The healing properties of a good homemade chicken stock are well documented and it serves us well to always have some on hand in our freezer. There are as many ways to make stock as there are cooks, but here is my basic method, with some comments, variations and suggestions.
The Vessel of Choice:
For greatest efficiency, you will want to use a large stainless steel or enameled stock pot with a heavy bottom. Because stock can be concentrated into very tiny volumes, there are minimal storage issues when you make larger quantities of stock, so I like to make the most of my stock-making efforts each time. My favorite stock-making vessel is a 12-quart stainless steel pot. It's big enough to do a large batch, but small enough to fit nicely on the range. It also gives me a wistful feeling that I'm in the leagues of Julia Child. If you don't have a large pot, don't let that stop you. Small pots are fine, and in my opinion, the best option for small batches of stock is the slow cooker.
DIscussion of Ingredients:
Use the best chicken you can find. That's not to say the best cuts of chicken, but simply the best-raised chicken. Your stock will be a concentration of everything in your source chicken, so you want it to be as clean and pure as possible. Don't use chicken produced in large confinement housing.
Use cuts of chicken with the highest bone and cartilage content. Parts that are typically undesirable for table cuts are absolutely perfect for stock. The bones will transform your stock into one of the most easily assimilated sources of minerals, including trace minerals, on the planet. The cartilage will become gelatin, a source of amino acids, condroitin sulfates and glucosamine. The chicken fat impunes properties to build our immune systems. So, we choose the chicken backs, chicken necks and chicken feet to make the best stock.
Vinegar Soak or No:
Some people recommend soaking your stock bones in vinegar prior to making stock to help release minerals. Acids, like vinegars, do help break down bone, but since the minerals are breaking down into the vinegar - and we don't put the vinegar into our stock - we prefer not to soak the bones in vinegar. Our stock bones are cooked down in the stock water until most of the bones can be crushed between our fingers with very little pressure. We feel that all the good in those bones have been transferred well enough to our stock.
You can go as simple or fancy as you please with your stock; it will always be good. Nothing but chicken and water will compose a wonderfully rich stock.
If you choose to add vegetables, your stock will have a more complex flavor and additional heat-stable vitamins. When shopping for, or harvesting, your stock vegetables, remember that stock is a concentration of everything you put in it, so choose organically produced vegetables and wash them very well before use. When we use onion in our stock, we choose yellow onions and leave the skin on. The skin adds color and flavor to the stock. We chop all the vegetables very fine, including the onion and its skin, before adding them to the pot in order to get the most from the veggies. We think the fine chop improves the flavor over larger chunks.
If you plan to use your stock in recipes, you may want to leave the garlic out so that you have a more versatile stock. Garlic is delicious, but it may not be the flavor you want in all the dishes you make with stock.
Here's our recipe for a large stock pot batch of chicken stock. If you are making a small batch in a crock pot, halve all the ingredients. Our Chicken Stock Starter is composed of the perfect combination of foundation ingredients for great, gelatinous stock. It includes two packages of chicken backs, one package of chicken necks, and one package of chicken feet. For a small crock pot batch, thaw only one package of chicken backs. Thaw the necks and feet in the refrigerator to the point where the outer parts can be separated. Separate off about half of each package of necks and feet, and re-freeze the remaining necks and feet in a tightly sealed bag or container for a later batch.
West Wind Farms Chicken Stock
West Wind Farms Chicken Stock Starter
2 medium yellow onions with skin on, chopped fine
6 medium to large carrots, scraped and chopped fine
6 stalks of celery with celery leaves, chopped fine
12 large sprigs of thyme, or 1/2 tsp of dried thyme
10 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped fine (optional)
1/2 tsp sea salt
COLD water to cover
Note: If you choose to make your stock without vegetables, use only the Chicken Stock Starter, sea salt and cold water. Follow instructions below.
Put all the ingredients into your pot or slow cooker. Set the temperature to high until the water starts to simmer. Then turn to low/simmer and let it cook for 12 hours, give or take a couple of hours (whatever is convenient). Check the water level regularly and add more water to keep it above the level of the chicken. The neck bones should crush easily between your fingers when the stock is done. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Line a colander or sieve with a clean cloth. Pour the broth through the cloth into a stainless, enamel or tempered-glass container. Cover the container and put it in the refrigerator to chill.
Optional: Sort the cooked parts remaining in the colander into three bowls. One bowl for chicken meat, one bowl for chicken fat and cartilage, and one bowl for bone pieces. We use the chicken meat in casseroles, salads, stir fry, soups, etc. It can be frozen in portion-size bags for use later. We give the chicken fat, vegetable bits and cartilage pieces to our dogs and cats. Every pet has different dietary requirements, so feed with discretion. And make sure there are no leftover bones in what you give them! We put the bone pieces in our compost for additional calcium. Some sources recommend against putting bone in compost, but we find that our compost digests them completely in no time, and the calcium is great for the soil.
Next day, check your stock in the refrigerator. It should have a layer of chicken fat on top, and be a solid gelatinous mass beneath the fat. Save the fat: Scrape the chicken fat from the top of the gelatin. Leave some fat on it because that is where many of the immune-enhancing properties of the chicken stock are. Divide the removed chicken fat into 1/4 cup portions and freeze. You can use this fat for sauteeing, sauces, anywhere you have use for a flavorful fat.
Bring the de-fatted stock to a boil on the stove and reduce its volume to 1/4 its current volume. Let cool. Spoon into ice cube trays and freeze. Then transfer the stock cubes to freezer bags for use later. Reconstitute the cubes as needed.