Chicken Stock for the Soul

My dad makes a lot of chicken stock and it was one of those rites of passage things he made sure to teach me before I left the nest. He’ll tell you his number one rule is not to add too much water otherwise you’ll end up with a weak tasting stock. My dad isn’t the kind of guy to dispense much advice in general but when he does it’s usually a pretty great nugget on a narrow range of subjects including saving money, not losing your keys, safety behind the wheel, or making a good tasting soup.

The apple indeed does not fall far from the tree. Just like my dad, I have taken on the habit of cooking a big pot of chicken stock a couple of times a month. Sometimes the impetus is the leftover carcass of a roast chicken, other times I buy a few of pounds of backs and necks for next to nothing at the meat counter. I toss those in a pot and cover with cold water (but not too much!) then leave it at a very low simmer, uncovered, for a couple of hours, skimming when I get the chance. Sometimes, I throw all my ingredients in a crock pot (with the lid slightly ajar) and let it go all day or  over night, or if I have the oven on I’ll stash my stock pot to cook along in there. I switch it up when the mood strikes by adding carrots, celery, onions, garlic, peppercorns, mushrooms, tomatoes…

I don’t even pretend to have the sagely wisdom of my dad, but I do intend to teach both my boys to be great stock makers. An excellent stock can take you so many places in any cuisine and its one of the best tricks I know to improve your cooking overall. I know it’s highly possible that neither of them may ever have the inclination to fill their freezer with flavorful homemade stock, but at least they’ll know how and I can feel that I have done my duty to pass along the family wisdom on the subject.

Basic Chicken Stock

After simmering on the stove, in a crock pot or in the oven for several hours, let your stock cool a bit then strain it with a fine mesh strainer into whatever container will fit into your refrigerator. When it’s chilled through, skim off any solidified fat and use within a few days or freeze.

Super Flavorful Stock – Here some of our favorite tricks for pumping up the flavor:

  • Reduce the stock by a third or a half to concentrate it’s flavors. This is also helpful if you’re short on space. You can store a reduced stock  in a smaller container and then add back water as needed as you’re cooking. Be careful about adding salt before reducing, the saltiness with intensify as well. Best to be conservative with salt at the start and leave yourself room to season with more at the end as needed.
  • We like this trick from Cooks Illustrated which involves browning a modest amount of ground chicken then simmering the stock with the meat to pump up the chicken-y flavors. You’ll need to strain it again before using.
  • You can boost the flavor and take it in a different direction by adding a Parmesan cheese rind and letting that simmer with the stock. This is great for a simple soup of tortellini in brodo.
  • Recently we tried our hand at a simplified version of David Chang’s “Ramen Broth 2.0”, which involved simmering a basic stock with konbu (a type of dried seaweed), pulverized dried shitakes and a little bit of bacon. You can find all the details on that bowl of delicious in the first issue of Lucky Peach magazine.

The Best Chicken Soup Ev-uh

Our favorite way to enjoy a great stock is to make an old fashioned chicken soup. And our favorite way to make the soup is to cook all the components separately (vegetables, pasta, chicken), seasoning them so they each taste great on their on and are at the perfect point of done-ness. That means you can toss your perfectly al dente pasta with a little olive oil and Parmesan cheese, you can season steamed carrots with sea salt and finely minced thyme, and you can toss your shredded chicken with a bright squeeze of lemon — and you can do all this in advance if you like. At dinner time, compose each bowl with the prepared ingredients and pour your piping hot, extra delicious stock over to warm everything through. Sure it’s more work than throwing everything in a pot all at once, but the soup is perfection and everyone can personalize their dinner. And this sort of chicken soup assembly project is an easy “cooking” activity for kids who aren’t quite old enough to work at the stove yet.

Check out some of our other chicken soup-related faves: Tortellini in Brodo, Luisa’s Sopa de Tortilla, Don’t Throw That Out! Meet Your New BFF, the Parmegiano Reggiano Rind

14 thoughts on “Chicken Stock for the Soul

  1. love this post! i’ve recently made it a weekly or fortnightly habit to drop by olivier’s butchery to pick up a couple of fresh chicken carcasses to make stock – i freeze it in cubes using those beaba silicone baby food cube tray, and it’s so handy for cooking fresh veggies in chicken soup for javier!

  2. My dad taught me to cook a lot, too. Your post kinda remind me of him a lot. I love your stock, it sounds so soothing and fresh. I will definitely try your soup recipe, too. My little monster will love it 🙂

  3. Homemade chicken soup is a hands down favorite any time of year at our house too. I love the stock suggestions here (I usually go with a roasted chicken carcass but having options is awesome). The top photo is lovely as well.

  4. I prefer making my own chicken stock as opposed to purchasing one from the grocery or using bouillon cubes. Thank you very much for sharing these tips to the foodie community. Totally helps. Btw, I love how you captured the appearance of steam from the soup. Makes me want to have a bowl for myself.

  5. I absolutely love to cook and one of my dirty little secrets is that I’ve never made my own stock…I always use store-bought. Your post really makes me want to try. I also love the idea of everyone “tricking out” their own bowl of soup. My almost-four year old would love that.

    • Hey Bethany — I think assembling is almost (and possibly more fun) for kids than cooking. I’m sure your little one will love the chance to play executive chef. Give the homemade stock thing a try — in addition to tasting great, all that simmering always reminds me to slow down. Not sure about you, but I can use that reminder whenever I can get it.

  6. This might not be possible to many but using a whole kosher or organic chicken makes the chicken stock taste so much better. I can not tell you how much more flavorful the stock can be with kosher or organic chicken. I hope you try it.

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