Chicken Stock 101

I used to make pathetic soups. This was all due to the fact that I didn’t know how to make a good chicken stock. Oh, I tried. I bought the best chickens and organic vegetables and threw (no, gently placed) them in a pot to simmer. The results were always the same. After a couple of hours, I would pick the diluted chicken off the bones, and return the bones to the pot for some more simmering. I could never really stomach the pale, now tasteless chicken, and never found dishes it worked well in. And all my great organic vegetables never seemed to do the trick to create a tasty stock. And only on occasion would my stock, when reduced and cooled, become gelatinous like it should. I knew that the perfect stock must past the Jello® test, but mine rarely did.

I improved my stocks when I learned that adding a small amount of acid to the pot and letting it sit for a while before heating helps draw the calcium out of the bones. After trying this method, I felt my stocks were more nourishing, but they still did not always become firm when cooled.

But I recently had a revelatory moment when I realized how incredibly easy and double tasking it was to make homemade soup stock by starting with the leftover carcass from a roast chicken. Now my chickens have two lives. First, they are roasted to perfection in the oven and served as a nourishing main dish. Then, their bones are used to make a perfect stock.

But the bones are not the only important and part of the carcass, the cartilage is also key. In fact, during the slow simmering process, it is the chicken cartilage, that flexible and plastic-like white stuff along the breast bone and in the joints, which becomes part of the broth. This process is the primary factor in whether the stock will set up or not. Adding a few chicken feet to the pot will also produce a more gelatinous stock.

Good thick chicken stock is full of cartilage-building proteins and amino acids we all need. Commercial chicken stock, even organic, is just no replacement. For more information on the health benefits of good stock or broth, see “Broth is Beautiful” by Sally Fallon and “Why Broth is Beautiful—”Essential” Roles for Proline, Glycine and Gelatin” by Kaayla Daniel.

Perfect Chicken Stock

It is amazingly easy to make good chicken stock with almost no effort.

  • The carcass of one roasted chicken
  • Raw necks, backs, gizzards and other innards
  • 2-3 chicken feet
  • Water to cover all chicken parts, plus 2 finger’s width
  • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • Leafy tops of 2 celery ribs

After serving the meal, I pick off the remaining meat, as much as possible, and reserve it for sandwiches or another dish. Next, I break the carcass into pieces and place them in a pot big enough to hold the carcass plus two finger widths of water. Breaking the bones does two things: it releases the marrow, which is where a lot of the flavor hides, and it exposes more of the bone to the calcium-extracting acid. Be sure to throw the necks, backs, gizzards and other innards into the pot as well.

Wash all the raw parts well under cold running water. Place everything into a 4-quart or larger pot and fill with COLD water to cover bones, plus 2 finger widths. Add a couple of tsp. of vinegar or lemon juice and let the brew sit for at least 30 minutes before placing on the stove. Do not go overboard on the acid or you will ruin the stock.

After 30 minutes, bring to boil over high heat. While waiting for the water to boil, prepare the vegetables. When the water just boils, add the vegetables to the pot and when the water returns to a boil, quickly reduce the heat and partially cover the pot. Adjust the heat to allow the stock to slowly simmer. (Sometimes I even move the pot halfway off the burner.)

If need be, skim off any foam that begins to form. This will leave you with a much clearer broth. When the foam is pretty much gone, sprinkle with a teaspoon of seasoned salt, and reduce heat to medium-low. You want just the barest hint of a simmer while the pot is covered.

Let simmer very gently, without stirring, for 3 to 4 hours—or even overnight. Let cool slightly and then remove the big bones and vegetable parts. Carefully pour the remaining liquid and small bones through a large, fine-meshed sieve, catching the liquid in another pot. Discard all bones and vegetables.

Cover and place your clear stock in the refrigerator 5-6 hours or overnight. In the winter, I put the stock out on my porch to cool. After several hours, all the fat will rise to the top and solidify. Chicken fat is rather soft so you should carefully skim it off with a spoon.

Now it is time to reduce the stock, which will give it more concentrated flavor and make a firmer gel. Boil the stock in an uncovered pot. Taste occasionally until you find the strength of stock you are looking for. I usually reduce mine at least by half.

I wanted to share my success story with you. This fall I found a great source for chicken feet, a country farm with an elderly husband and wife butcher chickens and sell them at our farmers market. It dawned on me to ask her about buying some and she was very willing to save some for me during there next slaughter. After following your recipe and very very slow cooking I ended up with the best home made chicken stock jell-o ever!! Thank you for your encouragement! I love reading your updates and browsing your web page.
God bless and happy cooking!
Amber from Menomonee Falls, WI