Chicken stock the easy way

You can buy good chicken stock today. If you are willing to pony up some serious money, you can buy great chicken stock. However, I have never seen honest-to-goodness stock in a tetra pack. Homemade stock is thick, often solid when cold from the gelatin released from the bones.

My secret for making stock easily comes from being lazy. I hated making stock, but the only tough part was stripping the carcass. I no longer do that. I remember the last time — a turkey. I spent a long time with my fingers covered in juice and bits of meat, two bowls going — one for the meat, one for the bones. In the end, I had a very small pile of saturated meat. I decided on the spot it was not worth it.

Today, I put my bones in water, cook them, drain them. Done! And using the crock pot, you don’t even have to pay attention during the cooking time. I make stock in the crock pot overnight. I have two crock pots. One is a large one that I rarely use, and it lives in the basement. My small one goes all the time, and it is perfect for a small collection of bones? How small? This batch was made with just the body part of a chicken carcass. My daughter invited me for a rotisserie-roasted chicken dinner, and I left with the body bones. (The legs and wings were served whole.)

Simply place the bones in the crock pot, and fill with water. When I have really good chicken (I buy chicken from a local farmer twice a year and there is a huge difference) I don’t put anything in the water. For regular chicken, I will often add celery tops, whole, unpeeled carrots, or any other vegetable. Note: At one time, I would have added a whole, unpeeled onion, but one of my best friends is allergic to onion, so I no longer do that — real food can be customized.

Real food easy chicken stock photo
Chicken bones, celery tops and water in the crock pot, ready to cook in minutes.

Easy chicken stock photo
Stock cooked overnight in a small crock pot

Place the lid on the crock pot and turn to high. When I am cooking overnight, I start on high, and drop the temperature to low before I go to bed. Low or high is your choice — low takes longer. This batch cooked for about 12 hours, with a little more than half on low.

Real food chicken stock photo
Solid stock ingredients separated from the liquid with a colander into a bowl or pot in the sink.

To finish, I allow the pot to cool enough to be handled, and place a colander into a pot or bowl large enough to catch the liquid. Dump the crock pot contents into the colander. Note: I generally do this in the sink. It does prevent a mess from any wayward liquid, but I do this more because I am short. Putting the bowl in the sink gives me a much better position for dumping hot liquid.

Discard the bones and vegetables. Hint: Chicken bones rot and smell very quickly. I dump the bones from the colander into a plastic grocery bag, moving the bones to one corner of the bag. I twist the bag, and fold the bag back over the bones before knotting the bag to seal. I can then put the bones safely in the trash.

Easy chicken stock image
Stock has been chilled and the fat solidified. I remove most of the fat, but leave a little for taste and body. I did not have much skin in this batch, so there is little fat.

Place the liquid into a container. My crock pot has a removable liner, so I returned the stock to the crock pot liner. Place in the fridge for several hours, or overnight. The fat in the stock rises to the top, and chilling the stock solidifies the fat. You can easily lift the fat from the stock. I don’t remove every scrap of fat, as it does add taste and body to your stock. In the sample shown here, I removed about ¾ of the fat you see.

When I have larger amounts of chicken, I usually use a pot. As I mentioned earlier, my large crock pot is not handy, so unless I will not be home, I tend to just dump the bones into a pot, fill with water, cover the pot, bring to a boil and simmer for several hours.

Real food chicken stock photo
Larger chicken carcass simmering in a pot on the stove. The best simmer has just a few boil bubbles breaking the surface. Cooking too fast evaporates the liquid, and you risk running out of water and burning a mess into your pot.

My cooking time has more to do with what I  am doing than what the bones need. I’ve been known to cook stock while running errands several times. I start the stock, simmer for several hours, shut if off for an hour while I run out, and start again when I get home. Do not let your stock cool completely if you are doing an interrupted cooking schedule. Chicken must be hot or cold — in between can be dangerous.

Once the stock has cooked, the finishing is the same as for the crock pot version. Hint: When I am using a pot, I will often boil off some of the liquid to concentrate the stock. It is nice to have the super flavor once in a while, and when I need regular strength stock, I simply add water with the frozen concentrate.

Stock will not last in the fridge for more than a day or two. You will want to freeze any that you will not use quickly. I use regular sandwich bags to freeze my stock, laying the packages flat on a cookie sheet until they are frozen. I then move the packages to a sturdy freezer bag.

Real food chicken stock ready for freezer photo
Sandwich bags with one cup of stock, laid flat on a cookie sheet for freezing.

Real food chicken stock frozen image
Frozen stock with a portion removed when a small amount of stock is required. I break off a piece of the frozen stock over the counter edge (much like splitting a Popsicle).

I like the stock in this flat form, because I can break off exactly the right amount of stock for every use. It’s not unusual to require a tablespoon or two of stock, and breaking a corner from the frozen flat delivers only as much as you need, with the remainder tucked safely back in the freezer.

Considering that I cook with many ingredients, usually for one, I waste very little food. Over the years I have developed ways to store food in a way that always lets me access small amounts at one time. If you are a small family cook, look for ways to preserve your food so that tiny amounts can be retrieved.

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