Chicken stock is easy to make and is a great way to repurpose leftover from cutting up a whole chicken, deboning thighs, wing tips, and from a whole roasted chicken. A great stock can be made with both raw and roasted odds and ends.
If there are two foods I eat most often it is chicken and pasta. The thing that always bothered my frugal nature was that I had so many pieces of scrap I didn’t feel comfortable throwing out.
I started repurposing the skin when I heard about cooking with schmaltz.
However, I still wasn’t sure what to do with the bones. I often had bones leftover from cutting up a whole chicken, deboning thighs, wing tips, and from a whole roasted chicken.
Then, I learned that chefs often used these odds and ends to make stock which in turn is an ingredient used in many recipes.
The best part is, homemade chicken stock tastes so much better than store bought!
The one thing I didn’t like about making stock though was that it took so long which also meant it used up lots of gas. So, I started making pressure cooker chicken stock which is now my go to method.
Since so many recipes call for chicken stock it is great to always have some on hand. I like keeping bags and cubes of it in the freezer.
Chicken Stock vs. Chicken Broth
Broth is usually thinner and made from chicken meat, while chicken stock is made from simmering bones for a long time.
Chicken stock is usually thicker and has a richer mouth feel from the gelatin releases from the long-simmered bones.
Adding onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, and other herbs add to the flavor of the stock.
What About Store-Bought Stocks and Broths?
Commercial brands tend to use the terms “stock” and “broth” interchangeably and store-bought stocks and broths are usually more both then stock.
They tend to be lightly flavored and lack the body of a homemade stock and they result in a more less flavorful dish.
How Stocks and Broths Are Made
Broths and stocks are also made differently.
Stocks are typically made from meaty raw bones, leftover carcasses, and meat and vegetable scraps. In the case of vegetable stock, only vegetables are used.
Stocks are simmered for several hours (unless you make pressure cooker stocks) to extract as much of the flavor from the ingredients as possible. This also extracts collagen from the bones and cartilage, which adds body and silkiness to the stock.
Broths are usually much lighter and have less body than stocks.
They’re most often made from poaching meat, vegetables, and seasonings in water for as long as it takes for the meat to cook or the broth to pick up some flavor.
How Stocks and Broths Are Used
In classic French cuisine, stocks are considered to be an ingredient that’s used to make other things.
Also, they’re typically left unseasoned or only minimally seasoned so that they can be used in as wide a variety of ways as possible.
Stocks can be used to make soup, reduced into a sauce or a glaze, or as an ingredient in many recipes.
Broths on the other hand have been salted which restricts the ways they can be used.
For the most part, broths are consumed on its own or used as a base for soups like chicken soup.
This definition of stocks as an ingredient and broths as a food product is the way classically trained chefs tend to think about such things in their restaurant kitchens.
What Bones Make the Best Chicken Stock?
You can use bones from a raw chicken or a roast chicken. I’ve used both with good results.
I collect leftover roasted carcasses, raw back bones from cutting up a chicken, wing tips, and necks until I have enough bones to make a stock.
You can also sometimes buy bones or leftover chicken parts at grocery stores like the bones, backs, necks, or feet leftover from butchering. These parts have a lot of cartilage that make great stock.
Adding any chicken fat or skin you can adds yellow color and lots of flavor. When the stock is done, the fat will float to the top when the stock cools and you can skim it off later.
Personally, I like refrigerating the stock before removing the fat so it solidifies which makes it easier to remove. Instead of discarding it, I save it and use it for cooking just like I would oil or schmaltz.
If you leave the fat on the stock it will last longer in the refrigerator. See the fat cap section to learn why.
What Meat Makes the Best Stock?
Stock is usually made with the scraps and bones of a chicken that’s already been butchered for other uses. However, can be made with a whole chicken, any of its parts, or a combination and different parts of the chicken give different flavors to the stock.
The results of an experiment done by Serious Eats:
- Instead of tasting flavorless and washed out, the chicken breast produced the cleanest-tasting stock, with the most intense chicken flavor. But it also produced the thinnest stock in terms of body.
- The thigh meat also produced a light-colored stock, but it had a muddier, less clean flavor than the breast stock.
- The wings produced the stock with the most body, which makes sense, given the number of cartilage-rich joints in each wing. But the flavor was also not as chicken-y as that of the breast stock.
- Bones also made a stock with a less distinct chicken flavor, but they contributed some bass notes that were pleasant.
- The whole chicken produced a middle-of-the-road stock: not as tasty as the chicken breast stock, but not as muddy as some of the others.
So, for the absolutely best tasting chicken stock, where money was no object, a combination of breasts and wings would provide the best flavor.
However, if you are like most and are gathering scraps of chicken for stock, then you’ll do just fine with whatever combination of inexpensive scraps you choose to use but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have some breast in the mix.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to bother collecting scraps or leftover carcasses from roasted chicken, check out my chicken wing stock recipe. It has a good balance between rich texture, decent chicken-y flavor, and relatively low cost.
What Amount of Chicken Bones Do You Need?
While this recipe calls for one pound of bones, that’s just a suggested amount. You can easily multiply this recipe for whatever weight of bones you have.
Then, add enough water to come nearly level with the bones but make sure not to exceed the “Max Fill” line. A rough ratio is 1 to 2 quarts of water for every pound of bones. The less water you add, the more flavor and body your stock will have.
Adding Vegetables to Your Stock
The classic trio is a mirepoix which consists of onions, carrots, and celery.
However, technically you don’t have to. Sometimes it is preferable not to have the flavor of mirepoix in there.
Also, if you’re using roasted carcasses, they often already have a lot of flavor by themselves.
When making a stock it is common to throw halved onions and big chunks of carrot and celery into the pot. However, diced aromatics produces more flavor.
About the Fat Cap
Lots of cookbooks advocate skimming the fat from the stock. I prefer the school of thought of letting the fat settle in a layer on top of the stock as it cools so it acts as a protective layer over the stock.
Bacteria need oxygen to grow, so by allowing the fat to rise to the top of the stock and settle we will create a protective barrier between the stock and the oxygen in the air above.
If you keep the fat layer on it, the fat will preserve stock longer in the refrigerator. Just lift up the layer of fat and remove the stock when you want to use it.
To store the stock in the refrigerator for up to a few weeks, every few days, bring the stock to a simmer for 10 minutes and let it cool again with the fat forming a protective layer.
How to Properly Cool Your Stock
Stock that isn’t cooled properly before refrigerating it can cause it to sour and become ruined.
If you put a steaming-hot stock in the fridge it can create perfect conditions for bacteria to grow. To avoid this, let your stock cool to at least room temp before refrigerating it.
The fastest way to cool a few quarts of stock is to strain it into a wide stockpot or bowl. The increased surface area lets it cool more quickly. To speed things up, even further, fill the sink with ice water and put the stockpot in there.
How to Skim the Fat
After the stock has cooked and the pressure has come down, strain out the bones.
You’ll probably see a decent amount of fat at the top of your strained stock. How much will depend on what chicken bones or bits you used.
There’s an easy way to handle this. Let the stock cool to room temperature on your counter, then refrigerate it. The next day, there will be a cap of solidified fat at the top.
Scrape it off and do what you will with it. If you keep the fat, refrigerate it, and use it within a week.
How to Store Stock
Let the stock cool completely before refrigerating. When you are ready, pour into glass jars and refrigerate.
Stock should last a week or so in the fridge.
How to Freeze Stock
Let the stock cool completely before freezing and ladle off some of the excess fat on the surface.
Pour into freezer safe container well sealing lids. Leave at least an inch of head space, allowing enough room for the liquid stock to expand as it freezes
Stock should last several months in the freezer.