January 13th, 2011
11:00 AM ET
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Sam Meyer is an editor at CNN and blogs about cocktails at cocktailians.com.

In line with Eatocracy’s New Year’s resolution to eat better and make better use of the resources we have - and because my freezer is getting uncomfortably full - I decided to make chicken stock the other day. I’m kind of an evangelist for good stock; a surprising number of very good cooks I know don’t mess with it, saying that it’s not worth the trouble, or that the store-bought stuff is just as good. But really, the grocery-store stuff doesn’t compare to real stock in the intensity of flavor, and a batch of stock requires less than an hour’s work spread over a couple of days. Plus, I always feel virtuous when I make stock. I’m taking something that I’d ordinarily throw away and turning it into an awesome, versatile base for soups, sauces and all sorts of good things.

There are tons of ways to make stock; however, stock is incredibly forgiving and you can get a pretty good result fairly easily, with lots of chicken-y oomph - far superior to store-bought, which tends to either be metallic or over-salted to my palate. I roast a chicken every week or two in the wintertime, which means that I have lots of bones on hand. The carcasses go in the freezer, and when I run out of space, here’s what I do:

Wash, peel and trim a 2-pound bag of onions and a pound of carrots. (Quarter or halve the onions, and cut the carrots into relatively big chunks - I usually get three pieces out of a moderately skinny carrot.) Wash and trim a full head of celery. Put the vegetables in a big pot (I use two 8-quart stockpots, but only because I don’t have a bigger one.)

If you’re feeling especially fancy, season it a little. Add some thyme, tarragon or bay leaves. Maybe a garlic clove or three. You can also add salt, but I typically don’t - I’d rather control the salt later, when I’m cooking with the resulting stock.

Add your chicken bones. I usually have three or four carcasses from previous chicken dinners. I also add some raw bone-in chicken - thighs, leg/back quarters, or whatever happens to be on sale. If you can get cheap chickens and don’t have any bones on hand, use two three-to-four-pound birds, and try to get as much skin off as you can. I also like to add a pound or so of chicken feet (ask your butcher) because the collagen in them cooks down to form gelatin, which makes for a silky mouthfeel. Wings have lots of collagen too.

At this point, I’ll fill up some big plastic takeout containers with water, and put them in the freezer. We’ll use these later.

Fill up your stockpots with cold water, and simmer them gently.

I check the pots at ten-minute intervals after they start simmering, and skim off and discard the scum that rises to the top. You’ll probably only have to do this two or three times.

After the pots have been simmering for maybe forty minutes, or whenever the chicken meat is cooked through, I’ll pull out those pieces, strip the meat off and return the bones to the pot. (This meat is great for chicken salad, for sandwiches, soups or hash.)

Let the pots simmer overnight, for 8 to 12 hours. Add water to compensate for evaporation.

Strain out the liquid gold. (Full stockpots are heavy. I ladle out as much stock as possible, before picking up the whole pot and using the pot lid as a strainer.)  NOTE: Don’t do what I once did in a moment of idiocy, which was to carefully capture the flavorless vegetables and bones while pouring my precious stock straight down the drain. Avoid that.

Now, you want to quickly cool your stock before defatting it. Warm or room-temperature stock is a great breeding ground for bacteria, and you don’t want to warm up your fridge too quickly. So I turn my sink into an ice bath, and throw in the big ice blocks I made earlier. I’ll also put one ice block into a plastic bag and put it right into the stock. Put the cooled stock in the fridge, and leave it for several hours or overnight.

The next day, the fat in the stock will have risen to the top. Carefully skim off as much as possible. The stock may have a gelatinous texture, if you’ve made your stock with lots of collagen. Save the chicken fat (known in Yiddish cooking as schmaltz) or discard.

Stock will keep in the fridge or freezer, but what I do first is remove some of the water. Put the stockpot back on the burner and heat it to a gentle boil, and reduce it as much as you want. I reduce it to about half its prior volume, and put a cup of stock in a sandwich bag, which I then freeze. The sandwich bags stack nicely in the freezer and don’t take up much space. (Some like to freeze cubes of stock in ice-cube trays, which lets you take a cube or two for a sauce.)

When you want to use the stock, just add back in some or all of the water you’ve taken out. If I’m making a soup, I know that one bag of frozen stock needs one cup of water added to it to bring it back to normal strength. If I want more chicken flavor, I cut back on the added water. If I’m using the stock for braising liquid or to cook greens, I might add more water.

And that’s it! It looks like a lot of steps, but really, total time spent in front of the stove is less than an hour. Making stock uses what you’d ordinarily throw away, gives you the base for lots of great soups and sauces and makes the house smell great too.

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soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Peacewit

    1) Put a few tablespoons of white vinegar into the stock – it breaks down the bones and allows more minerals and nutrients to be released into the stock. You can't taste or smell it with the finished product.

    2) Freeze in icecube trays then put into ziploc bag – throw a few cubes into pasta sauces, stews, etc.

    February 3, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  2. Cole

    Great step by step guide. I really liked the inclusion of the feet. My only gripe is the use of cooked chicken bones instead of trimming it and using the raw bones.

    January 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  3. J.B.Jingles@Sam Meyer

    I just wanted to say thanks for giving me the idea to save scraps for stock! I started a scrap baggie in the freezer last night with some fennel ends...looking forward to making my next batch of stock.

    January 14, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  4. coolrays

    I always make my own stocks. I also save shells from shrimp, lobster and crab (anything that isn't eaten – heads, bodies, etc.) and make wonderful seafood stock. Substituting stock for water when making rice gives the rice a wonderful flavor.

    January 14, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  5. vapor

    where is jerv and tazer and the rest of the trolls. i am a troll slayer and i am here to hunt trolls today. awaken you lowly trolls are you hiding

    January 14, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  6. sweetneddy

    Ditto on not pouring all that goodness down the drain – been there, done that! No matter what kind of stock I'm making – beef, chicken, or veggie – roast everything before adding any water! Your stock will be so much richer in flavor and color.

    January 13, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  7. AJ

    Here is another trick that will add a lot of flavor to your stock (chicken, beef or vegetable): Before adding the water, dry-roast your veggies in the pot for a few minutes. Let the onions stick to the bottom of the pot and get a little brown – this will later cook off and give the stock not only a delicious flavor, but also a beautiful color.

    January 13, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  8. stephanie

    I just finished making another round of stock – making it even easier, I used a slow cooker. The house had a wonderful homey smell as the stock cooked all night. Saving carcasses is a great way to go. I also save veggie scraps and freeze them and then use them in the stock – carrot peels, sweet potato ends, etc.

    January 13, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  9. Aloisae

    Very nice article and instructions. As a vegetarian, I don't use animal products in my stocks (so it is even easier... no fat to skim) but the basic process is the same and it is so much cheaper than the store bought variety... plus you have more control over the flavor, when you are looking for something specific, and things such as salt content.

    Just to emphasize a point you made: stock really is very forgiving unless you need a very specific flavor for a dish. You can use the "scraps" from the veggies you use to make other dishes, rather than buying vegetables specifically to make stock, for an even more economical version of basic stock.

    I keep a container in the fridge with such things from the week (scrapings and ends from carrots/parsnips/turnips/potatoes, stems from mushrooms, ends and skins of onions/leeks, etc.) and then use those to make stock on the weekend, supplementing with a couple extra onions or whatever if needed or if there are veggies in the fridge at the end of their storage life. Just avoid things like cabbage/broccoli/cauliflower/brussel sprouts/etc. with very strong flavors you might not want in the stock... and label the freezer containers if you use something with a distinctive flavor (such as fennel) or make a stock based predominantly on a specific veggie whose flavor you will want to carry over for certain dishes (such as mushrooms).

    January 13, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  10. J.B.Jingles

    Good article, I just made chicken stock for the 1st time about 6 months ago and it is soooo much better than canned anything. I would like to see a recipe/instructions for making a beef stock though...haven't tried that yet.

    January 13, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • U. R. Sosimple

      Hint. Do not use chicken.

      January 13, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Sam Meyer

      A beef stock is pretty much the same, from what I gather (I haven't made one personally, though I've watched them being made.) The big difference is that you roast the bones ahead of time (and you can also boil them by themselves in the stockpot, then skim off the scum - beef bones produce much more than chicken bones) and typically you'd add some tomato paste as well.

      Most reasonably comprehensive basic cookbooks can walk you through stockmaking, too.

      January 13, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • vapor

      shut ur face hole

      January 14, 2011 at 1:08 am |
  11. Megan

    Instead of an ice bath you can also take advantage of the nation-wide cold snap by putting your stock outside. I find my barbeque to be a fabulous place to stash hot food I need cold; it's like having my own personal blast chiller. If you're going to leave anything out there overnight, however, don't forget to lock down the handles and block the hole in the bottom (just in case there are still any creatures wandering around at night looking for dinner).

    January 13, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Sam Meyer

      That's true! Sometimes I miss cooking at my parents' house, with their big deck and screened-in porch, perfect for serving as an auxiliary refrigerator/freezer. However, my fourth-floor NYC apartment has no balconies, and the fire escape is off the living room. I did actually briefly contemplate putting the stock out there (rather than clean all the vermouth bottles out of the fridge to make room) but decided I didn't want to risk marinating my TV in chickeny goodness by accident if I were to slip.

      January 13, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  12. Sam Meyer

    I should point out that when you cool the stock in an ice bath, you don't actually need to freeze orange and lemon slices into your big ice blocks; those were left over from a party when I thought I was going to make two batches of Royal Hibernian Punch but only made one...

    January 13, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Anita

      I was wondering about the oranges!! Thanks for the explanation.

      January 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
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