Zuni Chicken Stock

This is the stock we use for most of our soups, for meat and poultry braises, for moistening certain fish dishes, and for making compound meat stocks. It calls for lots of meaty chicken, but is worth the investment; it delivers plenty of balanced, bright flavor. A brew made from the economical “backs, necks, and wing tips” triumvirate does not compare. Chicken stock brewed from mostly bones, especially stockpiled, tired ones, tastes dull to me and isn’t worth the trouble, or even the small expense. I have tasted, and tested with, a dozen different canned chicken stocks, and a few in wax boxes-mostly salted, some salt-free, a few all-natural and organic candidates, most 99 percent fat-free-and found none that has the dear flavor I seek. Odd additives {potato starch, turmeric, dextrose, com syrup, onion powder, MSG} could explain the muddy flavor. “Artisanal” chicken stocks, available at specialty food markets, usually frozen, offer hope-they can be excellent, as good as the ingredients, recipe, and cook responsible for them. But even if they offer convenience, they are not as economical as homemade stock-even this one using whole chicken. Whole birds-with their head {or at least the jointy neck} and feet-are my first choice for stock making. They provide a convenient combination of the meat, bone, connective fibers, and fat that produce great flavor and body. Asian markets are a good place to look for “head-and-feet-on” chickens, and other poultry. And since about 15 percent of the weight is head and feet, they are typically less expensive per pound than “dressed” chicken. Still, you can substitute a small whole chicken and make up the balance with fresh chicken wings, which deliver bright flavor and viscosity. Don’t supplement with backs. If you make double or triple batches of this stock, you probably won’t need to quite double or triple the amount of water; this will depend on your pot’s dimensions. Pay attention to coverage, not quarts. You might also need to increase the cooking time by as much as a few hours to account for a smaller surface-area, to-volume ratio, which restricts evaporation. The amount of salt you use is subject to taste and intended purpose. I use the full measure indicated in the recipe when I am certain to use the chicken stock for a clear soup or risotto. I use the smaller amount when the stock will end up as a reduced sauce, especially one where the compound stock has little added water, as for duck, quail, squab, guinea hen or rabbit.

8 to 10 cups


Total Timehalf-day

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, halal, kosher, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free

Five Ingredients or LessYes

Taste and Texturerich, savory

Type of Dishstock


  • One 5-½-pound chicken, preferably with head and feet, or a smaller dressed chicken plus extra wings to equal 5-½ pounds
  • About 4 quarts cold water (to cover)
  • 1 large carrot (about 4 ounces), peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 stalk celery (about 1 ounce), leaves trimmed off and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 large yellow onion (about 12 ounces), root end trimmed flat, peeled, and quartered
  • 1 to 1-½ teaspoons salt (a little more if using kosher salt)


  1. Remove the giblets from the chicken, if included. Don’t remove the lump of fat you find inside the cavity; it will add flavor. Rinse the chicken. Remove the breast meat (usually 10 to 12 ounces’ worth) for another use: To remove the breasts, poke the tip of your boning knife flat against the sternum (breastbone), then slide the blade smoothly along its length. Repeat on the other side of the sternum. Feel for the collarbone (which is the wishbone), and cut along its inside contour on both sides of the sternum. Use your fingers to pry the breast muscle away from the carcass on one side of the breast. Then, cutting flat against the bone, use the tip of your knife to gradually free the meat as you tug the breast with the other hand. The breast meat sometimes slips free of its skin as you do this. If so, leave the skin attached to the carcass; it will add flavor to the stock. Repeat with the other breast. Next, slash the thigh and leg muscles to encourage the greatest release of flavor during cooking. Cut off the feet, if the bird has them. (This is only so they won’t poke above the surface of the water.) Place the feet and chicken in a deep 8- to to-quart stockpot that holds the chicken snugly. Add the cold water. If 4 quarts of water doesn’t cover the chicken, it is likely your pot is a little too wide-don’t add more water. Instead, remove the chicken, cut off the legs at the hip joint, and then replace all the parts in the pot, arranging them so they sit low enough to be submerged. If a stubborn wing still refuses to stay submerged, cut it off as well and then drop it back in the water. (But don’t, in this effort to consolidate, resort to cutting through the backbone or breastbone.) Bring to a simmer over high heat and skim the foam. Stir the chicken under once-just to allow the last of the foam to rise-reduce the heat, and skim the foam carefully, taking care to leave behind any bright yellow fat that may be starting to appear on the surface. Add the vegetables and salt and stir them under. Bring back to a gentle simmer and adjust the heat to maintain it. If you taste the water now, you will barely be able to detect the salt. Don’t cover the pot.

  2. Maintain that gentle simmer and taste the broth regularly. Don’t add more water, don’t stir, and don’t skim the fat, which will gradually form a “cap” on the broth. Once the stock has a rich, bright, chickeny flavor, usually in about 4 hours, turn off the heat. Leave a minute, to allow the simmer to stop, then pour through a wide strainer. Tipping the hot, heavy pot can be awkward-start by ladling some of the stock through the strainer, enough to make tipping manageable. Or you may choose to fish out the carcass and vegetables as they are gradually exposed. I usually strain the stock first through a medium strainer to filter out the obvious solids, then pour the stock through a fine mesh strainer. When we are serving our chicken stock as clear soup or with pastina in it, we ladle the strained stock through a clean cotton napkin moistened with water. This broth-soup rarely needs any doctoring.

  3. Don’t discard the cooked bird. Every cook I know loves to nibble on the warm meat from the spent stock chickens-it isn’t succulent, having given all it has to the stock, but if you catch it while it is still warm, it is comforting and tasty, especially when you have made the stock with salt.

  4. Cool the stock to room temperature, then cover tightly and place in the refrigerator. Remove the cap of solidified fat only just before you use the stock-it will keep out some air until then. Because it is lightly salted, this stock will keep for about a week refrigerated, but it is practical to divide it into several smaller containers and freeze right away what you won’t need within that time. For freezing, use odorless plastic containers with tight-fitting lids that allow room for expansion as ice crystals form. Remove all the fat from the stock first, and make sure the stock is cold when you fill the containers. Thaw frozen stock slowly in the refrigerator, or slide from the storage vessel into a pot and melt over low heat. For the best flavor, don’t freeze chicken stock for more than a few weeks.


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