In the Cook Without a Recipe series, we look at different essential cooking skills that can turn a non-cook into a home cook pro. Don’t worry, there’s still a recipe at the end, but after doing this a few times, you won’t need it.
Chicken stock is one of the unseen work horses of good food. Long before it was hip to call it “bone broth”, home cooks have been making their food taste awesome with chicken stock. You may roll your eyes at the idea of making your own stock, or at even having the time to make your own stock, but it requires very little hands-on work and can be done using scraps that you would otherwise relegate to the trash. If you don’t want the long version of how to make chicken stock/bone broth, scroll down to the part that says Cook Without a Recipe; however, there are dozens of ways to make a stock and knowing the basics of stock making is a major factor in home cooking made easy, so think of this as your first step towards many delicious meals in your future.
The most important ingredient in bone broth is bones. Go figure, eh? But really, the kind of bones you use are vital to stock. You need enough joint bones (like chicken backs, necks, wings, and feet) in proportion to marrow bones (long bones that contain marrow, like leg bones) to achieve the proper body in your stock. Joint bones contain gelatin, which is what gives soups and sauces made with good stock that lip-smacking viscosity that we all love. I like to use mostly joint bones with just a few marrow bones thrown in there for flavor. If you don’t have access to a bunch of joint bones, don’t worry. Your stock will still be immeasurably better than the boxed stuff. To put this all into practical terms, here’s what I do: I roast one chicken a week and save the carcass in the freezer. Once I have a few carcasses saved up, I use them to make a pot of stock, and if I can get my hands on some chicken feet, I’ll add those to the pot for extra body.
Next, we have aromatics, which is just a fancy way of saying vegetables that smell really good when you cook them. Onions, celery, carrots, and garlic are common choices and almost always end up in my stock, but leeks and fennel aren’t unheard of; just stay away from cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, and brussels sprouts. They tend to add a sulfurous quality that no one wants in their broth. As you use carrots, onions, and celery through the week, you can save the scraps in the freezer and use them in your stock. You can add the aromatics at the beginning of cooking or wait until the last hour or so and then add them. Some people say that adding them at the beginning lends too much bitterness from overcooking, but I don’t notice it unless I’m making an overnight stock (that’s another post), so I generally add mine when I start the stock.
Finally, herbs and spices can be added for additional flavor. I almost always use bay leaf, black peppercorns, and salt. I generally don’t add herbs to my stock, since I may not want every dish I make from that batch of stock to have herbal overtones and can just add fresh herbs to the stock later when I’m cooking with it if I need to, but fresh thyme and parsley are good additions if you feel so inclined. In either case, when you use herbs, save the stems in the freezer- they’re normally just as flavorful as the leaves and can be used to flavor your stock. Additionally, if you are making stock for health purposes, you can add a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to draw minerals out of the bones and into the broth.
Put it all together
Once you have all of your ingredients ready, you’ll need to put them in a stock pot and add enough cold water to cover everything by a couple of inches, bring it to a simmer, then turn the heat down and maintain it so that the water is barely bubbling every few seconds. The most common mistake people make when preparing stock is letting it cook at a full boil. This degrades all of the prized gelatin you’re working to extract, resulting in a thinner, less viscous stock; it also makes for a cloudy final product, which is purely aesthetic and doesn’t alter the flavor, but it can make some soups look less appetizing. Let the stock lightly bubble away on the stove for at least 4 hours and up to 8. Let the stock cool for a bit on the stove, then strain the liquid and pour into freezable storage containers. I like to let mine cool a bit more before covering and freezing to avoid any thermal shock disasters with my glass storage bowls, but that’s your call. Stock will store in the freezer for months and in the fridge for several days to a week.
Cook Without a Recipe: Chicken Stock
The only truly necessary ingredients here are bones and water. Everything else is there for flavor, but if you don’t have all of these ingredients, you can still go ahead and make your chicken stock. I rarely have all of this in one pot.
2-3 chicken carcasses, necks/backbones included, either raw or from an already roasted bird (roasted bones will have a more robust flavor)
1 large onion, peeled and cut in half
2 carrots, or the equivalent in carrot scraps you’ve saved in the freezer
2 stalks celery, or the equivalent in celery scraps you’ve saved in the freezer
1 head garlic, cut in half along the equator (remove any loose papery skins, but don’t worry about totally peeling it)
A few brown mushrooms
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
Black peppercorns, to taste
1. Place all ingredients in a stock pot and cover with cold water by a couple of inches. Slowly bring to a simmer, then lower the heat and maintain so that the water is barely bubbling. You want a bubble every few seconds at most.
2. Cook for 4-8 hours, then remove from heat and let cool enough so that splashes won’t scald you when you are straining the liquid. Strain the liquid into freezer-safe containers, then store in the fridge for up to a week or the freezer for several months. I prefer to let the stock cool to room temperature before freezing to avoid weakening my glass containers. Use in soups, risottos, sauces, or anywhere else chicken stock is called for.