to make killer home-made stock, is a slight hint of confidence and a few basic things:

Good ingredients: My most repeated mantra on this blog is undoubtedly that you can’t make great food with poor ingredients. Shockingly, or maybe not quite so, this goes for stock as well. Bear in mind, that stock is mainly made up of water, a liquid that is more known for is thermal conducting powers than its great flavor. This means that every molecule of flavor must be coaxed out of the ingredients you dump into your stockpot along with the water. So make them count. Crap tasteless ingredients makes for crap tasteless stock. It’s perfectly alright to use odd bits and ends for stock making, just make sure they’re tasty odd bits and ends.

A very hot oven: Want really deeply flavoured stock? Then you need to realise that before we can properly extract flavor from our ingredients, we need to really put the hurt to them – by browning them well and thoroughly! This, if you ask me, is a crucial (and sometimes overlooked) step in stock making. We’re taking the time to thoroughly brown our stock ingredients for the very same reason that we usually sear ingredients in our stew recipes: because browning equals caramelization and caramelization equals new, deep and interesting flavors. I start my stocks, whether beef or chicken, by thoroughly browning both bones, scraps and vegetables in a screaming hot oven for a good 15-30 minutes. The deep, roasted flavors add unbelievable intensity and body to the finished stock.

Dark Chicken Stock: We all know there are two kinds of people in this world; those who like bacon and the people I don’t talk to. But did you know there are also two kinds of chicken stock? A light and a dark. Dark chicken stock, the subject of this post, is made using a well-browned carcass and roasted vegetables while light chicken stock is usually made by simmering an entire chicken with vegetables and aromatics, and usually an old, tough chicken at that. Both methods make a great stock. But what’s the difference other than color? A more deep, roasted flavor on the part of the dark stock, if you ask me.

A large pot: Obviously if you’re going to make stock, you’ll need a pot large enough to hold all ingredients plus enough water to cover. I’d recommend something in the 10-12 liter range as a starting point. That may seem like a daunting investment for some home cooks, especially if they’re new to the wonderful world of stock making, but believe me, you’ll grow to love your large stock pot! I’ve tried working with smaller pots, and trust me on this one: you’ll rather quickly have a whole lot of cursing going!

Time and a little bit of patience: Home-made stock takes time, a lot of time. Six to eight hours of your time to be exact. And you’ll need to watch the pot regularly, making sure it maintains a slow, steady simmer. Anything less than a simmer and you won’t get sufficient flavor extraction, too rolling of a boil and your stock will become cloudy and suffer flavorwise. The same goes, by the way, if you don’t periodically (say once every 30 minutes) remove the scum that rises to the surface during cooking. Resist the urge (what urge?) to watch the pot religiously through the entire cooking process, it’d make for a very boring day, but do check in on things every 30-60 minutes throughout the day and things should be okay.

ChillingThere are tons of things you can do while your stock simmers away… Like, uh, taking a nap on the couch with a curiously small dog on your lap.

A good recipe: In the end, your stock will be no better than the sum of your ingredients and the recipe/procedure you follow. And as far as recipes and procedures go, there are many. I’ve worked with a ton of recipes (four of them, at least!) over the years and have eventually settled on the one below. It’s based largely on Chef John Currence’s recipe printed in his most awesome cookbook Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey – with a bit of Alton Brown and other influences thrown in for good measure. This recipe produces what I consider a more than fairly decent stock, but you shouldn’t let that keep you from experimenting and elaborating on it.

I’ve based this recipe on a single carcass from a relatively large chicken, but you can easily double (or triple) it as you see fit. What matters is that you have a pot large enough to accommodate your ingredients and enough water to cover said ingredients by about an inch.

Dark Chicken Stock

Course Culinary basics
Cuisine French
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Total Time 6 hours 15 minutes
Author Johan Johansen

Ingredients

  • Remainder of one large chicken: bones skin, and other inedible bits
  • 2-3 medium-sized onions cut in quarters
  • 2 large carrots roughly chopped
  • 3 stalks of celery roughly chopped (leaves and all)
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic smashed
  • 3 bay leaves
  • about 10 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • about 10 sprigs of flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon of black pepper corns
  • 200 ml of white wine optional, can substitute water

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to as high as it will go.
  2. While oven is heating, place chicken bits, onions, carrots and celery in a large roasting pan.
  3. Place roasting pan in oven and roast for about ten minutes until vegetables are browned.
  4. Stir vegetables to expose unbrowned parts and continue roasting till thoroughly browned all over.
  5. Remove roasting pan from the oven and dump contents into a stock pot. At this point also add the garlic, black pepper, bay leaves, thyme and parsley.
  6. Place roasting pan on the stove or other steady surface, then add the wine (or water) and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula to loosen any caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan.
  7. Pour the liquid into the stock pot and supplement with enough cold water to cover the bones and vegetables by about an inch.
  8. Turn heat to high under the stock pot and bring to a boil.
  9. As soon as the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low so that the liquid barely simmers.
  10. You will notice a lot of foam rising to the top as the liquid comes to a boil. Use a spoon or ladle to carefully remove as much of this as you possibly can and discard.
  11. Continue to cook at a gentle simmer for a minimum of four hours, 6-8 would be better.
  12. Once every half hour or so, carefully remove any scum that has collected on the surface of the stock.
  13. After 4-8 hours, remove the stock pan from the heat and very carefully strain into a smaller pot, discarding all solids.
  14. What you have now, is a basic dark chicken stock. You can continue to simmer for several more hours to make a reduced, more concentrated chicken stock or you can use as is.
  15. When you’re happy with the results, bring your stock down to room temperature as quickly as possible then refrigerate till cold.

Recipe Notes

After refrigerating, you’ll notice that a disc of fat has collected on top of the stock. Jewish people call this stuff schmalz and it’s damn good stuff culinarily speaking. Carefully remove the congealed fat and keep it well-covered in the fridge. Use it for frying or adding flavor to stews or other dishes. It’s a terrible thing to waste.

Your home-made stock will keep for about four days in the fridge and up to six months in the freezer.

Highway to the danger zone: On stock-making and food safety! No matter which gospel of cooking you subscribe to, you will know that to reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses, prepared foods not meant for immediate consumption will have to be chilled as quickly as possible after preparation. Now, quickly chilling a large pot of stock may pose a bit of a problem to most home cooks. You could stick it in the fridge, but if you did after a few hours you’d be left with hot stock and, well, a hot fridge. So that’s no good. Instead, think creatively. If you’re cooking stock in the winter months, consider putting the warm pot outside (covered, mind you), or in an unheated cellar or hallway. Once cooled, refrigerate or freeze. Alternatively you can submerge the pot in a large cooler or kitchen sink filled with ice and/or cold water.

Congratulations, you have created home-made stock, one of the most versatile and culinary building blocks known to man, and something substantially different from what you will get off the supermarket shelf.

 

Home-made vs store-bought stock: What’s the difference?

All this talk of processes and ingredients probably begs a couple of questions: Is it truly worth it? And what’s so special about home-made stock. Well, last things first: The main difference between home-made and store-bought stock is probably in the number of ingredients and the type of ingredients.

Whereas our home-made variety is made using whole relatively few, fresh all-natural ingredients, the store-bought counterpart will more than likely be made using concentrated, dehydrated ingredients of more or less natural origin most often mixed with a plethora of chemical flavor boosters and aromas. When store-bought still kind of feels like the real thing, even after leading a long, happy life on the supermarket shelf, it’s usually because various preservatives, salts, textural agents and what have you were added to the mix to at least make it look, smell and feel like the real thing.

Supermarket stock ingredientsThese are just some of the ingredients of a popular supermarket stock… I know, scary right?

Does that mean I always use home-made stock in my cooking? No, of course not! I want to, I try to, and whenever possible I try never to let a perfectly good bones go to waste. But there are times, believe me, when I, too, take the easy route and go with a store-bought stock. When I do, though, I look for a few things. The first would be the words “organic” and/or “natural”, the second would definitely be the words “low sodium” and the third would be an understandable list of ingredients. Ideally, you’d want to know and understand each single entry on the ingredients list and more importantly, you should feel that most of them belong in your stock of choice. If you start seeing a long list of artificial ingredients, it’s time to put down the stock and start backing away. If said stock comes in the shape of a cube, there’s no need to even examine the package at all. Stock cubes are salt bombs laden with chemicals, additives and, oh, about .5 % pulverized meat by-products. On a good day, that is.

My point is, if you’re going to use store-bought stock, by all means, go ahead. But do try to find a good, natural one with as few ingredients as possible! Your palate and your body will thank you! That being said, if you have not yet made your own home-made stock, now is as good a time as any to start. Do give it a try, it’s easier than you think, and the difference in taste, aroma and texture is remarkable!

Because we made our stock by carefully simmering natural ingredients for hours on end, our end result will be a deep, flavorful, natural, lean and healthy product with a clean, natural yet concentrated taste and a naturally thick and pleasing mouth-feel. The aromas and flavors of our stock come solely from the ingredients we used while the thick, lovely mouthfeel is a result not of added fat or textural agents, but of natural gelatine that has been slowly rendered from bones and connective tissue after hours of slow cooking.

Granted, if you’re only used to store-bought stock, you may be in for a bit of a change of perspective: While the aromas of home-made stock are out of this world and the flavors are deep and incredibly complex, they may be a little less , ahem, overpowering than you’re used to from supermarket stocks. What I mean is that home-made stocks add flavors that are slightly more subtle yet deep and integrate far better into the final dish you’re making. Store-bought stocks, on the other hand, offer instant gratification in the shape of a quick, concentrated punch in the face chicken-y flavor, brought on by an intense concentration process often helped along by a large dose of MSG and many other far scarier additives.

In other words, don’t be surprised if your first home-made stock seems a little underwhelming (for lack of a better word) at first. If it does, it’s probably an indication that you’ve been drinking the supermarket juice for too long. Give it another go and you’ll suddenly start to appreciate the deep, natural flavor and the many subtle nuances that most supermarket products lack. Oh and if you’re still not quite happy, luckily there are quite a few secret (and natural) weapons that we can employ to make our home-made stock even more concentrated and flavorful.

 

Flavor boosting home-made stock

If, for whatever reason, you think your home-made stock that you spent hours slaving over is not up to par, the first thing you need to do is appreciate the immortal words of Douglas Adams: Don’t Panic! Don’t start fussing, frowning or draining things down the sink, swearing never to repeat the process again. Instead, consider these three facts:

The stock we just produced is a hell of a lot less concentrated than what you would get in most stores, one way or another. It’s also a hell of a lot less salty as we haven’t really added any salt at all during cooking. Oh, and last but not least, it’s free of flavor boosters, natural or unnatural. Obviously, this means there are quite a few things we can do to make our newly made stock more flavorful and pungent:

 

1. Reduce it down to intensify flavor

If you feel that the taste and depth of your stock isn’t really up to par, The fist thing I’d suggest is simply reducing it down some more. After all, reducing the water content will substantially boost the flavor. Put some heat under your stock and let it bubble away gently. Taste it as it goes and you’ll realize that the more you reduce it, the more concentrated the flavor becomes. And the less stock you’ll have in the end, obviously. It’s a bit of a trade-off here.

 

2. Add (natural) flavor enhancers

Still not quite there? Try adding a bit of Fish Sauce of Worcestershire Sauce to your stock. Weird as it may well sound, it just plain works. Without turning at all fish. Fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce (of which fish sauce is a major ingredient) are packed full of a wonderful thing called umami. Umami is a mysterious and absolutely wonderful flavor component with the rather convenient property of substantially boosting other flavors in dishes it touches, all while bringning new deep, meaty  flavors to the party. So go on, add a few drops of fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce to your stock right at the end of the cooking process, you’ll be absolutely blown away by the difference it makes! For the same reason, go slow and start with a small splash along with a pinch of salt. Let it heat through and try tasting it again. You should notice a considerable difference. Add a little more if things are still not quite to your liking.

Worcestershire Sauce“Wooshter” sauce – the ultimate in secret weapons!

3) Just add salt!

A major reason supermarket stocks are so seemingly in-your-face packed with “flavor” is because they’re absolutely loaded with salt. And, as we know, salt is a great enhancer of flavor. If after trying all of the above, you feel your stock is still a little bland, simply add a sprinkle or two of salt and you’ll see your stock instantly come alive with flavor, depth and character as by a stroke of magic. So, if it’s that easy, why did I save this top tip till last? Well, quite simply, dear reader: I want you to do all of the above first. Most importantly so the reduction. You see, as we slowly reduce something down over the course of several hours or more, water will slowly evaporate thus increasing the percentage of all other components in the stock; including the salt! So it goes to reason that if we kick things off salting the pot to perfection, it will be overly salty and borderline inedible after a couple of hours of reduction time. We can always add more salt to a dish, but as most home cooks and professional chefs alike will know, removing excess salt for a dish is a bit of a nightmare. So go slow at first.

So, remember: to make good stock, we start with quality ingredients, we simmer them low and slow for hours on end, and then we strain. If need be, we reduce the resulting liquid down a bit to create more flavor, we add a bit of natural flavor boosters in the form of fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce and last, but not least, we may add an extra pinch of salt (or two) for extra flavor. And that, really, is our quick guide to home-made stock, one of life’s biggest pleasures and one of the culinary world’s best and most versatile building blocks.

 

What to do with home-made stock

Obviously, one of the best uses for home-made stock is soup! Since cold season has grasped the northern hemisphere and the subject of this post is chicken stock, one obvious and bold suggestion would be my 30 minute cure-all spicy chicken noodle soup: a great choice for a quick and filling meal whether you’re actually sick or not. If that’s not your thing, a plethora of other soups would benefit from a shot of chicken stock, including but not limited to most vegetable sounds and cream of, well, basically cream of anything soup (including another use for left-overs, cream of left-over asparagus soup ).

Cream of jerusalem artichoke soup with lobsterSo many great things are built on chicken stock, like this cream of jerusalem artichoke soup with lobster

If soup is not really your thing, and I don’t necessarily blame you, stock is also a perfect building block for sauces or flavorful stews, you can even use stocks for poaching meats or vegetables for an extra kick of flavor. The opportunities are nearly endless and if you stock your fridge and freezer with home-made stock (no pun intended), you’ll quickly find out that you’re using it up faster than you can think up ideas.

Well, I hope this long rant has inspired you to consider giving up on the supermarket stocks or at least supplementing them with a bit of your own from now on. Hopefully the next time you find yourself with the left-overs of one or more roast chickens, you’ll consider going the extra mile rather than just dumping the carcasses in the trash. A chicken carcass, after all, is a terrible thing to waste. Right?

Thoughts? Comments? Suggestions? Leave a Reply!