Chicken stock is an essential building block of many cuisines, becoming the base of flavorful soups, reducing into savory sauces, and adding flavor to all kinds of recipes. And there are almost as many ways to use it as there are to make it. "There are so many belief systems about stock," says Lauren Garaventa, the butcher and co-owner of The Ruby Brink, a restaurant and bar on Vashon Island in Washington State. She prefers to avoid some of the more prescriptive French methods that involve constant skimming. "I just don't care about how clear it is." Most home cooks don’t either. Instead, she focuses on getting smooth, flavorful stock without needing to babysit it.
What you need
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
If you don't have enough bones and plan to use whole chickens, boil them for 30 minutes before you begin. Pull the meat off to use later, and use the bones for the stock.
STEP 1: Fill up the stockpot with bones and water.
Fill your stockpot one-third of the way up with chicken bones, or a little more if you are not planning to add vegetables and aromatics (see step 3). Garaventa prefers to use a 20-quart stainless steel stockpot to make large batches, but the ratio of bones to water remains the same for any quantity. Fill the rest of the pot with cold water—anytime you want to extract flavor you start with cold water, says Garaventa.
STEP 2: Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer.
Place the stockpot over high heat on the stove and bring to a boil. Once it boils, turn down to a simmer. If adding vegetables and aromatics allow it to simmer for 10 hours; if omitting vegetables, simmer 12 hours. Garaventa adds that some people let their stocks simmer for up to twice that, but she says she finds chicken stock tends to taste weird after so much time.
STEP 3: Optional — add vegetables, herbs, and aromatics.
If you plan to add vegetables, such as the traditional stock options of onions, celery, and carrots; aromatics (peppercorns, bay leaves); or herbs (such as parsley), do so after about 10 hours of simmering. Garaventa says that when dietary restrictions permit, she also makes sure to add a potato at this point, because it improves the consistency and flavor of the broth. Let it simmer for two more hours.
STEP 4: Allow the broth to settle and strain it.
After 12 hours of simmering, turn the heat off under the pot and let everything settle to the bottom, then strain the liquid out through fine mesh. Once just the liquid remains, the stock is ready for use or storage.
Using homemade chicken stock in any dish (and especially in soups) makes all the difference in the world, and uses up bones that might otherwise be simply tossed out. While traditional methods require a fair amount of hands-on time, this version takes a long time from start to finish, but requires almost no work in between. And the results are liquid gold—physically and metaphorically.