Homemade Chicken Stock
Homemade chicken stock is one of my favorite things to make, particularly in the winter when it's so cozy to be in the kitchen, a savory pot of something simmering on the back burner. For this recipe, I recommend using chicken necks and backs, which you can get from your local farmer. For extra gelatin, you can use chicken feet. This is a part of the bird that is traditionally used in many cultures, and has many health benefits. I like to drink this warm by the glass when I'm sick--chicken broth (and tapioca pudding) saw me through a nasty bout of pneumonia once, and I've been a convert ever since. This stock freezes really well, so it's easiest to cook it up in big batches and then freeze for emergencies, since who feels like cooking when they're sick, anyway?
Makes about 4 quarts (about 16 cups)
1-2 chicken backs with necks, about 2 lbs. of chicken pieces with some meat on them (basically, chicken carcasses)--if they come frozen from your farmer, please defrost first by placing bagged backs in a big bowl of water in the fridge overnight or for several hours before you need them
Chicken feet, as many as desired (I usually use 6-8), prepared for stock first (please see my related article on chicken feet)
1/2 tsp. organic vinegar (white or apple cider both work just fine)
1/2 white onion, peeled and chopped
1 leek (if you have it), thick outer leaves removed, sand washed out, rough-chopped
2-3 carrots, peeled & chopped
3-4 stalks celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
In an 8-quart stockpot with lid (I like this one from Cook's Standard), cover the chicken pieces with water (fill to about 2/3rds of the way full in the stockpot) and add vinegar (be precise when adding vinegar to stock, as too much will produce a stock that tastes overwhelmingly of vinegar!). Bring to a gentle boil, skimming off the icky brown foam that rises to the surface (it doesn't hurt you to eat it...but would you really want to, anyway?). Add chopped vegetables and parsley and simmer gently, with the lid partially covering the pot, for a minimum of 4 hours, and longer than that if you have time. Stock can pretty much go all day, as long as you check it every hour, and add more water if it needs some. Try to keep the water level about 2/3rds of the way full throughout the cooking process, or you'll end up with less broth overall as the water evaporates. Good to know: I never let my stock simmer overnight, or when I'm going to be away from home...I don't like leaving the stove on unattended. I have never tried this recipe in the crock-pot, so can't provide specifics on that one.
Once the stock has simmered as long as you like, remove from heat and carefully strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve (shown below in the photo gallery) to make sure all the teeny tiny chicken bones are out of your stock. (Caution: please never skip this step...you'd be amazed how many little bones get missed if you try to pick them out by hand! You can potentially suffer gastrointestinal trauma from swallowing sharp bone pieces. This is the same reason you never feed chicken bones to pets, either.) The result is a beautiful, clear liquid that you can add to soups, or just drink hot by the glass (see below). Once cooled, the stock will gel up and be so thick you can almost cut it with a knife (see final photo, below). Once re-heated, it returns to liquid form.
photo gallery (Please Click To EnLarge)
Good to know: chicken stock tastes better than it looks here. Some foods are just not all that photogenic. Photo at the bottom right shows how this recipe "gels" after being refrigerated (from all the gelatin in the chicken feet). Once you warm it up again, it assimilates back into the stock and turns back into the golden-yellow color that's shown (bottom center).