As part of an effort to streamline our meal prep during the week, my husband and I have started roasting a whole chicken each weekend. We shred the meat for use in a quick meal later in the week – a salad, sandwiches, a soup, or other dish – the uses are endless. To make the most of the chicken and to eliminate one more processed item in our kitchen, we’ve begun making our own chicken stock in the crock pot.
It’s surprisingly easy – in a matter of minutes, I can throw everything into the crockpot and then literally set it and forget it until the next day. In fact, to make it even easier, I now chop up onions, carrots, and celery when I bring them home from the store and portion them into freezer bags along with a few sprigs of thyme and parsley. The prepared bags go in the freezer until I’m ready to use them. But honestly, you can make chicken stock with just bones and skip the vegetables altogether.
Can it get much cheaper? Aside from being cheaper than storebought, it’s healthier too. Bones contain collagen which forms gelatin when simmered for long periods of time. Gelatin gives a stock more body but also aids in digestion. If you include an acid in the stock, it will help break down the cartilage and connective tissue in the bones accelerating the formation of gelatin. Acid also causes minerals to leach from the bones infusing the stock with minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. The recipe below calls for apple cider vinegar, but don’t worry – the vinegar taste dissipates as it simmers, and you won’t even notice it.
For more info on the nutritional benefits of homemade stock, read about it at Kitchen Stewardship here.
Overnight Chicken Stock
Adapted from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
Makes 3-4 quarts, depending how long it simmers
1 roast chicken carcass
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
1 onion, coarsely chopped
4-5 sprigs thyme
4-5 sprigs parsley
1 tsp whole peppercorns (optional)
4 quarts cold filtered water
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar or other acid
Place chicken carcass and vegetables in the crockpot. No salt necessary at this point – save it for later when you are preparing meals. (Note: you can just use a whole chicken and remove the meat afterwards, but the stock may sap the flavor from the meat, and I prefer the flavor imparted by the bones of a roasted chicken).
Cover the chicken and vegetables with cold filtered water, and add vinegar. Starting with cold water allows the fibers to open up slowly as it warms releasing more gelatin and more juices for flavor.
Soak for 1 hour, then set the crock pot to low and simmer for anywhere from 6 to 24 hours. It’s not necessary to be particularly exact since you’re just cooking at a low simmer. Some liquid may evaporate, but the longer you cook the stock, the richer and more flavorful it will be. I typically simmer mine anywhere from 12-24 hours.
When the stock is done simmering, place a wire mesh strainer in a large bowl and strain the stock. Portion the stock into covered containers for storage in the refrigerator. As it cools, the fat will rise to the top and can be skimmed off if you like when you’re ready to use it. The stock will last in the refrigerator for about a week or can be frozen for up to 1 year.
To freeze, consider ice cube trays for small portions to be added to sauces or gravies. For larger portions, stock can be frozen by the cupful in freezer bags. Place 1 or 2 cups of cooled stock in a freezer bag removing most of the air but leaving some room for the liquid to expand. Lay the bags flat on a cookie sheet or shelf in the freezer. Once frozen, they can be stacked flat.
Ways to use your chicken stock:
- Soups such as chicken noodle, or some of our favorites: potato leek soup, hearty lentil soup, or chicken posolé
- Substitute stock for water when cooking rice or other grains
- Substitute for water when cooking veggies
- Use it in gravies
- Make risotto or polenta – try our Chicken Sausages with Grapes and Polenta
- I’ve even heard it can be substituted for water in bread recipes for a great rich flavor