I have made my own chicken stock since college. Actually since before then, since I learned from my mother, and she has made chicken stock since SHE was in college. I've always accepted that it's just something one does. I have, on occasion, purchased boxed broths and stocks with excellent results; however, they pale in comparison to the homemade stuff. Plus, homemade stock is as near to free as you can get, especially when you're cutting up your own chickens (which is a post for another day).
There are as many ways to make stock as there are people in the world, I'm pretty sure. I don't make mine the same way, in fact - it depends on what I have on hand. I think the entire process can be boiled (ha!) down to a few basic principles:
1. Chicken (duh)
You can use an entire chicken. Or just the bones from a raw carcass (tip: some groceries sell chicken backs only. BUY THEM.) Or the leftovers from a roasted chicken. Or just wings. Whatever. As long as the thing is only mildly seasoned you're good to go. That is to say you're pretty safe with salt, pepper, and maybe a few other aromatics like garlic, lemon, or thyme. Frank's Red Hot or curry powder will make your stock taste like those things - while not bad, perhaps limited in use.
I used to go overboard here and add fennel fronds, lots and lots of onions, carrots, you name it. Nowadays I stick with just an onion, maybe a stalk or two of celery, black peppercorns, and bay leaves. You want vegetable stock? That's where you pull out all the stops. Chicken stock is for chicken with a pinch of flavor. So use a pinch.
3. Water (also duh)
And that's it. Just cover your chicken bits and your modicum of aromatics with some cold water.
For those with a small kitchen
I live in Brooklyn. While my kitchen these days is colossal compared to the one in my old Manhattan apartment and most other NYC area kitchens, I still don't have extra space in my freezer for 8 quarts of stock (yes, that's how much I make at a time).
What to do? Make chicken stock concentrate, in convenient cube form! After you've strained the stock and skimmed off some of the fat, put it all back into a pot and keep simmering for another few hours until it's about a third of what it used to be. Pour that into ice cube trays, freeze, and store in a plastic container. One cube will get you about 1.5 cups of stock - just add hot water.
Chicken stock cubes
- Chicken bones, backs and/or wings, preferably hacked into 3-4 inch pieces
- 1 onion
- 2 stalks celery
- 1-2 bay leaves
- pinch kosher salt
- water to cover
Combine all ingredients in your largest pot, covering by about an inch with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer up to 6 hours, but at least 2. Strain and discard the detritus - it will serve you no longer.
Pour the stock into a large bowl or container, cover with plastic and cool in the fridge. Once cool, skim off the fat with a spoon. You can skip this bit by using a fat separator.
Put the strained stock back into a pot and set it over medium heat. Simmer until reduced to 1/3 of original volume. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze.
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