Here is the step by step process how to make the best chicken stock at home using chicken bones. All about fond, why you shouldn’t use veggie scraps and why you want to simmer gently.
When I was getting ready to write this post, I decided to go through my culinary school “Cooking Theory” notebook about how to make stock. I wanted to see if there was anything that would be helpful to include. Among the ratios of mirepoix to bones and French terminology for descumming was a hastily scribbled note in the margin that said “Don’t treat your stock pot like a garbage can.”
My Cooking Theory chef instructor, Susan Reid, explained that if you use bitter carrot peels, bitter celery leaves and dirty roots to make your stock, your stock will taste bitter and dirty, and anything you cook with that stock will taste bitter and dirty. To further illustrate the point, she had us make a side-by side comparison of vegetable stocks. The first batch was made with peeled onions, peeled carrots and clean celery. The second was with celery leaves, carrots peels, onion peels and miscellaneous roots, potato peels and so on. The first was sweet and fragrant and the latter was well, disgusting. It was a far cry from what you’d want to use as the base for another recipe.
Anyway, I have a lot to say about chicken stock. So much so that I am going to break from my traditional formula of post writing to do a photographic step-by-step. I also typed up the recipe in my regular format below too, along with a roasted garlic variation and a porcini mushroom variation. I have to warn you, this is not for the kitchen-faint-of-heart. You have to deal with slippery chicken bones, giant pots of steaming hot liquid and a lot of schmaltz. So, if you’re a not into that, I highly recommend buying Pacific broth. It is pretty great stuff and it works just fine. Also, I want to warn you, the utter-food-science-dork comes out in me when I even think about making stock. So I will try to restrain myself from using too many French culinary terms… like “ecumer.” Oops.
Okay, so, if you’re still with me, let us begin with the bones. You can order them from a good butcher. Yup. They’re gross. Or you can save up your own over time in your freezer, any time you de-bone a whole chicken. For this recipe you’ll need 12 to 15 pounds of raw chicken bones. Which is about 12 to 15 carcasses.
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Line bones up on two baking sheets and roast them in the oven. I like this step because it brings them up out of the temperature danger zone (41 to 135 degrees F) quickly. And it caramelizes the sugars in the meat and bone which intensifies its chickeny flavor.
Then transfer the roasted bones to the greatest-biggest stock pot you can get your hands on. I use my husband’s former beer brewing pot. Cover the hot bones with COLD water. It is important that it is cold because it “facilitates flavor transfer.” [Yep, I just copied that straight out of the Theory notes.] But even more importantly, it helps to dissolve the collagen (aka connective tissue or cartilage.) When that collagen breaks down it will become gelatin, which is what gives home-made stock all that amazing body. You can’t get that from shelf-stable broth! I also add a tablespoon of acid with the water (lemon juice or white wine vinegar works.) This also helps to break down the collagen as it simmers.
Get that on the stove to begin the long process of heating it up to a simmer. Do not wash the baking sheets! Here is a French term that I have to use. I can’t help it, because there is no English word for it. It is fond. Fond is the tasty crusty bits of browned meat and fat stuck to a pan. It is has amazing flavor and should not be wasted. The next step is for getting the fond into the stock.
In my oven (and yours may be different) the bones that were roasted on the top shelf, exuded more liquid and deglazed themselves. I just poured that chicken juice and bits of meat and skin into the stock pot. The pan that was on the bottom rack got hotter. When I removed the bones, the pan was covered in a layer of grease.
Once I poured that off, there was a marvelous layer of fond.
To get at it, pour some water in the pan, bake it for 10 minutes. Let it sit 10 minutes and then scrape up the fond. Pour that into the pot. It is way better than Anthony Bourdain’s secret bullion cube from Kitchen Confidential.
As the stock comes up to a simmer the proteins will denature and foam and scum will rise to the top. Get rid of that by skimming it off with a ladle. I keep a big glass measuring cup or bowl next to the stove for that. Once it simmers, reduce the heat to maintain the simmer. You can also pull the pot to one side of the burner, to keep it simmering more gently and it will help collect the fat and scum on one side of the pot. [That has a French term too. But I’ll resist.] The reason you want to be gentle about it is that it keeps the fat from emulsifying into the stock and it keeps it from getting cloudy.
After about 20 minutes of simmering, you’ll have a thick layer of melted chicken fat on the surface of the stock. Get rid of that too with your trusty ladle.
Then it is a matter of time. It takes four hours for collagen to break down into gelatin. Set your timer for three. That’s when you’ll add your vegetables and aromatics.
As I mentioned above, clean your celery and peel the carrots and onions. You’ll want to cut the vegetables into big pieces because they’ll need to hold up for an hour in the pot. If they are cut too small they will break down and you’ll have cloudy stock.
Then you simmer the whole thing for an hour. You’ll know that the vegetables have released all the flavor that they can when a piece of carrot no longer has the flavor of a carrot, and it just tastes like chicken stock.
Finally, you have to strain the stock. Promise me to be careful here. If it is too heavy, you can rest a strainer in the pot and dip out enough stock to make the pot lighter. Then carefully strain the stock into another large pot, bucket or bowl.
Discard the bones and vegetables or you could always compost them if you put meat in your compost.
Make an ice bath with ice and water and cool the pot, stirring often with a metal spoon (metal conducts heat better.)
Ladle the stock into storage containers. I like to use quart containers. Label and freeze them. To use this stock in place of broth in a recipe you’ll should add 1/4 teaspoon salt per cup.
To make ahead: Can be frozen (deep freeze) up to 1 year.
- 13.5 pounds raw chicken bones
- 2 gallons cold water plus about 2 cups, divided
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or lemon juice
- 2 pounds Spanish onions, peeled and cut into quarters (5 medium)
- 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces (4 large)
- 1 pound celery, cleaned, leaves removed and cut into 2-inch pieces (5 large stalks)
- 3 stems parsley
- 2 bay leaves (preferably fresh)
- 1 stem thyme
- ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- Arrange oven rack in upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat to 450 degrees F. Lay chicken bones out in even layers (not overlapping if possible) on two large baking sheets. Roast bones until the meat and bones are browned, 45 to 55 minutes.
- Transfer the bones to a stock pot with tongs. Cover the bones with 2 gallons cold water and vinegar or lemon juice. Place the pot over high heat to bring to a simmer.
- Meanwhile, pour any fat from the baking sheets (you may not have any, see below *note.) If there is any fond (baked-on browned crispy bits) on the baking sheet, pour the 2 cups water (or more) into the baking sheet(s) to cover. Transfer to the oven and let bake until the water is steaming hot, and the fond loosens, about 10 minutes. Carefully remove the baking sheet from the oven and let cool 10 minutes to allow the water to further loosen the fond. Then scrape up any fond from the pan with a spatula or bench scraper. Carefully pour the fond water into the stock pot. *note: If the pans never got any fond (just chicken juices) the juices and moist skin and meat can be added directly to the stock.
- When stock comes to a simmer, reduce heat to medium low or to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook, occasionally skimming any foam or scum until a thick layer of fat rises to the surface, about 20 minutes. Gently dip a large ladle just under the surface of the stock and allow the fat to flow into the ladle, without any broth from below the fat layer. Transfer the fat to a heat-proof bowl or metal can, to be discarded later. Continue simmering, occasionally skimming any fat from the top, until the chicken is starting to brake down and the collagen on the joints and sternum is braking down, about 3 hours.
- Add onion, carrot, celery, parsley, bay leaves, thyme and peppercorn and return to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat again to maintain gentle simmer and cook until the vegetables are completely soft and taste like chicken stock, 1 hour more.
- Strain the stock into another large pot or bowl. Rest the large pot or bowl with stock in it in an ice bath, stirring often until cool. Transfer the stock to storage containers, leaving about 1/2 –inch of head-room if planning to freeze, and freeze or refrigerate. To use this stock in place of broth in a recipe you'll should add 1/4 teaspoon salt per cup.
Roasted Garlic Chicken Stock Variation: Place a whole head of garlic on a large sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Wrap up into a packet and place on the baking sheet with the bones in step 1. Unwrap, and add the whole head to the stock with the chicken bones.
Porcini Mushroom Chicken Stock Variation: Soak one half ounce of dried porcini mushrooms in 1 cup hot water for 20 minutes. Lift the mushrooms from the water and add to the stock with the vegetables and aromatics in step 5. Strain the mushroom water through a coffee filter or cheese cloth. Add to the stock.
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