There are few staples in my home as often used as chicken stock. Unless we’re talking rice (I love you rice!); but that’s for another time. Chicken stock is amazing. It has about a billion uses, and not just as a liquid soup base; but as a flavor enhancer, sauce extender, quick gravy maker, and water substitute. I could probably extol the virtues of chicken stock all day. How lame is that?! Chicken stock is like the easiest thing to throw in your cart at the grocery store or Costco, I mean they comes in easy to pour tetras, which are rectangle and can be stacked! But you know what’s almost as easy as throwing some stock in your cart? Making it yourself! Plus it’s cheaper because chances are you already have the ingredients on hand!
I’m sure you’ve heard the terms chicken broth, stock and even bone broth. I always thought it was one of those tomato/tom-ah-to things: you say it one way I say it the other. But they actually all mean slightly different things (who would’ve thought?!). Stock, broth, and bone broth all use the same ingredients, that being predominantly roasted chicken bones, water, and sometimes (but not always) vegetables and flavourings. The main difference is in the time they take to cook:
Chicken broth: simmer for 1-2 hours
Chicken Stock: somewhere around 4-6 hours
Bone broth: at least 24 hours. This is the best way to extract the most health benefits and gelatin from the bones and cartilage.
Ultimately, the longer you simmer your chicken bones, the more flavour and health benefits you will be able to extract. Whether or not you choose to just whip up some broth or commit to making some great, full-flavoured bone broth, it really is easy. All you need is some leftover roasted chicken bones, and some water.
But what if you fall into one of these categories?
I don’t buy fancy organic chickens.
Ideally, the chicken you choose when you shop should be organic, or free range, or natural. I use the word ideally, because, let’s face it, sometimes you’ve got to pick up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store because it’s already 6pm and the natives are getting restless. And to keep it real: organic chicken is expensive. I get that. But all is not lost! Your chicken stock isn’t going to be awful, and you won’t be judged for using a rotisserie chicken or a conventional chicken. Throwing out that carcass would just be a sad waste, especially once you understand just what makes those bones, cartilage and bits so special.
I don’t have a whole chicken in my house. Ever.
You’re just not a whole chicken kind of person. Hey, no big deal. Seriously. Just use the leftover bones from your bone-in breasts, legs, thighs, whatever. If you aren’t currently buying your chicken breasts with the bone-in: you really must. Not only are they a bit less expensive per pound, they really do make the chicken taste way better. Bones have lots of flavor and that flavor gets imparted into the meat while it’s cooking. It’s definitely worth trying. You won’t be disappointed.
I don’t have enough leftover bones from last night’s dinner to make a stock.
Also not a problem. Just throw them in a container in the freezer and add to your frozen bone collection until you have a whole chicken’s worth of bones. You can even call it your bone collection. Then you can be that creepy weirdo who has a collection of questionable bones in their freezer.
I just have no time. Really, I am a ridiculously busy person.
I understand. I am a stay at home mom, mostly, so I have the luxury of being present in the home most of the day. I know there are so many people who work all day, then come home and still have to clean, take kids to lessons, go to night school, walk the dog, pack lunches, do laundry, etc, etc, etc. And sometimes there isn’t enough hours in the day for even that. But the great thing about stock is that even if you have no time, you still have time (confusing…). If you are home for an evening or a weekend morning, just throw the ingredients in the pot and keep an eye on it. No stirring, or anything. Just a timer and turn it off when you’re done. Have less time than that? Toss the ingredients in your slow cooker before going to bed, turn it on low, and if you have a slow cooker with a timer, set it for 10-12 hours. If not, just turn it off before you leave for work, throw the slow cooker insert somewhere cool (the garage works awesome in cooler weather). And when you get home from work that day, strain and portion the stock. Done.
So, why am I pushing the need for homemade stock over store bought? Let me explain:
Chicken stock or broth or bone broth is full of amazing stuff. The longer you simmer it, the more benefits you will reap from the bones as they break down. What kind of benefits am I talking about? Oh, you know just fantastic amounts of:
Protein: yup, like 50% based on volume of bones
Gelatin: especially glycine and proline, both of which help reduce inflammation
Vitamins and Minerals: goodies like phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium.
Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs): a.k.a glucosamine. Your knees will thank you!
Collagen: great for skin elasticity
This list is by no means exhaustive, I just wanted to point out some of the major health benefits you can extract from something that is probably just going to be tossed in your food waste otherwise.
To get the most out of the bones, most experts will agree to make a bone broth, which takes up to 24 hours, and is something you can do easily in your slow cooker. But, don’t let that looooong cooking time dissuade you from using those chicken bones. You can also do a great chicken stock in a few hours on your stovetop and still pull out those great bone benefits.
When I first started making chicken stock from free range hens, I thought I was doing something wrong. First of all, after letting it cool overnight, there wasn’t that thick layer of fat, I used to have to scrape off the top. Secondly, the whole pot was thick, like Jell-O. I actually threw out my first batch, totally frustrated that I couldn’t even make a basic stock properly! But, after a random run in with a chicken farmer at a market where I admitted to my shortcomings, I was informed me that that’s how good stock and bone broth should be. That it was the gelatin from the marrow that had been cooked out of the bone. Since then, I’ve been happily making my jiggly chicken stocks and enjoying the benefits in my cooking.
Personally, I like to think of my chicken stock as a way to clear up produce leftovers in my fridge. Some weeks, my stock will be full of fresh herb stalks, celery, shallot, garlic, onions and carrots. Sometimes, it looks rather pitiful, with a squidgy old carrot, half an onion and maybe some peppercorns, if I’m feeling crazy. And if I’m ridiculously organized (which very rarely happens), I’ll keep all the peelings and ends from my onions, carrots, etc in the fridge and then pop them in the stock pot. It’s like compost soup! In the end, it really doesn’t matter what veggies you use, because the stars of the show are those gorgeous roasted bones: even just a plain stock from bones and water will not only give my meals a kick of rich flavor, but my family and I can benefit from the amazing properties of those bones. Yes I know, there are so many recipes out there that call for a million ingredients and herbs and look so beautiful and pinnable sitting there in the pot, but that’s not real life for everyone. Sometimes you’ll only have that lone carrot in the back of your fridge. And that is plenty fine.
Okay, so how I make my stock:
The Easiest Chicken Stock Ever
What you need:
A large dutch oven or deep pot with a lid
Assorted vegetables and herbs (keep it traditional: onions, garlic, celery, carrots, and herbs for the most versatility of your stock)
Salt and pepper to taste (optional)
Strip your chicken carcass if you haven’t already. I don’t get too finicky about it and usually include some skin and meat in my pot. Roughly cut up veggies (in half is fine), and toss in the pot. Fill pot with water until it almost covers the bones. Season with salt and peper if using.
Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, and let it bubble away for a couple of hours. You don’t want a rolling boil, just a soft, slowish bubble. I try to do mine for at least 4-5 hours, which should give you a rich golden broth.
Allow to cool slightly, then strain and portion into freezable containers. I do mine in containers of different sizes so I have some that are 1 cup servings up to 4 cup servings. Then I don’t have to thaw 4 cups, just to use a cup for rice or something.
A batch of stock usually yields me anywhere from 20-24 cups.