Store bought chicken stock is one of those products which really irks me. Even the seemingly good quality ones (organic, free range, low sodium, etc.) have long ingredient lists which include things like “natural chicken flavor” (shouldn’t the flavor come from the chicken itself??). But somehow making homemade stock always seemed like so much effort! Was it really worth it? After years of being irritated by buying stock and not really knowing how to make my own, I finally decided to bite the bullet and give it a try.
And you know what? It’s really not hard at all! Ok, granted, it’s harder than opening a can or a box. But in the grand scheme of things, if you are going to cook a chicken, it’s not that hard to do it in a way that gets you a few quarts of soup. And why might you want to do this? Three reasons: quality, taste, and cost.
First, quality. As I mentioned above, it is really hard to get good quality stock in the store. I would always look for organic, free range, low sodium, and good ingredient lists, and finding all of these things was like finding 4 needles in a haystack. Not to mention time consuming (I would stare at the shelves for a long time willing a better option to magically appear!) and frustrating. With my homemade stock, it is exactly the way I want it to be, including not only the highest quality ingredients, but no annoying extras like BPA (which is found in most cans on the market).
Second, taste. This should be obvious, but there is nothing quite like homemade chicken stock. You might be able to get away with the store-bought stuff if it’s only one ingredient in another recipe (e.g., to make a sauce), but these recipes both produce a broth that shine in a starring role for any recipe!
Third, cost. This one might not be obvious because chicken stock in the store is not particularly expensive and good quality chickens are, so I did a little number crunching for you all. I started with the best quality pastured chicken I could find, which at Whole Foods is $3.99/lb. That meant my 4.65lb chicken was $18.55 – eek! But from that one chicken I got 7 quarts of stock and about 2 lbs of usable meat. My most recent price check for Imagine Organic Chicken Broth is $3.39/quart, which would be $23.72 for 7 quarts. And on average I probably pay $6/lb for organic boneless chicken, another $12 value. Even factoring in a few dollars for the veggies and spices I used in the process, here is the total breakdown:
Cost of chicken + veggies and spices = $21
Equivalent value of stock and meat = $35
Savings = $14, or 40%!
Isn’t that amazing?? By using the chicken for both stock and meat, I was able to save real money on the items I would have been buying anyway, even using the most expensive chicken I saw! To save even more money (and reduce more waste), you could collect scraps (e.g., skins, peelings, ends) from onions, celery, and carrots you use in other recipes and keep them in a bag in the freezer, throwing them in to the slow cooker to boost the flavor even more (thank you Red, Round, or Green for this great tip!).
Bonus benefit – the environment! As if quality, taste, and cost aren’t convincing enough, there’s a huge environmental benefit to saving the packaging from those 7 quarts of stock and the chicken I would have purchased for meat. Instead, the only packaging was the plastic from the original chicken, and everything else went into reusable storage containers.
So, now that I’ve convinced you to give it a try (right??), here’s how it works:
Step 1: Boil the uncooked chicken with some veggies and spices using the Quick Chicken Stock recipe below.
Step 2: Strain the stock, pull the meat off of the carcass, and put all of the remaining solids in the slow cooker with some additional veggies for another few quarts of stock using the Slow Cooker Chicken Stock recipe below. If you do not have time to complete the second step right away, you can store those solids in the fridge for a day or two or freezer for longer until you are ready.
Some tips that apply to both methods:
- The less you season your stock while cooking, the more flexibility you have later on, so I generally opt to skip the salt and herbs.
- Stock holds up well in the fridge, but if it’s been hanging out for a few days you might want to bring it back to a boil, which will extend its life.
- Stock freezes perfectly – I use pint-size canning jars which are freezer safe.
- If you are short on space, you can concentrate the stock by boiling it down after you’re done and freezing in smaller containers (even ice cube trays) for a boost of flavor or as the base for a recipe that requires stock – just mix with water when you’re ready to use!
Ready? Let’s go!
Quick Chicken Stock
adapted from Mark Bittman
1 4-5 pound chicken (in pieces if you want)
1 large onion, quartered (don’t bother peeling)
1 large carrot, cut into large chunks (don’t bother peeling)
1 celery stalk, cut into large chunks
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Add chicken, veggies, and bay leaf to a large pot. Add 16 cups of cold water, cover, and heat on high. Once it just comes to a boil, lower the heat so that the liquid is barely simmering. Cook for 30-60 minutes (until chicken is completely cooked through), skimming any foam that accumulates on the top.
Once the chicken is cooked, strain the soup into another large bowl or pot, pushing down on the solids with a spoon to get as much liquid out as possible. Separate the chicken meat from the bones and use for another recipe (chicken soup, chicken quesadillas, etc.) and hang onto the carcass, veggies, and bay leaf! You can use them right away, refrigerate for a day or two, or freeze until you are ready to make a second batch of stock in the slow cooker (see recipe below).
Stock can be used right away or refrigerated for a few days (you can skim the solidified fat off the top after it has been chilled if you want) or frozen for later use. After a few days in the fridge, you can bring stock to a boil again to prolong its life. Season to taste with salt and pepper after it is cooked, or wait until you are ready to use it (this is my preferred method so that I am always controlling the seasoning in my final dish).
Makes 16 cups (4 quarts) of chicken stock
Slow Cooker Chicken Stock
adapted from Red, Round, or Green
1 chicken carcass (from a 4-5 pound chicken, either boiled in recipe above, or roasted)
2 onions, quartered (don’t bother peeling)
4 carrots, cut into large chunks (don’t bother peeling)
4 celery stalks, cut into large chunks
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. salt (optional)
2 tsp. dried thyme or rosemary (or a sprig or two of fresh; this is optional – you will still get a flavorful but more neutral stock without herbs)
12 cups water
Place the chicken carcass, vegetables, and seasonings into a large slow cooker. Add the water (if you have more room, add additional water until it reaches nearly to the top of the insert). Cover and cook on low for 10-12 hours (you can do this overnight, although hubby and I have found the smell of food wafting up to our bedroom in the middle of the night to be weird).
Makes 12 cups (3 quarts) of chicken stock