Wednesday, October 19, 2011

{The Basics} Homemade Chicken Stock

I have two Chicken Soup recipes on this site that give basic instructions on how to make homemade stock. But, recently I've decided that the process of making really good stock warrants it's own post, where it can hold a seat in the "Kitchen Basics" section of this blog. Because really, making your own chicken stock is something you should be doing...that is, if you enjoy cooking. It's worlds better than using store bought, although I have been known to cave and do just that on many an occasion. It's also nourishing, economical and makes use of parts of a chicken that would ordinarily be thrown away.
I've been making, packaging and freezing my own stock for years. But, one thing that used to really bother me was that my stock always came out muddy looking. It still tasted good, but the bits floating around in it looked unappetizing. I had tried straining it through a fine mesh sieve, even one lined with cheesecloth...but, it still never came out even mostly clear. Through research and experimentation I discovered what I had been doing wrong.

The main issue is that I was cooking my stock at a full, rapid boil. Apparently that's not what I was supposed to be doing because it was causing small particles to become trapped within the fat molecules and stay there even after straining. Another problem was that I wasn't using enough cheesecloth. In order for it to trap even the smallest particles, multiple layers need to be used. Even better than cheesecloth? Use coffee filters. I've found the easiest to use are the square shaped ones made by Chemex. This means there's no need to fiddle around with a cone filter because they unfold flat into a large square big enough to line a sieve. Chemex filters are designed to trap even the smallest particles and work like magic on filtering chicken stock. Using them is my favorite shortcut.

If some problems one, you don't have any coffee filters or multiple layers of cheesecloth around. Two, you try your best to keep it at a low simmer only to step away for a few moments and come back to it boiling away. Or three, you did everything you were supposed to do but it still came out cloudy. There's a way, albeit somewhat compulsive, to fix it after the fact.
That way is called clarifying a stock. I learned some ways to do it on the message boards at Chowhound and from here and here. The method I'm giving below in the recipe is a somewhat simplified way of doing it. There are many more complicated out there, such as how to make a consommé using things like ground meat, a mirepoix, and egg. I didn't go that far. If one day I do, I will be happy to share my results. But, for now I'm sticking with a simpler approach.

You might ask, why bother getting it clear? Well, you certainly don't have to. For years I was consuming cloudy stock and was no worse for wear. It's not especially important when you're adding a cup of stock to something like gravy, or a pan sauce...for those uses simply passing it through a fine mesh sieve is sufficient. But, if I'm making chicken noodle soup, or any broth based dish it's nice to have the technique under my belt. As a final note...if you simmer your stock the full 3 hours you will most likely end up with a stock that gels when it cools. This is not a mistake. That happens when the gelatin in the chicken bones breaks down causing the liquid to coagulate when cooled. This is a good thing, as it means your stock is very concentrated and packed with flavor.

Homemade Chicken Stock

Makes 2 quarts
Homemade chicken stock is the basis for endless delicious meals and anyone who's tried making their own stock can attest to the fact that it's eminently better than using the store bought alternative. Through much trial and error, as well as research, I've discovered several techniques...all of which are included here. Regardless of which option you choose, there's one thing that remain consistent. Keep your stock at a very low simmer, as I've discovered that not allowing the liquid to come to a full boil helps prevent a cloudy, muddy looking end result. Even with this knowledge, it's not always possible to stand guard over a slow simmering pot for 3 hours. So, I am also supplying techniques for remedying a cloudy stock after the fact.

1 whole organic chicken, or the equivalent in chicken parts
12 cups water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 carrots, unpeeled & cut into large chunks
3 stalks celery, cut into large chunks
1 yellow onion, unpeeled & quartered
15 whole peppercorns
1 cup fresh parsley {leaves & stems}
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 fresh bay leaves

Special Equipment: a large stockpot, cheesecloth or Chemex coffee filter squares {optional}

Option One | For a Basic Stock
1. Wash the chicken and trim away as much excess fat as possible. Add the chicken to a large stockpot and pour in the water. The chicken should be covered completely. Depending on the size stockpot you use, you may need to add extra water.
2. Add the kosher salt, carrots, celery, onion, peppercorns, parsley, garlic and bay leaves and bring the stock to a bare simmer over medium heat. Keep the stock simmering very low for 1 hour, skimming any foam or impurities from the surface during the first 15 minutes or so.
Remove the chicken from the pot and let it sit until cool enough to handle. Remove the meat from the bones and reserve for another use. Return anything that's left back to the pot and continue slowly simmering for another 2 hours.
4. Pass the stock through a fine mesh sieve using a ladle, discarding any solids. Return the stock back to a clean pot and let it cool until the fat separates from the stock. Skim off the fat and discard {or reserve for another use}. Alternatively, you can refrigerate the stock in a container overnight and remove the fat once completely cool.
For Storage: Package the stock in pint, or quart airtight containers {or even ice cube trays} and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 2 months.

Option Two | Ways to prevent a cloudy, muddy looking stock
1. One method is to let the chicken simmer alone for 1 hour. Follow Step 3 above to remove the chicken meat from the bones and return what's left to the pot. At this point follow Step 2 above, but instead add the vegetables and aromatics in during the final hour of simmering. Proceed with the rest of the recipe. This helps prevent the vegetables from breaking down so excessively that they muddle the stock.
Another method is to follow either above described technique but before using the stock, or packaging it for freezing, re-heat the stock to get it back to a viscous state. Pass it once more through a sieve, this time lined with multiple layers of cheesecloth, or a coffee filter. This captures most of the smallest particles and leaves you with a clear stock.

Option Three | How to fix a cloudy stock after the fact, or clarifying stock
2 eggs
1/4 cup water
broken shells from 2 eggs

1. After the stock has been passed through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth, or a coffee filter, return to a stockpot and heat. In a small bowl, combine the egg whites with the water. Add the mixture to the stock, along with the broken shells. Bring the stock to a simmer, remove from heat and let it sit for 5 minutes.
2. The egg whites will cook in the hot liquid and as they do they will trap any loose particles from the stock. Re-drain using the cheesecloth method, pouring gently so the particles do not get loosened back into the stock.
Click here for the printable recipe.


Anonymous said...

thats so... weird.. with the broken eggshells bit.

katie said...

I know. It is weird, but it seems to work. I have read some places that the egg white is all you really need, but other say you really need the shell as well. Here's an explanation from the website MadSci for anyone interested in the science behind it!
"The egg white is being used as a clarification agent. The heating coagulates the egg white which traps various things [such as small particulate matter]. It probably also works partially as an anti-foaming agent.

The egg shell supplies calcium carbonate. This probably is a flocculant in its own right and also adjusts the pH. "

Lauren's Latest said...

Love making my own stock! So much more flavor then that store bought stock in a box.

Susanna Carrillo said...

This is a great basic that I need in my repertoire! x

Laurie {Simply Scratch} said...

Great post Kate! A must have recipe for every kitchen!! :)

Kathleen Richardson said...

Katie, you've obviously spent a great deal of time coming up with the best information for us, your readers. I like especially that you provide us with options. Keep writing.

Anonymous said...

do you put the chicken bones back in or the meat?

katie said...

Just the bones. Reserve the meat for chicken soup, or for another use.

Anonymous said...

I just used this recipe for my stock and it is wonderful! The only difference is that I roasted my chicken and vegetables first. Otherwise I followed it exactly and regarding the egg thing - it really works! This is the first time I have had clear stock. This most certainly is my go to recipe for chicken stock from now on. Thanks!

ChickenBrothRecipes said...

Awesome tips for getting the beautiful golden clarity you have there. I will be trying the coffee filters with this current recipe that is boiling on the stove today. Nice photos too! For a richer flavor, I like to make my stock with chicken feet, backs and necks in addition to a regular carcass with the breasts cut out. My personal favorite recipe is online on my blog - try it out and let me know what you think! - Ali Reynolds at Chicken Broth Recipes

Anonymous said...

for getting a clear stock, you could freeze the whole thing, and let it defrost in muslin over a bowl. Gives you perfect clarity and not a single egg wasted.

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