Basic Chicken Stock

This probably should have been the first post on my website. Hell, it probably should have been the first post on my blog. Yeah, I used to have a blog and I probably couldn’t have told you much about chicken stock when I started it in 2011, but now I really think that chicken stock is where all conversations about cooking should begin. ACTUALLY you have to make chicken first to then make chicken stock. That’s where the conversation will begin in my cookbook. Stay tuned.

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You’re probably familiar with my opinions on stock & broth if you’ve listened to the episode of Pantry Raid titled “Stock & Broth.” It’s available wherever you podcast, but I right there I linked it to iTunes/Apple podcasts. It’s a touchy subject, to say the least. Everyone has a different opinion about how stock differs from broth as well as about how to make it. All your big questions about stock vs. broth are answered to the best of my ability in the episode, so give it a listen. YES THIS IS A PLOY TO GET YOU TO LISTEN TO MY PODCAST. Not sorry. Anyway, I’m going to tell you how I make what I call stock because the process basically a ritual in my kitchen because I refuse to be without stock in my fridge or (more likely) freezer.

When I am down to rice and dry beans, it’s chicken stock that saves the day. When I am too anxious to cook anything else for fear of failure, I make chicken stock. When I walk down the aisles of a grocery store and see “chicken stock,” or as I like to call it “road kill water” for sale at more than $3/quart (but also at any price), I laugh. Because I know chicken stock is the one thing that will never fail me, that will always turn out right, a totally priceless but insanely cheap jar of gold patiently waiting for me in my freezer.

Chicken stock waits for me in the freezer in two ways. First, the obvious: I keep it in jars that range from 8oz to 1 quart so it doesn’t go bad. Second, I have a stock bag. One day soon it’s going to be two large stasher bags, but right at this moment it’s a gallon-sized freezer safe ziplock. In that ziplock I keep: chicken bones, any raw chicken spines or feet that come my way, onion peels, the ends of carrots, celery that has gone limp, mushroom stalks, the tough outer layers of leeks and parmesan rinds. When it’s close to full, it’s time to make stock.

Listen, this is kind of a frustrating subject as well as a hotly debated one. There’s no “right way” to make stock. There’s no “correct” ratio for how much stuff::how much water for perfect stock. Use more than you think is right and then if it turns to solid jello in your fridge, you can cut it with some water when you use it. Normally I’d say I have at least a whole large chicken’s worth of bones to a 6-7 quart pot, a whole carrot’s worth of stumps, two whole ribs celery, and at least two or three onion skins. I’ll throw in whatever else I have- in the photo above, some wild mushrooms that were dying in my fridge, leeks, white peppercorns and a few bay leaves. I like to add a cap full of apple cider vinegar, too. I think it helps the bones break down, though I have absolutely not concrete evidence to prove it.

To add to frustration- no, no, let’s stop thinking of it that way. The lack of rules in stock-making is FREEDOM, not frustration. YOU GET TO MAKE ALL THE DECISIONS. WHAT. POWER. Stock is done when YOU say it’s done. You can cook stock for four hours or up to 48, when the bones are fully clean and white. As long as you can visibly tell see melting happening in the grizzly bits that formerly held joints together, you’re making progress. The more they melt away, the richer your stock will be. Most of the time I think it’s nice to give the bones a head start. Other times I throw everything in all at once.

I don’t strain my stock until it’s lukewarm because BURNS. And I don’t fret too much about tiny specs that get through my strainer. They’ll settle at the bottom of your storage container and stay there when you pour it out carefully. I let it come all the way down to room temp before sending it to the fridge or freezer and OH THIS IS SO IMPORTANT: jars destined for the freezer only get filled up 3/4 of the way or they’ll burst.

And that’s it. That’s how you make a pot of anything (soup, beans, risotto, etc.) 8,000 times better for basically no money. Here are the only “rules,” which still read a lot more like reminders-

1. Use about a whole large chicken’s worth of bones to make stock in a 6-7 quart pot. Never use cooked spines.
2. Cook a minimum of four hours at a low temperature on the stovetop, adding more water as needed, or covered in the oven. 200 degrees overnight is kind of a magic number.
3. Use filtered water and kosher salt, very little kosher salt.