Stock is something I think a lot of home cooks are afraid to attempt, which is too bad because it’s actually very easy and not particularly labor intensive. Homemade stock is so much better than stock or broth from a can/box/dry cube. It lacks the shelf stability of these products, of course, but a sealed container in the freezer will keep pretty much indefinitely. As you can see in my tortilla soup post, I just pop the frozen stock out of the container like a giant ice cube and thaw it out in the pot while I’m preparing my other ingredients.
The main use for stock is of course for soups, but it’s much more versatile than that. You’ll want a nice rich stock if you’re making risotto, for example. It’s great for sauces and gravies, and you can braise things in it for extra flavor. Stock takes several hours to make, but the actual labor portion is only 15-20 minutes – the rest is simmering time.
Today’s pot of stock is a chicken stock. I’ve been collecting chicken bits to use in this batch for a while now, including the picked carcasses from the tortilla soup post and the lemon garlic chicken post, as well as the wing tips I removed while prepping the smoked chicken wings. I also had one additional large picked carcass, a $5 rotisserie chicken from Costco that we used to make sandwiches. You can make stock with just one chicken carcass, but I like to fill the pot with bones to get a nice gelatinous final product.
Here’s my big pile of picked chicken:
I took them out of the freezer before I started everything else, but mostly so they would come out of the containers more easily. You don’t need to thaw your bones before you start the stock simmering. This is a mixture of cooked and raw chicken – the bags are all roasted or rotisserie chicken, and the wing tips are raw.
A second major component in stock is the mirepoix. Mirepoix is a fancy French term for the combination of celery, carrots, and onion.
~An 8-oz. package of celery, root removed, chopped roughly~
~1/2 a large sweet onion, diced~
~4 medium carrots, cut into rounds~
As well as:
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp whole peppercorns
Melt the butter in the bottom of your stock pot and then toss in the mirepoix and the garlic. Saute for a few minutes until everything starts to soften. The smell this produces is absolutely amazing, by the way – don’t do this on an empty stomach!
Once these have cooked down a bit, toss in the peppercorns. I usually add a bay leaf or two at this point, but I ran out recently and forgot to get more at the store today. You can also add pretty much any fresh or dry herb you like.
Next I added in the chicken. Because it was still largely frozen, it stacked up in the stock pot like so:
Doesn’t look super appetizing, I know, but I promise the result is totally worth it. Don’t worry about the blocks of frozen meat and bones – this will break down as it thaws, and you can go back after 45 minutes or so and bust things up a bit with a spoon or spatula.
I added enough water to cover all but the very top of the bones (about 2 inches from the lip of the stock pot), lidded, and turned the temperature to about 5-6 on the dial. (If it starts to boil at this setting, turn it down a bit.)
Then it was time to walk away.
You’ll want to give the stock 3-4 hours to simmer. During this time it really doesn’t need any interference – you might stir it a bit to make sure everything is moving freely, but that’s about it. You’ll start to see the liquid turn from clear to a pale brownish or yellow color. If you prefer a more concentrated stock, leave the lid off. There will be less stock in the pot at the end, due to evaporation, but it will have a stronger flavor. I removed the lid about 2 hours into my simmer on this particular batch.
When you feel that your stock is finished, strain it. I usually use a large glass mixing bowl and balance the colander on the top, then dump the stock back into the stock pot, but I recently acquired a second, smaller stock pot that I can strain into as well. You can save the material you strained out and make a second batch of stock from it, but it will be weaker. I usually don’t bother with this. You can also pick through the strained material when it’s cooled a bit and rescue any chicken meat that has come loose from the bones – it’s often too dry and overcooked to eat straight, but it’s pretty good chopped up and made into chicken salad.
Use a bowl full of ice to cool the stock quickly (nestle the pot in the ice), so you can put it in the refrigerator without heating up everything inside. In winter I’ll sometimes take the pot of stock outside and set it on the driveway, or embed it in the snow if we have snow on the ground.
I find that 2 quarts is an excellent size container for stock. Seal your stock up tightly and either refrigerate or freeze it as soon as it’s relatively cool. Stock is a breeding ground for bacteria, so if you don’t plan to use it in the next 24 hours, freeze it. If you’ve used lots of bones, you may find that your stock has a texture reminiscent of Jell-O when cold. Don’t worry, it will become liquid again at higher temperatures.
Finally, be aware that there is no salt in your stock. Unless the chicken carcasses you used were very salty, nothing in the recipe has added any saltiness to the final product. Keep this in mind when you use the stock in your cooking.