NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.
There are four main benefits to making your own homemade stock:
1. It saves you money, especially if you use leftover chicken parts. As you’ll see in this recipe, even buying chicken parts specifically for stock is still cheaper than buying commercially-available stock.
2. You get to control the taste of the broth, especially how much salt goes into it – which in my case is NONE. I prefer to add salt to my dishes as I cook them, without having to worry about how salty my broth is going to make my dish.
3. You can make it as concentrated as you’d like, which helps you save valuable freezer/fridge space.
4. You have control over where the chicken comes from, and how it was processed, by purchasing your birds/parts from a local farm or from online vendors.
For this recipe, I used chicken parts from U.S. Wellness Meats; specifically, chicken backs and necks. I used these parts because they have lots of bones, which house a lot of nutrients that are imparted into the broth. U.S. Wellness Meats were out of chicken feet at the time of my order, so I got some locally. These are great because they are full of bones and collagen, which create a rich, flavorful, and gelatinous broth. Other options for chicken parts are leftover chicken carcasses (store them in the freezer after roasting a chicken, until you have a few ready to go), or whole stewing hens (older chickens that are too tough to eat using quick-cooking methods).
You’ll Need: (recipe yields approx. 5 quarts / 10 pint-sized jars)
5-10 lbs chicken parts (backs, necks, and/or feet)
2 onions, peeled and halved
4 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 parsnips, coarsely chopped
3 stalks celery (with leaves), coarsely chopped
1 handful each fresh parsley, thyme, and dill
6 cloves garlic, peeled
Because we’re going to be cooking these chicken parts over a long period of time, you don’t really need to thaw the necks or backs out before cooking. You definitely want the feet thawed, though.
Most chicken feet come dressed already (the outer, yellow membrane has been removed). If it hasn’t, rub the feet with salt and dip them in boiling water, then in an ice bath, then remove the membrane. The picture above is of membrane-less feet.
Your next step is to cut the talons off the feet at the first knuckle. I’m not sure why this is done; lots of people say it’s for sanitary reasons, but I also think that it helps break down the chicken feet faster as the broth simmers.
In a large stock pot (20 quarts), add all of the ingredients and fill the stock pot almost all of the way full with water.
Bring everything to a boil on med/high heat, then reduce the heat to low. The broth should be bubbling, but very gently. Continue to simmer for at least four hours, but keep in mind that the best chicken stock flavor comes from simmering for 24 hours. Stir the pot every few hours and try to break up the bones with a wooden spoon as it cooks. If your liquid is quickly evaporating, reduce the heat and add water if needed.
Here’s what my pot looked like after 24 hours. About half of the liquid evaporated, and I didn’t add any more water to it because I like my stock to be pretty concentrated.
Next, put a colander over another pot, and line it with a cheese cloth. Pour everything into the other pot through the colander. If you only cook your broth for 4-6 hours, you may be able to salvage some of the meat from the chicken backs to use in a future soup. As you can see, after 24 hours my chicken parts were pretty mushy, so I didn’t save them.
At this point you have a choice: either you can just pour your stock into jars and skim the fat off the top the next day, or you can use a fat separator like I did and not have to worry about it. Either way, pour the stock into jars and put them in the fridge, uncovered, overnight so they can cool.
The next day, seal the jars and store them in the fridge (should last a couple weeks) or in your freezer (should last several months).