Basic Chicken Stock
One of the sad realities of contemporary life is the almost total unavailability of fowls, aged birds of substantial size that are tough but full of flavor and lots of enriching gelatin in the bones. Today’s birds are slaughtered young, before they start producing thin-shelled eggs with double yolks. Those of us who are women can sympathize—osteoporosis and lessened fertility.
The live-poultry markets of the past are disappearing. However, Asian markets will often sell chicken feet that can be added to the other bones to enrich the stock. There is very little point in using (wasting) chicken meat to make stock unless the chicken is wanted for the soup or another purpose such as salad. (See Stock from a Whole Chicken .) Many supermarkets sell backs and necks, or chicken wings can be used. I keep a plastic bag in the freezer and throw in odds and ends of unused chicken parts—necks and wing tips—until I have enough to make stock. Hearts and gizzards can be used; livers cannot.As I roast chicken frequently, I break up the carcass after everyone has eaten and add it, along with any gizzards, hearts, and bones from the plates to my bag or to my pot. Stock made with bones from a roast will have a somewhat darker, deeper flavor; I don’t bother to roast fresh parts or bones when I get them. I simply cover them with water and proceed as in this recipe. For Roasted Chicken Stock, use the bones left over from roasting a chicken, cover with water, and simmer until the bones fall apart. The bones from one 5-pound (2.25-kg) chicken will make about 6 cups (1.5 l) stock. Even though the stocks made in the oven and in the slow-cooker cook for more than twice as long as stock made on the stove, the gelling quality and flavor are the same. This is due to the gentle cooking methods, which extract flavor and gelatin at a slower rate. Any of these stocks needs only seasoning and the vegetable(s) of choice, a starch such as rice or noodles, or an herb—dill is always good with chicken—to be a soup.
While stock does not have to be skimmed continuously after the first skimming when it has come to a boil, occasional skimming is an aid to clear stock. Also, in cases where the fat is very strongly flavored (lamb, for instance), skimming will prevent that strong flavor from getting into the stock. After the stock has finished cooking, it should be allowed to sit for around twenty minutes, when a final skimming can take place.
If it is all possible, the stock should be refrigerated overnight. The fat will rise to the surface and harden, making it easier to remove. The sediment will settle to the bottom of the stock. It can be removed as well. I don’t bother if I am using the stock for an earthy bean soup, but I do if I am making an elegant consommé. To separate the sediment from the bottom of liquid stock, spoon the clear stock from the top, leaving the sediment behind. If the stock has gelled, turn it out of its bowl and scrape off the sediment-laden layer. I tend to eat it. Clarification may remove it, but it is iffy.
Makes10 cups (2.5 l) on top of the stove, 8 cups (2 l) in the oven, 6 cups (1.5 l) in a slow cooker
Make Ahead RecipeYes
Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free
Taste and Texturesavory
Type of Dishstock
- 5 pounds (2.25 kg) chicken backs and necks
- 12 cups (3 l) water
To make this stock on top of the stove, in a tall narrow stockpot, bring the bones and water to a boil. Skim the fat. Lower the heat and simmer gently, so bubbles are barely breaking the surface of the liquid, for at least 4 hours and up to 12; add water as needed to keep the bones covered. Skim as necessary (see Notes) to remove as much fat as possible. If the pot is covered with an otoshi-buta or a lid slightly ajar, there will be less evaporation.
To make the stock in the oven, place a rack on the lowest level of the oven and heat the oven to 250°F (121°C; gas mark #½; #½ British regulo).
In a tall narrow stockpot, bring the bones and water to a boil. Skim the fat. Place in the oven for 4 hours; add water if needed. Remove and skim the fat. Return to the Oven for at least 5 hours and up to 8.
To make the stock in a slow-cooker, start with 2½ pounds (1.1 kg) bones and 6 cups (1.5 l) water for a 4-quart (4-l) cooker. Place the bones in the slow-cooker and pour the water over. Cover and turn the heat on low. Cook for 11 to 12 hours.
In all methods, the bones will be falling apart when the stock is done.
Strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve. Skim fat. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for 3 hours.
Remove the fat from the top of the stock and the sediment from the bottom (see Notes). Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze.
1998 Barbara Kafka