Soup season is here, and every fall we hail its arrival by preparing a big batch of Homemade Chicken Stock. Making stock from scratch is easy, affordable, nutritious and a great way to ensure that you have this pantry staple on hand whenever it’s needed.
Making your own stock is also a great way to utilize leftover food scraps, including chicken bones or carcasses, onion and shallot skins, leek and scallion stems and leaves, celery and carrot ends and leaves, and even fennel fronds. I save these items whenever I can, pop them into a freezer bag labeled with the date, and freeze them until ready to use in stock.
Stock is a slow-cook process, requiring a minimum of at least two hours to extract all the goodness and flavor from the bones and vegetables. The key to a good stock is to keep the heat low and just be patient. There’s no need to stand at the pot and monitor it if your heat is low – you can continue on with other home activities while it cooks.
The longer you let it simmer, the richer the stock, and some dedicated cooks will even let it cook overnight. However, I typically keep my chicken stock at a gentle, slow simmer for about four hours, which results in a deep golden, rich and flavorful stock.
For this occasion, I didn’t have any chicken bones one on hand, so I used fresh thighs, wings and drumsticks and then removed the meat from the bones after about two hours. I returned the bones back to the pot and saved the cooked chicken, which I’ll use later to make an Italian chicken noodle soup called brodo.
Aromatics like onions, garlic, carrots and celery build flavor and are found in most soups and stocks. You could also add bell pepper and/or mushrooms, but I shy away from strongly pungent vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and kale.
When making a stock, you can use the whole vegetable, including the skins, ends and leaves, so you don’t have to deal with a lot of chopping and dicing. If your carrots are clean and free of dirt, you don’t even need to peel them, and the natural pigments of the onion peel will bring a deeper, richer color to the stock.
Fresh herbs and seasoning also build flavor and are important components in soups and stocks. In addition to fresh thyme, parsley and black peppercorns, I always include a fistful of fennel stems, including the fronds. While the fennel bulb is strongly anise-flavored, the stems and fronds don’t carry that same intensity and instead bring a lovely complexity and depth to the stock without a trace of licorice. I also add a tablespoon of cider vinegar or lemon juice, which helps extract more of the nutrients from the chicken bones.
With our freezer full of chicken stock, it’s time to fill our bellies with the warm nourishment of soup, and our newest recipe for a classic Beef with Barley Soup is filled with savory warmth and comfort.
Makes: 3 quarts
4 to 5 pounds assorted chicken parts (legs, wings, thighs) or 1 to 2 chicken carcasses
1 yellow onion, halved with skin still on
2 large carrots, scrubbed or peeled and cut in half
2 celery stalks, cut in half, leaves on
4 garlic cloves, cut in half with skin still on
1 large bay leaf
3 to 5 sprigs fresh thyme
6 stems fresh parsley (large handful)
1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon cider vinegar or lemon juice
4 to 5 quarts water
Fennel fronds with or without stem (no bulb)
Place all of the ingredients in a large stock pot (6 to 8 quart) and cover with 4 to 5 quarts of water, to about an inch below the top of the pot. Cover pot and bring to a boil over high heat, skimming off any fatty scum that rises to the top.
Once boiling, remove lid from pot and reduce heat to medium-low; simmer gently for 2 to 4 hours. If using fresh chicken parts, remove the meat after 2 hours and return the bones to the stock. Refrigerate or freeze meat for later use. Add more water if stock reduces too much.
Once stock is done, pour it through a fine mesh sieve and discard everything but the liquid. Let cool and then skim off any remaining fat from the surface. Refrigerate overnight and remove any congealed fat from the surface.
Transfer stock to smaller, airtight containers for storage (2 to 4 cups). Refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze for at least 2 months.