Introduction: Chicken Stock
Chicken stock or broth, SO easy to make, is the foundation of countless recipes. Everything from soup to pot pies to curries to chili to casseroles start with chicken stock. For years I bought cans of chicken broth at the grocery store. Then it started coming in foil-lined boxes. Sometimes I just used bouillon cubes. I never questioned the NATURE of chicken stock.
Several years ago my father-in-law taught me how to make my own chicken stock and I've never looked back. For starters, I stopped having headaches every time I made a recipe that called for chicken broth! I also discovered that the homemade version of chicken stock simply has a richer, fuller taste than the store-bought version.
This is really more of a method than a recipe. It fits very generously into the category of "life in the slow lane," because this method takes many hours. It doesn't take a lot of work, but it does take time.
For those of you with vegetarian inclinations or convictions, I'm nearly ready to post an instructable on how to make vegetable stock, so stay tuned.
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Step 1: The Case for Homemade Chicken Stock
The most compelling reason for making your own chicken broth can be summed up in one word: SODIUM.
Just for fun, I went out with my 9th grade son to document the sodium content on commercial chicken broth. He was mortified that his mother was standing in the soup aisle, photographing ingredient lists.
I'm glad I went. I really LIKE being able to do things and make things myself. Looking at the nutritional information on the packaging of the chicken broth available in the grocery store convinced me that it's also a really good choice nutritionally.
Here's what I found:
Step 2: Start With Chicken
Some folks actually buy a whole chicken, specifically intending to turn it all into stock. I'm far too cheap for that. I usually wait for a blow-out sale on chicken and stock my freezer. I make a meal out of the chicken and use all the bones, skin, leftover bits of chicken and general chicken detritus. So start by cooking chicken for dinner. For this batch, I just baked the chicken.
Step 3: Save It All
Save everything. Bones, skin, gristle, fat....everything. If you have any leftover bits of vegetables or half an onion just hanging about the fridge, use that too. You might have to rescue the bones of someone else's plate, but it's worth it. And it will be cooked so thoroughly that you needn't worry about germs.
Throw it all into the crockpot and cover it with water.
Step 4: Cook for Hours
I usually set my crockpot on low for 20 hours. I check it periodically to make sure that it has enough water. It's a very bad mess if it cooks dry.
Step 5: Strain Everything
Set up a large container or stock pot. Use a colander or mesh strainer. Line the colander or strainer with cheesecloth or flour-sack towel. I used to buy cheesecloth for this, but cheesecloth really needs to just get dumped after you use it once. So, about a year ago, I bought a set of large white flour-sack towels to use instead of the cheesecloth. I keep the towels stashed separately from my regular kitchen towels and just launder and reuse them.
Pour the chicken and liquid into the strainer. Let it all sit and drip for about 30 minutes. Take up the corners of the towel and twist it to get the remaining broth out of the chicken remains.
Step 7: Pour Stock Into Containers
I try to store the broth in containers of varying size so that I have flexibility in how much I want to use at one time. At this point, I almost always store the stock in the deep freeze. Occasionally I'll fill several quart canning jars with stock and store them in the fridge if I know that I'm going to be using them within a week.
If there are any large pieces of meat left, I usually pick those out and add them to the dogs' next meal. Any meat left doesn't have much flavor left in it because the flavor is all in the thick, beautiful stock.
It really helps to label the stock if you plan to keep a couple of different kinds of homemade stock on hand in your freezer.
I really want to reiterate something important. The process of making homemade chicken broth or stock takes several hours, but it does NOT require a lot of work. Most of the time, the crockpot is doing the heavy lifting. Once this stock is in your freezer, it takes no more time to USE than commercially-prepared stock.
The flavors of this stock are vastly superior to store-bought stock. There is no added sodium. If you're interested in making turkey stock, check out My Sister's Kitchen. The process is similar and the results are delicious.
This homemade stock is a great example of slowing down to eat well.