If you’ve never tasted the delights of real chicken stock, you might wonder if it’s worth the time and effort to make. However, this recipe requires next to no maintenance, and uses up scraps left over from chicken dinners. The resulting stock is not only far tastier than powdered stock, but MSG-free and full of calcium, gelatin, and other nutritious goodies.
How to Save Chicken for Stock
The goodness of chicken stock largely comes from the bones, which release marrow and gelatin after long cooking. Save whole chicken carcasses after a roast, or keep the nibbled drumsticks and wings from family meals. Raw chicken trimmings can also be used. Don’t add fat, as this is usually skimmed off stock in any case.
Chicken stock should be made as soon as possible with fresh bones: however, if you’d prefer to save them up to make a large batch, you can keep the bones and trimmings in a ziploc bag in the freezer.
Roasting Chicken Bones Before Making Stock
Chicken bones and scraps can be turned into stock simply by tipping the bag into a pot of water and simmering. However, the flavour and colour of chicken stock is greatly improved by roasting or browning the bones first. Cook them in a slow oven for an hour, or sear on high heat in a frying pan. When browned, use a clean hammer to break the bones into smaller pieces – this helps to release the marrow.
How to Cook Chicken Stock
The key to good stock is long, slow cooking rather than hard boiling. A crockpot (slow cooker) is ideal; otherwise, use a large saucepan on low heat. Add the chicken scraps and bones to a large quantity of water, enough to fill the pot two-thirds full. The quantities need not be exact: stock can always be reduced or diluted as required.
Adding a slosh of white vinegar to the stock helps to release gelatin from the bones. Crushed eggshells are another great addition, as they leach calcium into the stock. Adding vegetable trimmings and herbs gives chicken stock a more complex flavour: however, to avoid bitterness it’s best to add these during the last few hours of cooking.
Cover and simmer the stock very gently for twelve hours on the stovetop or 24-36 hours in a crockpot. By the end of this time the stock should be significantly reduced in volume and a rich golden colour. Strain the stock into a bowl or freezer-safe storage container to cool. If you notice the stock has turned to jelly after cooling, don’t panic – gelatinised stock is a sign that all the goodness has been extracted from the bones. The jellied stock will liquefy again upon reheating.
How to Freeze Chicken Stock
Chicken stock can be frozen for up to three months. Freeze the stock in ice cube trays if you plan to use small quantities, muffin trays for slightly larger quantities or ice cream tubs for large portions.
If freezer space is at a premium, simmer the chicken stock with the lid off until it has reduced to half its volume. This reduced stock can be frozen and later thawed out quickly by reconstituting with boiling water.
How to Use Chicken Stock
Homemade stock is delicious as a base for soups, and gives a delicious hearty, meaty flavour to vegetarian soups in particular. Chicken stock can also be used to cook rice and risotto, form the basis of sauces and gravies, thin baby food, and cook lentils. Families who are trying to cut down on meat consumption can use chicken stock in vegetarian dishes, giving a meaty “feel” to the meal without actually purchasing more chicken.
For people who are trying to lose weight, well-flavoured stock drunk by itself as broth is a nutritious way to start a meal. The gelatine promotes a feeling of fullness, while the stock still provides nutrients (as opposed to some empty “bulking” appetite suppressants).