For the next three days, I will be posting one “basics” recipe per day in preparation for Thanksgiving. These are my favorite recipes to make ahead, freeze and have on hand as the holiday season approaches. Today we are starting with one of my favorite, indispensable freezer staples: chicken stock. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, having a batch of homemade chicken stock ready to use will make life that much easier when it’s time to get cooking. And the day after Thanksgiving, put the bones of that big turkey to good use and replenish your freezer with homemade turkey stock. Win-win!
Growing up, I often woke up on weekend mornings to the aroma of chicken stock wafting through the house. It would simmer on the stove in the largest stock pot for a good part of the morning until the liquid was golden and fragrant. For the rest of the afternoon, the strained stock would sit in several bowls, cooling slowly to room temperature, before it was ladled into plastic storage containers (mostly half gallon ice cream tubs that would be washed out and saved for this specific use). Then, all the containers would be stored in the freezer down in the basement, ready to grab to use in soups, risotto, tortellini in brodo, my maternal nonna’s Thanksgiving stuffing, and many other recipes. I certainly cannot claim that chicken stock is Italian since it’s also made in many other cultures, but I can say that chicken stock is a staple in the Italian kitchen and I’m never without it.
I have to confess that I don’t make homemade chicken stock often, as I only have one freezer and space is limited. Because of this, I always have several of the shelf-stable, low sodium chicken broth containers in my pantry. My local grocery store has an excellent line of organic products and their chicken stock is one of my favorite pantry staples. But when there is a little extra space in my freezer and whenever I make a roast chicken, I always make a small pot of homemade chicken stock. It takes no time to pull together and the rest of the cooking time is mostly hands-off. You will have to periodically spoon off and discard the “scum” that rises to the top of the stock while it’s simmering, but other than that, the stock can perk away gently on the stovetop (mostly) unattended (you should always stay near the kitchen when anything is on the stove, even if you don’t need to fuss with it–safety first!).
I have made chicken stock with a whole, uncooked chicken and also with the bones of a roasted chicken that has had most of the meat and skin removed. The stock turns out delicious both ways, but I prefer to use the bones of a roasted chicken because they impart a heartier flavor to the finished stock. If you don’t want to roast your own chicken, you can pick up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. Remove all the meat and skin from the bones to use however you like, and use the bones for the stock. Be sure to use a rotisserie chicken that does not have any additional seasoning rubs added to it (such as mesquite or lemon pepper), otherwise your stock will take on the flavor of the seasoning rubs. I don’t recommend salting chicken stock, either, since the finished dish in which you use the stock will be salted and seasoned. For a small batch of stock, I will use the bones of one roasted chicken (or one whole uncooked chicken), but you can easily double the recipe and use two chickens (or more bones), a few more vegetables, more water, and a much larger stock pot. There really isn’t a hard-and-fast recipe with exact quantities of ingredients for chicken stock.
The cooking time for chicken stock will vary on the quantity you choose to make. For a larger batch, the stock will take 3+ hours to develop flavor and color. For a smaller batch, 2 to 2½ hours on the stovetop should be sufficient. The stock should simmer on medium-low heat for the entire cooking time–you cannot rush the cooking process and it should never come to a rolling boil. You want to see bubbles rising to the top steadily, but gently. Once you see that the stock has a deep golden color and is fragrant, it’s finished and ready to use or freeze for later use. And your kitchen is going to smell so good.
Makes approximately 6 cups
The quantities below are for a smaller batch of chicken stock using a 6-quart stock pot. Leaving the skin on the onion helps give the chicken stock great color. Peel the carrots and celery if you want to use them in soup after the stock is finished cooking.
Bones from 1 roasted chicken, skin and meat removed (or 1 whole, uncooked chicken)
2 small yellow onions (or 1 large onion), washed, ends trimmed, and cut into quarters (unpeeled)
4 large carrots, washed, trimmed and cut in half
4 large celery stalks, washed, trimmed and cut in half
Handful of Italian flat leaf parsley, washed
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
6 quarts cold water
Place the chicken bones (or whole chicken), onion quarters, carrot halves, celery halves, parsley and peppercorns in to a 6-quart stock pot. Note: If you are using a whole, uncooked chicken, remove the neck and giblets from the cavity and pat the chicken dry before adding it into the pot. Fill the stock pot almost to the top with cold water. Set the pot over medium-low heat and cover it partially with the lid. Let the stock simmer gently for 2 – 2½ hours (or a little longer if necessary) until the stock has turned a deep golden color and is fragrant. As the stock cooks, use a spoon to skim off any “scum” that rises to the top and discard it.
Once the stock is finished cooking, turn off the heat. Use tongs to remove the larger bones and vegetable pieces from the pot and transfer them to a bowl or rimmed baking sheet. If you are using a whole chicken, pull the meat off the bones to use in soup or chicken salad (discard the skin and bones). Use the cooked carrots and celery for soup and discard the rest of the vegetables. Set a fine mesh sieve over a large heat-proof bowl (stainless steel works well) and carefully pour the chicken stock through the sieve and into the bowl. Note: If your sieve does not have fine mesh, use a piece of doubled cheesecloth to line the sieve. Let the stock cool completely to room temperature before ladling it into freezer-safe containers. Freeze, and use within 3 months.
Note: When storing liquids for freezing, be sure to leave headspace to allow the liquid to expand as it freezes.