Stocks (vegetable, chicken, beef, just to name a few) are key ingredients in many recipes, and using store-bought can be a risky proposition (unless, of course, your store reliably has a good brand available). It’s a lot more staisfying to just make your own, and there’s really nothing simpler than a good homemade chicken stock.
Most stock recipes call for chicken pieces, covered by 4-5 inches of water. We have a butcher just down the street from us, however, and I much prefer to just pick up a stewing hen and put the whole thing in the pot. (Cutting up the chicken would be good practice–no one’s going to see the pieces, so it doesn’t matter if you screw up, but I can be very lazy about things like that.) Using a whole bird means “covered by 4-5 inches of water” is actually a lot more water than it does if you’re using pieces, which is why this recipe makes so much more than most. (The stock may not be as intense, but all you have to do is let it reduce a little before storing it.)
The aromatics (everything besides the chicken and water) are there to simply enhance the chickeniness of the stock. Many cookbooks suggest ways to “freshen up” commercial stocks, almost all of which involve adding some celery, carrots, and onion and letting them simmer for a bit. The stock, whether homemade or “freshened,” should really only taste of chicken. Leaving the aromatics out is a bit like leaving salt out of some recipes–the end result just doesn’t taste quite right.
A note on skimming off the fat. I’ve been making stock for a few years now, and I can never quite get all the fat off the chicken stock, even if it’s been in the refrigerator overnight. I think it’s because there’s not quite enough fat to begin with for it all to come together neatly. Just do your best. (Beef stock, on the other hand, gets a thick layer of solidified fat after it’s chilled.)
And finally, what do you do with the solids? The vegetables and herbs should just be thrown out–they have almost no flavor left. The chicken, on the other hand, is fairly moist and definitely flavorful, so I like to use it for chicken salad.
- 1 stewing hen 6-7 pounds, thawed and rinsed (giblets removed)
- 2 medium yellow onions quartered
- 2 medium carrots coarsely chopped
- 1 large celery stalk coarsely chopped
- celery leaves
- 2 garlic cloves peeled and smashed
- 2-3 sprigs Italian parsley
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 6-8 black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- Place hen in large pot and add water to cover by about 4 inches.
- Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and skim off any scum.
- Simmer for 1 hour, skimming as needed.
- Add remaining ingredients and partially cover.
- Simmer for 4 hours.
- Remove from heat and discard solids.
- Strain through a fine-mesh sieve lined with damp cheesecloth into large pots or bowls.
- Refrigerate overnight.
- Discard as much fat as possible.
- Ladle into storage containers (1-cup, 2-cup, or 4-cup) and freeze.