10 Tips to a Better Chicken Stock

 

Many people swoon over the smell of fresh-baked cookies and apple pie, but my downfall is a pot of homemade chicken stock that’s been simmering on the stove all day. The savory aromas wrap around me like a comforting blanket. Actually, I think it’s true for everyone in the house because there is always someone in the pot trying to sneak a taste.

A good stock isn’t something you can rush. It takes patience to let the flavors mingle. You see, making chicken stock is more about technique and less about the ingredients. In fact, my grandmother taught me it tastes even better when made from random bits and parts. You can find her Basic Chicken Stock recipe here although she never followed any measurements. Grandma was a ‘throw it in the pot’ and see what happens sorta cook. Yup, I’ve ruined a good many recipes trying to embrace her cooking style.

Try these tips to amp of your chicken stock game:

1.)    Bones are good – What’s the backbone of a great stock? Duh, the back bone. And the neck bone. And the leg bone. You get the picture. Bones are a necessity of stock; otherwise all you have is broth. Seriously, by definition, you must have bones for it to be a stock. Why? Well, as bones cook, they release collagen which turns into gelatin. (A good stock when chilled should have a wiggle just like the famous green dessert). When buying chicken specifically for stock look for pieces with a high bone to meat ratio like neck bones, wings, and drumsticks. If you’re cooking a whole chicken, simmer it in the stock until cooked through, remove chicken, pull the meat and refrigerate for future use. Return the carcass to the stockpot and simmer the heck out of it. When cooked to a pulp the scrap carcass becomes pure flavor. Best of all it’s practically free flavor since the bones are usually just thrown out.

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2.)    Skin = Fat = Flavor – Everyone knows chicken skin is delicious, but society dictates we should eat our chicken skinless. If that’s the case, what do we do with all that skin? That’s right, throw it in the pot! Those poor naked chickens won’t miss it but we sure will.

3.)    Break the bag – If you have ever bought a whole roasting hen you have more than likely found the bag of goodies hidden in the cavity. This bag has the potential to provide lots of flavor, both good and bad. The neck, heart, and kidneys are rich in taste and bode well in stock. Liver, not so much. Most people have an aversion to its strong metallic twang. So, if you find a bag of bits in your chicken add it to your stock. But please, be sure to remove the liver beforehand.

4.)    Add butter – Butter makes everything better. Even chicken stock. Opinions on this might vary but we are going for greatness and my waistline wants flavor! If you’re on the fence about how much butter to add, add more. Scared to use a whole stick? Don’t be. I have a secret family trick for what to do with all the flavorful fat (Schmaltz) we are adding to our stock. Keep reading; you will find it!

5.)    Use those leftovers – Ideally, when you make a large pot of stock, the pot should be loaded to the brim with tasty goodness. Since water has no flavor, it must come from somewhere. Fill your pot first with meat and bones then every nook and cranny with vegetables. This is a good time to clean out those leftovers in the fridge. Use what you have on hand: A few wilted celery stalks, three spoons of buttered green beans and the bag of carrots that you lost in the freezer may be just enough to bring your stock into the WOW zone.

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6.)    Avoid pungent flavors – While technically you can use any vegetable in stock, it is best to avoid strong flavors. Vegetables such as asparagus and bell peppers are bullies in the stockpot and can quickly overpower the others. A good stock should have universal appeal and lend itself to a variety of dishes such as chicken soup, polenta, sauces, and pasta.

7.)    Water, lots of water – After filling your pot with “flavors,” top it off with water. Fill it to a safe level, usually about 2″ from the top. Be careful not to overfill the pot, it can be quite messy (and dangerous) if it boils over. The goal is to cook low and slow which means some water will be lost during cooking. Replenish water as necessary if more than half has evaporated.

8.)    Salt, salt, salt – All cooking liquids need salt. It’s the essence of flavor. When “something is missing” from the flavor, it’s usually salt. Be generous. It often takes more than you think it will. Don’t worry – Stock can handle it.

9.)    Save the ta-ta’s – Although boneless, skinless chicken breasts are delicious, they do not belong in your stockpot. Save this pricey cut of meat for the main dish. Breasts, especially boneless and skinless, cook very quickly which means they will become tough way before they make a flavor impact. More importantly, remember the first two tips, bones and fat!

10.)   Cook it to death – And by death, I mean hours and hours. Ideally all day. The goal is to slowly break down the ingredients, so they release the most flavor possible. This is not a pretty process but don’t worry it all gets strained away in the end.

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Hooray! Bonus Tips for reading this far.

11.) Store your leftovers – Keep a gallon size bag in your freezer labeled “stock” to simplify the preparation process and put leftovers to a good (flavorful) use. Every time you have a few veggies leftover after dinner toss them in the bag. You know which ones I’m talking about: The 17 corn kernels that seemed too hard to chase around the pot. Who cares if they were cooked in butter and seasoned. After all, that’s more flavor, right? Every month or so, when the bag gets full of randomness, use it to simmer a pot of stock.

12.) Shhh, it’s a secret –  Remember earlier when I said I had a secret tip for the butter in the stockpot – Well here goes, this is my favorite tip on the post… After you strain your chicken stock, chill it overnight. When you wake up, you will be left with a pot of wiggly goodness covered by a sheet of solidified fat. This fat is your friend. Skim off about 3-4 Tbsp. of this hard white goodness and use it as the base of a roux! This method produces the heartiest chicken gravy ever.

I hope you found these tips helpful. Send us a message and let us know how your stock turns out. Also, don’t forget to sign up for our free monthly newsletter filled with exclusive content like this free mini-cookbook.

 


 

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