Chicken stock is an essential cooking element that needs very little instruction to master. Sure, you can run to the grocery store to pick up a box of stock. In a dark hour you could even add bullion to water, even I have been so desperate. But neither will give you the depth of flavor and comfort of a true homemade stock.
Homemade chicken stock is not for the impatient, but its reward is deep and rich with endless possibilities. Perhaps my favorite thing about homemade chicken stock is that it encourages me to use every piece of the chicken and every scrap of vegetable, even the parts we wouldn’t typically consume. I save every piece of scrap and every tiny bone in 2 1 gallon sacks in my freezer and when they are bursting full I throw them in a pot and cover with water and simmer away. It’s that easy.
Of the 2 1 gallon sacks in my freezer, one is filled with chicken parts, I put necks and bones (both raw and roasted bones) and any leftover pieces of meat that don’t make it to the dog bowl. The second sack is filled with carrot peels, leek tops (a favorite around here), celery leaves and any other hardy vegetable scrap.
Sometimes, yesterday was such a situation, I need homemade stock and my freezer bags haven’t filled up yet. Not to fret, we can always tweak the process. If you are lacking in leftover bones, you can pick up some chicken wings, roast them until they are deep golden brown and toss them in with your veggies. If you’re low on veggies and planning a trip to the store anyway, carrots, onions and celery make for the best base.
What should the ratio be, LJ? Who cares, I say. Yesterday’s stock was about half bone and half veggie. Sometimes I put more bones and sometimes more veggie. It always turns out wonderful and I won’t be including a recipe. Just throw a bunch of “junk” in your pot and simmer away.
How long should I simmer for? Two hours at minimum. This will give you a chicken juice that will do just fine in a quick pinch. As for me, I like to simmer it overnight on the stovetop. Something happens at that 10/12 hour mark, a deep sweet rich aroma develops and carries through any dish you add it to. I simmer on my stovetop because I have an electric stove, if you have gas I can’t in good conscience recommend leaving it on overnight, but I don’t know why you couldn’t substitute a crockpot in such a situation. I am no crockpot expert, having never owned one, but this seems a decent use for the device.
After you simmer your stock for your desired amount of time, strain out all the solid particulate and throw it in the garbage. Strain the liquid through a mesh strainer and separate into containers for the fridge or freezer. If you put your stock into a large container to chill in the fridge keep in mind that bacteria can form if it isn’t chilled quickly enough. The best way to chill it quickly is to fill a ziploc full of ice, zip it shut and dip it in your stock to cool it down from the inside out without watering it down.
I typically store my stock in the fridge for no more than week, because it simply doesn’t last that long around here. If I make some to freeze, I would feel safe leaving it in there for up to 6 months, but again it never makes it that long because we love it and use it in so many dishes. Homemade stock doesn’t need to be thought of as a luxury, think of it as a responsible way to honor your leftovers and lift up any dish made better by hot chicken liquid.