Homemade stock is something that crops up a lot when I talk about what I’d like people to be able to take from the blog, one of those things that can easily feel like the sort of thing a certain kind of person does, that there is a secret art to it. Really though, pop a chicken in some water and simmer for an afternoon and you’ll have stock. A couple of super simple extras elevates it to the sort of miracle cure status of folk lore but the amount of satisfaction that comes from such simplicity makes it perfect for when I need to connect back to day to day living. It also tastes amazing, is so darn healthy and with the nights drawing in and the temperature dropping it becomes a weekly staple starter for the stews and soups of the season.
Your starting ingredients are blissfully simple: chicken, water, veggies, salt and pepper. When I am thinking about making a new batch of stock I’ll ask the butcher for chicken carcasses, the left over bits from jointing a chicken, it’s often free and is a good use for something that would otherwise be waste. I’ll usually ask for 2-3 though if they have more and don’t mind there’s never a point of too much, just a point of not enough saucepans. Jointing a chicken or two yourself can be a money saving way to get your cuts of chicken though (they’ll often be more generous in size too compared to super market portioned cuts) and you have a carcasses left for stock.
Your veg wants to be robust, root veg is great but think along the lines of things that’ll stand up to stewing, onions, carrots and celery are my staples. This is also a great way to use up the end bits that get cut off for other meals, keep them bagged up in the fridge and drop them into the stock pot. Season well with salt and pepper (I tend to just throw in 10-12 whole peppercorns) and cover with water, about an inch over the top of your chicken.
Turn on the heat, reduce to a simmer once the water has boiled, cover and let it bubble away for 6-8 hours. Alternatively popping everything into a slow cooker relieves the need to be around for the whole process. Through the process, keep an eye on the level of liquid and top up if things seem to be getting a little low.
Towards the end of the cook you can get a stronger, more intense stock by letting the liquid reduce a little, also handy for freezing the stock for a later date, you can add the water back in later to tone things down a bit if needed. Strain everything through a sieve after around 8 hours of simmering and you have tasty, heartening, chicken stock.
Want to take your stock to Grannies secret recipe levels though? With a few little embellishments your broth game will be through the roof. Much of these extras, along with quite a few of the ways I cook with the stock come from Hemsley and Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well and is full of super tasty, healthy things without ever feeling like a diet plan book.
Adding a good slug or two of vinegar to the broth at the start helps to draw out the vitamins stored in the bones. I just splash liberally with white wine vinegar and have never found a residual taste in the stock.
I’ll usually throw in herbs that happen to be around the kitchen, another good way to use up the bits and pieces from the fridge door. A couple of bay leaves will always go in, along with bundles of thyme and rosemary if they are at hand. If you have a block of parmesan you can add the rind to the broth for a wonderful richness.
Carcasses from the butcher will often have a fair bit of meat left on them, particularly if they come with the wings. After the first 20 minutes of simmering all that meat will have poached nicely and can be pulled from the bones before returning them to the liquid. It varies butcher to butcher but on occasion I’ve had a couple of meals worth of chicken from doing this, particularly perfect if you want to turn the stock straight into soup at the end of the day. Alternatively, there’s the next tip.
I particularly like this one if I leave all that extra meat on the bones, something I’ll do if I’m making a fairly small batch of broth. After the half way mark (4 hours) I’ll grab a potato masher and give everything a good squash, squeezing out some extra flavor and breaking the meat down into the stock. This will of course create a cloudier broth but this isn’t something I’ve ever minded. I’ll have another mash at around 6 and 7 hours too.
Chances are you’ll want to skim off the fat that separates to the surface of the stock though I’ve found it’s by no means essential. This can be set aside and used for roasting, cooking or for a wonderfully indulgent fried bread, super tasty with a fried egg popped on top.