Thursday, October 7, 2010

Chicken Stock is made with bones people!!

Making chicken stock the day after your bachelorette party is not as fun as it sounds. Sure, smelling chicken soup aroma all afternoon may sound nice, but at the end of the day you don’t have chicken soup to eat and nothing smells good within 24 hours of your bachelorette. But, I didn’t have a choice. I had *finally* located chicken bones (which was a process in of itself) and I refused to let these chicken bones go bad on me.

Now it’s a good thing that making chicken stock isn’t a rigorous activity. It’s actually quite soothing and there's something comforting about the process of making a stock. I also learned that if you want to become a bona fide self taught chef, stock making is critical to keeping up with the culinary pros.

At the beginning of each culinary text book, one of the first lessons they teach you is how to make a good stock. Stocks are the ‘base’ of so many things we cook – soups, sauces, gravy’s, braises, and more. Chefs in fine dining restaurants often distinguish their food by uniquely flavoring their stock. For example, Kevin Rathbun of Rathbun’s here in Atlanta smokes his stock, which enhances his food with a unique smoky taste.

The most important fact I learned about stock making is that chicken stock is made with chicken bones!! This is quite a revelation for me. I’ve seen a few You Tube videos and read a few non-real-culinary books that claim it's okay to use an entire whole chicken. I think you would be silly to use an entire chicken. First of all, it’s expensive - - you can buy chicken bones for $1 per pound or less, even at Whole Foods. The whole point of a stock is to extract the entire flavor out of chicken parts. If you use a whole chicken and you heat your stock properly, you will extract the entire flavor from the chicken . . . thus leaving the meat tasteless an unusable. Besides that, chicken bones have the most flavors, and the more bones, and less flesh you have, the more complex and tasty your stock will be.

With all this talk about chicken bones, you would think that locating chicken bones would be a piece of cake - - but it was kind of a hassle. After visiting my local grocery store and two mega Farmers Markets to no avail, I went to Whole Foods for the easiest, cheapest and most painless transaction I’ve ever made. I had been warned that buying chicken bones from Whole Foods could be expensive. But when I connected with the butcher she was friendly and easy, and she said I could pick up the chicken bones in the morning. The bones cost $1.00 per pound - - I picked up a little more than 8 pounds, celebrated my bachelorette that night, and then made the stock the next day.

A few tips and first steps:

1) Use a stock pot (I borrowed the stock pot from a friend so I didn’t have to buy one)
2) When you get the bones, cut off as much skin as possible from the bones, and then place into stock pot
3) Cover the bones with COLD water, fill it up 2 inches above the bones (make sure all bones are covered with COLD water)
4) Gently and slowly bring the temperature up to 185 degrees Fahrenheit. ***don’t add any vegetables or spices to the bones quiet yet
5) Never boil the stock at any point.
6)While the stock temperature is rising, you should notice a Scum rise to the top for the first 40-50 minutes. Skim the scum off the top of the stock with a spoon or ladle to remove the impurities. **Try not to disturb or stir the bones, it will make your stock cloudy.
7) After about an hour of skimming scum, add these ingredients:

For 8 pounds of chicken bones I used:

2 cups Diced Onion
1 Cup Diced Celery
1 Cup Diced Carrot

(classic Mirepoix, remember?)

Herbs – I threw in some parsley, peppercorns, and a bay leaf (you can also use Thyme – for some reason I failed to remember the Thyme, post-bachelorette blonde moment I can assume)

I let the pot of ingredients simmer, hovering around 185 degrees Fahrenheit for about 3.5-4 hours (i.e. post bachelorette nap time). From what I learned regarding chicken stock 3.5-4 hours is the sweet spot to extract the most flavors from the bones. Any less time and you’ll have a weak stock. Any more time and you can overcook the stock and produce an unpleasant bitter taste. I skimmed the scum about once an hour during this main simmering period.

Once the stock finishes cooking, do this:

1) Double Line a Strainer/Colander with a Coffee Filter (you can also use cheese cloth)
2) Place the Colander over another bowl and gently ladled the finished stock into the colander **be careful to not disturb the bones/vegis otherwise your stock can end up cloudy
3) Once the stock is filtered into the clean bowl, surround that bowl with an icy bath in your sink to help quickly cool the stock before placing it into the refrigerator. **Do not add ice into the stock; make sure icy bath is around the bowl to cool
4) Cover and place the stock in refrigerator to cool overnight
5) Once cooled overnight, the fat will rise to the top. Skim and de-grease the stock with a spoon or ladel to remove the fat.
6) Run the cooled and de-greased stock through a coffee filtered colander once again, and place the stock in covered plastic tubs for storage.

The stock will last 3-5 days in your fridge. After then, place the stock in your freezer for later use.

I produced approximately 3 gallons of stock with this recipe.

When my husband inspected the chicken stock for the first time, his first observation was that “it kinda looks like urine”. I knew then I was on the right track. The next test was to include the stock in a few recipes. I made Irish Stew last night, and will be making a tomato soup today. As far as I can tell, the stock couldn’t have turned out better– it will add body, flavor and texture to all of my stock-required recipes.

During this journey to become a self taught chef, I quickly realized the importance of making a beautiful stock. It may seem weird to say this, but I was excited and nervous in the days and weeks leading up to the creation of my first proper stock. I feel like this was a small success, and my confidence in becoming a self taught chef is slowly building. Where do we go from here? Maybe beef stocks, maybe smoking stocks . . . this is definitely not the last you’ll hear of stocks from The Self Trained Chef.


  1. Great tutorial! I make homemade stock all the time using leftover chicken bones from a roast chicken. I also do it in my crockpot, but I'm not as careful about it as you are. I definitely learned something from this post, and I'm excited to try making stock the right way!

  2. Thanks Megan. So glad you enjoyed to the tutorial. I'm starting to feel like a 'big girl' chef now. Ha!

  3. Great post! I always save the left over chicken bones when we cook a whole chicken, but I have yet to actually make a stock, which reminds me, I need to clean out the freezer.....