Canned chicken stock is a staple in my kitchen. I use it in all manner of dishes, from soup, sauces, as a poaching liquid, and wherever recipes call for white wine (I don’t drink). For years, I would pull a can of low-sodium chicken broth out of the cupboard whenever I needed it and never really thought much of it. That is until one Thanksgiving when I had the carcass of a 12-pound turkey lying there on the carving board and a long weekend ahead of me. I ended up making 11 pints of chicken stock. I have made my own chicken stock ever since.
In my experience no matter how you make chicken stock, any recipe is far superior to anything you can pull off a shelf in supermarket. However, thanks to the America’s Test Kitchen online cooking school I learned a valuable tool in deepening the flavor (and color) of my chicken stock. The answer in a word: sauté. Sautéing the chicken and veggies before simmering deepens their flavor, adding a complexity and richness that can’t be found just by boiling raw veggies and chicken in water. Any veggies (or leftovers of veggies) can be used along with any part of the chicken or bones, but there are a few hints for getting the most chicken flavor in your stock.
Making stock from a cooked chicken (or turkey) carcass is a fine use of leftover bird, but it takes hours to simmer the flavor out of bones with little meat left on them. The most flavor in the least amount of time can be found by using the giblets, neck, backbone, and wings. I have been in the habit of buying whole birds (two 3-lb fryers are only $10 at Costco) and breaking down the birds myself to save those pieces for when I need to make stock. The legs, thighs, and breast (which I usually leave whole with the bone-in) are saved separately for other meals. [A side story: my grandma used to buy a package of nothing but chicken necks and boil them with a little salt and nibble on them as a snack. When she was younger that’s about the only part of the chicken her family could afford and she loved them.] Here is the recipe I just used to make 6 more pints of chicken stock.
Homemade Chicken Stock
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 chicken wings, neck, giblets, and backbone
1 onion, chopped roughly
3 celery stalks, chopped roughly
3 carrots, cut into 1/4” coins
1 bunch asparagus ends
2 bay leaves
4 quarts water
In a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot add oil and heat until shimmering. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper and add to pot when oil is hot. Brown about 3 minutes on each side, and then remove from pot. Add chopped onion, carrots, celery, and asparagus ends. Sauté until browned and softened, about 5-10 minutes. Add back in chicken pieces and any accumulated juices to stock pot. Add 4 quarts of water and 2 bay leaves. Cover and simmer for at least an hour. Remove from heat and discard chicken pieces. Strain stock and veggies through a colander to remove veggie pieces. Cool overnight in refrigerator to settle any remaining small pieces and let any fat congeal on the top of the stock. Remove congealed fat and strain again, leaving any sediment behind.
To store there are basically 3 options. You can refrigerate it, but unless you have plans to use it up, you’ll need to use a longer-term storage method. That leaves freezing or canning. I am usually cooking for just 2 people, so I store it away in 1 pint quantities, but portion however you find convenient. To freeze you can use plastic bags or canning jars. Bags are handy, but can be treacherous when thawing if you find out after it’s been in your refrigerator overnight and discover that the bag has a hole in it. If using jars, be sure to leave at least an inch of headspace so the stock has room to expand as it freezes or your jar will break. The best tip I heard was to just put on a lid (no ring) and let freeze until hard. Then attach the ring if the stock hasn’t frozen above the rim of the jar. If it has, use a hot knife to shave off the top of the frozen stock and screw on ring. However, the method I use most often is to pressure can the chicken stock (pint jars for 20 minutes, quart jars 25 minutes at 10 pounds pressure). This way, I always have liquid chicken stock ready to use whenever the need arises.
Do you make your own chicken stock? Are there any tricks or tips you have found to make and/or preserve it? I’d love to hear them.