something out of nothing: basic chicken stock

image source: emma christensen for apartment therapy

every time i teach a pantry or salt class, we end up on the topic of chicken stock.  so after salt class the other day, i promised to put up a recipe, or more accurately, a basic guide for how to make and keep it.

here's the thing: as a restaurant cook, i was trained to think that freezers are exclusively meant for storing ice cream, and maybe a few other little things.  and it's true--who wants to pay all of that money to eat in a restaurant only to be served reheated frozen foods that were made days, or even weeks, ago? no one.

as a result, i applied my restaurant-cook snobbery to my home-cooking philosophy for a long time.  and let's face it, as a restaurant cook, i wasn't really making dinner at home on a regular basis, so i didn't really realize what home cooks are up against.

since i left restaurants three years (!) ago, i've really changed my tune.  big time.  now, there is no bigger proponent of the freezer than me.  and the number one thing i use mine for is chicken stock, and chicken stock to-be.  because if you have chicken stock on hand, you're options for a quick dinner are practically endless: broth with spinach and a poached egg, noodle soup, stracciatella, pho, bean stew, risotto, paella, brown rice or quinoa cooked in stock, panade, stuffing.  i mean, seriously.  don't make me list all of the uses for stock here.

every time i roast a chicken, i cut off the neck/head, feet, and wingtips (and lately, the backbone) before salting it and throw them all into the freezer in a plastic bag.  then, after cooking it, i add the carcass into the plastic bag.  since one chicken carcass isn't really enough to warrant a pot of stock, i save up three or four and make stock every month or two.  i also save onion ends, the last stalk of celery that's about to go rubbery, parsley stems, and carrot bits in a bag in the freezer.  when my freezer can no longer contain the mess, i empty it all out into a big pot and prepare to make stock.

if all i have is roasted bones, then i'll trek out to the butcher shop and buy a pound of gelatinous chicken heads and feet, or some wingtips, which will add a ton of body and richness to the stock.  otherwise, i literally just clean out the freezer, and anything appropriate from the fridge, and go for it:

  • 3-4 carcasses worth of chicken bones, including some raw ones, ideally
  • one large or two small carrots
  • one rib of celery
  • one large or two small onions (peel on is fine)
  • a few peppercorns
  • a sprig of thyme, if i have it
  • a bay leaf, if i have it
  • some parsley stems, if i have them
  • a leek, if i have it
  • a head of garlic, halved, if i have it (unpeeled is fine)
i'll get out a nice, big pot, throw all of that in there, and then cover with water.  

bring it up to a boil over high heat, and then turn down to a simmer.  at this time, i'll add a splash of vinegar to help draw out nutrients and minerals from the bones into the stock, but you can skip that if you want. 

skim the scum with a ladle if you feel like it.  sometimes, i'm too lazy to do that.  just make sure the stock doesn't boil, and that too much water doesn't evaporate.  the bones should always remain submerged.  

i like to leave the stock on overnight (don't tell the landlord).  i'll cover the pot to ensure it doesn't all boil away, and leave it over the lowest flame possible, and let it go for 6-8 hours.  if this is completely terrifying for you, then do it in the daytime, for at least 4 hours from the time it comes to a boil, but preferably longer (that's when the bones really start to break down and let all of their goodness into the broth).

once you're satisfied that the stock is done, strain out the bones and let it cool.  now, you can let the whole pot chill and skim the hardened fat off the top, or try to skim the fat off the top with a ladle.  if it's near passover, save the chicken fat for your matzoh balls.

i like to pour the stock into old yogurt containers and mason jars and freeze it.  i like having different amounts available for quick use, so i'll put away some pints and some quarts, and some larger containers, too.  if freezer space is a big problem, you can reduce the stock by boiling it down after removing the fat from the top, and freeze smaller containers of the more potent stuff (ice cube trays work well for this, too), then just add some water back into whatever you're cooking later.

if you freeze mason jars, leave plenty of headroom for the stock to expand, and use wide-mouth jars to prevent breakage and headaches in the future.  you can also process mason jars of stock in a pressure canner, and then they'll be shelf-stable and you can avoid the freezer altogether.  

now, you can start saving chicken bones again for the next round of stock.


  1. Samin,

    Love reading your things with your wonderful writing style.

    I have some duck bones in my freezer and plan to make duck stock when I get some more. Do you have any advice for me? Perhaps different seasoning, or cooking even longer?

    Thanks - Jude

    1. Jude! Duck bones love to be roasted! Lightly oil them and brown them for 25-30 minutes in a 350° oven, then make as above. A few juniper berries would be tasty, too!

  2. You mention salting the chicken parts before freezing them. How come?

    1. I salt chicken before I cook it, so the salting has to do with preparing for the roasting of the chicken itself, rather than the making of the stock. If I'm just making stock or getting bones for stock, I prefer to leave the salt out. Does that make sense or am I just confusing you further???