I used to be intimidated by the thought of making my own chicken soup from scratch. This is something I NEVER saw my mother make. I do have fond memories of my grandmother making chicken rice soup from scratch. It was so delicious. However, she used a pressure cooker, and it used to scare the heck out of me. I swear I always thought it was on the verge of exploding. Needless to say, to this day, I have never cooked with a pressure cooker.
My first foray into making chicken stock was rather disappointing. I tried a slow-cooker method using the carcasses from roasted (grocery store deli) chickens. It looked really great when I started out (see below), but the result was a rather watery and pale rendition of chicken stock. I tried using it a few times, and found it was not adding much flavour to my recipes, so I (sadly) tossed the rest.
Stock vs. Broth
Many of you may be wondering, “What is the difference between chicken stock and chicken broth anyway?”. I wasn’t really sure myself, so I had to look it up. Many recipes tend to use the term broth or stock rather loosely and are often interchangeable these days. According to various sources, the major difference is that broth is seasoned (with salt). Stock is prepared without salt, and considered to be a base for cooking something else. Whereas broth can be eaten on its own, should you desire. There you go! Did you learn something new today? I know I did.
For those of you that are new to making stock, here’s a little trick I read about and tried. It works very nicely. You can freeze your stock in ice cube trays, and then store them in a big Ziploc freezer bag or container. Each cube generally holds about 2 tablespoons. There are 16 tablespoons to a cup, so you’d need 8 cubes for 1 cup of stock. You might want to measure your ice cube tray the first time you try this, just to be sure. Another neat suggestion I saw was freezing the stock in muffin tins. You can measure out whatever size you think you’d need the most often (ex. 1/4, 1/2 or 1 cup). Pop them out of the tray once frozen, and store them in a bag or container. I don’t have room to fit a muffin tin in my side-by-side freezer, so I had to stick with the ice cube tray method.
There are many, many variations for making chicken stock on the internet. You can use a whole chicken, chicken pieces, or left-over bones and carcasses. You can even use boneless, skinless chicken breasts. You just have to keep in mind that the bones will give your stock the most flavour. The same goes with dark meat versus white. You can brown your chicken and vegetables in a bit of oil first to give your stock more flavour and colour. You can add herbs and spices. You can get fancy and make a bouquet garni (spice bundle wrapped in cheese cloth) for easier removal after cooking.
I like to keep it simple; very simple. I use whatever chicken parts I have in the freezer or that I bought on sale. This is usually legs with backs or thighs. I leave the skin on and I do not cook anything ahead of time.
When you make stock, the intent is that you will end up with a clear stock (like broth), and discard all the ingredients used to add flavour. Chicken stock usually uses these veggies to add flavour: carrots, onion and celery. Now the question is, if you are planning to make chicken soup with your batch, do you leave the veggies in or discard them once your stock is cooked? I almost always intend to make soup with my stock, so the first time I made this, I followed the recommended steps to chop/dice my veggies and leave them in. I tend to concur with many comments I read online – the veggies end up being very mushy and tasteless. So, even if I plan to make soup from my stock, I toss the cooking veggies and add new ones when I make the soup. I guess it seems a bit wasteful to throw them away, but since they are meant to add flavour, I am okay with knowing they have done their job and can be tossed (or composted if you have that option). With that in mind, I leave the veggie pieces fairly large, so they are easier to scoop out once the stock is done.
Here’s how I make my Chicken Stock:
Simple Homemade Chicken Stock
- Chicken Pieces (2-3 lbs, bone-in)
- 1 Medium Cooking Onion, quartered (I peel mine first)
- 2-3 stalks of celery, cut in about 3 inch lengths
- 1-2 Medium Carrots, again cut in about 3 inch lengths (ends removed, peel if you like)
- Optional: a few cloves of fresh, peeled garlic. Sometimes I throw in some sprigs of fresh herbs if I have them (I like Italian Flat Leaf Parsley). If you have any old, wilty green onions hiding in the back of your crisper, this recipe is a nice place to use them up.
Now, put everything in a nice big pot (preferably a stock pot). Add water until all ingredients are covered (with about 2 inches of water above). Bring to a boil, then reduce to low and simmer for 3-4 hours, skimming off any foam as necessary. Many recipes say to cook uncovered. I am not sure what difference it makes, but I leave my cover partially on, with a some room for steam to escape.
Once cooked, remove and discard the veggies and herbs. Remove the chicken pieces. Separate all the chicken meat, discarding the bones and skin. This chicken meat can be chopped up and used in chicken soup or casseroles.
Strain your stock. I just pour it through a colander (sieve) to get out any stray pieces of chicken bones/skin or veggies. If you want a really clear stock, you can strain it through cheesecloth. Since I am keeping it simple, I skip that step.
At this point, I use my stock right away to make my soup. If I have any leftover, I let it cool down and then put it in the refrigerator overnight. Any fat will rise to the top and congeal in a layer, so it can easily be removed.
Fat or No Fat
Here’s an interesting tidbit I read: You might want to consider the traditional method of leaving the layer of fat on top of the stock. The fat acts as a protective layer against bacteria (in the air), and the stock will last longer. When you want to use the stock, just lift up the layer of fat and remove the amount of needed stock.
Mmmm… My chicken stock is cooking right now, and smells DELICIOUS! How about you? Are you ready to try making some homemade goodness?