For me, chicken stock is one of the most versatile and nutritious foods I make. It can be substituted for water in many recipes, adding flavor and nutrition. Having chicken stock handy makes for quick-and-easy soups (leftover spaghetti meat sauce + chicken stock = yummy Italian soup). It also makes your home smell WONDERFUL (if I wasn’t so full from the healthy foods we eat, I’m sure I’d feel hungry all the time just from the smell!). Did I mention that it costs almost nothing to make? Water + vinegar + leftovers + vegetables + energy cost for 6-24 hours. Helping of Hope: you can up the ante on your nutrition for almost free overnight!
According to Nourishing Traditions by Dr. Sally Fallon, Chicken Stock contains:
- More easily-absorbed (electrolyte) forms of minerals, particularly calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
- Hydrophyllic colloids.
- Cartilage components.
Based on these key nutritive components, chicken stock is supposed to help alleviate the following conditions:
- Anemia and other blood diseases
- Bone Diseases
- Chron’s Disease
- Common Cold
- Connective Tissue problems
- Digestive defficiencies
- Infectious Diseases
- Influenza (the Flu)
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
What’s in the pot?
The main ingredient in Chicken stock is… BONES. Bones do not provide much flavor, according to Harold McGee’s seminal volume On Food and Cooking, but they are full of collagen (which breaks down during cooking to disassociated gelatin strands), a necessary ingredient for connective tissues. People with Fragile X Syndrome–both Pre- and Full-Mutations–have a higher risk of connective tissue disorders; meat-and-bone stocks like chicken stock are essential for mitigating symptoms. Chicken skin and cartilage also contribute gelatin and in the case of the skin, flavor. According to Sally Fallon, it is the Gelatin that helps the body to digest cooked food and absorb complex proteins better.
The next ingredient is MEAT, from a lot (a whole chicken) to a little (scraps, really): the more meat you have in your stock, the more chicken-like it will taste and the cloudier it will be. Meat can be removed after the stock is made by straining and clarifying. My personal preference is to have as little meat as possible in the stock because it doesn’t contribute as much nutritionally as the bones. Spent stock meat is quite flavorless and most of the nutrition has already been removed. It is better to pull the meat off a roasted chicken (to use for sandwiches or casseroles) and leave the hard-to-remove chicken flesh on the carcass of the cooked bird for the stock. Trust me, there will still be quite a bit of meat on the carcass even if you’re sure you’ve picked it clean!
Filtered water is obviously the largest ingredient by volume. Make sure it does not contain fluoride or chlorine byproducts. Whatever is in your water will become more concentrated as the stock reduces. Vinegar (or acidic wine) is essential to drawing minerals out of the bones. Finally, aromatic vegetables and herbs add flavor and additional nutrition when added in the final stages of stockmaking.
There are two cooking methods I have used to make Stock: the Stockpot and the Crockpot. The Stockpot is a huge, stainless-steel (avoid aluminum) pot handy for making large-batches and makes the initial boiling easier; the Crockpot seems to be a safer option for 24-hour cooking and makes clearer stock because the “LOW” option provides an even, gentle simmer. I prefer the Crockpot because it results in fewer dishes and I lose less gelatin; I cook my Sunday Chickens in the Crock , retain the flavorful juices from roasting, and put the carcasses back in for stock making. Cooking stock couldn’t be easier!
- 2 x 4lb Fresh Amish -OR- Fresh Organic chickens, Free Range and grub-eating (no cereals) if you can find them.
- Organic salt-rub of choice -OR- 2 TBSP Real Salt, 1 TBSP Organic Ground Black Pepper, 1 TBSP Organic Dried Parsley
- Olive oil (if using Stockpot)
- 1/4 cup Organic Apple Cider Vinegar
- 4-5 QT Cold filtered water (enough to fill crock 1″ below top)
- 1 Medium onion, quartered
- 2 Large Carrots, scrubbed and cut into quarters
- 6 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
- 3-4 Stalks of Celery with leaves (if possible)
- 1 small bunch of fresh Parsley -OR- 2 TBSP dry Organic Parsley
- 6QT or larger electric Crockpot OR Stainless Steel Stockpot
- (if using Stockpot) Large Roasting Pot with Lid -OR- Two Roasting Tins with foil tents
- (if removing Chicken Breast) Filet knife -OR- Kitchen shears
- Meat Thermometer
- Chopping knife for vegetables
- Fine mesh Stainless Steel Colander or Sieve
- Stainless Steel Ladle
- Dinner spoon to skim
- Cup to gather scum
- Glass measuring jug (1 QT preferably)
- Freezer Bag for raw chicken and icy stock-cubes
- Glass jars with lids or large yogurt containers
- Ice cube trays
- If you only have access to frozen chickens, thaw them in the ‘fridge 24-36 hours before roasting them. Frozen chickens produce less gelatin than fresh chickens (or so I’ve heard).
- If you are using the stockpot, you’ll need to roast the chickens first. Preheat the oven to 325F for Gas ovens and 350F for electric.
- Place the roasting pot, tins or Crock next to the sink so the chicken can be safely transferred without dripping on the counter or floor.
- Wash chickens thoroughly under cold water, checking the insides for packaged giblets. If the animal is free range and organic, you can keep the giblets; if not, discard them. Most bacteria stays on the surface of the skin; if you bought your chicken 2-3 days ago and you smell a light sulfur smell, wash the skin with cold water and see if the smell remains. If you can still smell sulfur, discard the chicken. If the smell is completely gone, you should be fine (but use your best judgment). Packaging can trap sulfur-producing bacteria and exaggerate the smell. To avoid spoilage, prepare chickens within 24 hours of purchasing them.
- If you use raw chicken for other meals (like stir-fries or homemade chicken nuggets), cut the breast off at least one of the chickens using the filet knife or kitchen shears.
- If the chicken is very cold, or if your fingers are cold, be especially careful; numbness can desensitize you and reduce dexterity, making using a knife or shears safely more difficult. (I am not a skilled butcher; I sort of grab-and-pull, snipping the “connected bits”. Somehow I get that breast off, although it isn’t pretty!)
- Don’t remove both chicken breasts if you intend to eat some chicken for dinner (unless you all like thighs). One breast and four thighs covers our family of five nicely (with two small children, “serves four” works for us), without overeating. If you have a larger family and plan to eat a chicken dinner, don’t remove any breasts or you won’t have enough meat.
- If you are roasting the chickens, rub with olive oil and then with the salt rub. If you are using the Crockpot, just use the salt rub: the Crockpot will keep the chicken moist enough without the oil. Transfer chickens breast-side-up to the roasting pot, tins, or Crock. If one of your chickens is breastless, pull the skin over the remaining breastbone as best you can and place breast-side-down. Two 4lb chickens should fit in a 6QT crock, up to 9lbs (that’s how I cooked a juicy Thanksgiving turkey!)
- Roast your chickens in a preheated oven (see step 2) for 2-4 hours -OR- cook in the Crockpot on HIGH for 3 hours. Check temperature with a meat thermometer, in a fleshy part of the meatiest chicken where the two chickens touch in the middle. When the temperature is at 165F, the chickens are done. If roasting both chickens separately, check the temperature of the thickest part of the breast. Pop-up timers are not always reliable; follow the directions on the packaging.
- Pull chickens out of oven or Crockpot and let them rest on dinner plates for 5-10 minutes. The juice that accumulates on the plates will thicken and need to be added to the stockpot when dinner is finished.
- Serve chicken as you normally would. Ask family members to save bones, skin, and cartilage. You can rinse these leftovers in a colander or sieve before putting them in the stockpot or Crockpot. If you feel squirmy about cooking with things people have previously put in their mouths (!), remove the skin and bones yourself prior to serving. Since the stock will be cooked at a simmer for a very long time, all the germs should be killed; as long as no one has a communicable disease (and even so, I’m not sure that the simmer wouldn’t kill it) you should be fine using leftovers! Notice my disclaimer 🙂 –>
- Pull all the remaining meat off the chicken including thigh, back, breast, wing…any meat you can find. Pick it clean! When it cools, you can store the meat in a plastic container or sandwich bag in the ‘fridge.
- If you feel picky about “bits”, rinse all the remaining chicken parts. I would be more concerned about washing off precious gelatin! Put all the remaining chicken parts in the Stockpot or crockpot, along with any juices on the serving plates.
- By now you should have 2-4 lbs of chicken parts. Add filtered water and Vinegar. Let the chicken rest in the vinegar-solution for an hour.
- Turn up the heat to boil the chicken parts! If you are using the Crockpot, turn it to “HIGH”. Once the water boils, skim off any scum that comes up to the surface using a dinner spoon and “scum cup”. If you are using a Crockpot, some good things like skin might float at the surface: try to skim off any small bits or film that rises up and push the skin back down.
- After the stock has boiled for a few minutes, turn down the heat to a simmer for 6 to 24 hours (longest time recommended). If you are going to do a 24-hour simmer, put the stockpot on the back burner furthest away from anyone’s reach. Even a precise simmer burner or ring will get your stockpot to the right temperature eventually. Be careful that no little fingers will get access to the pot in the middle of the night. If you are using a Crockpot, keep it (and the cable) out of reach of children.
- An hour before the stock is completed, rinse or wash vegetables thoroughly and put them in the pot. Add parsley 10-15 minutes before finished.
- Allow the stock to cool (you can skip to step 17, but don’t use plastic containers). This may take a couple of hours. If you live in a cold climate (like Michigan in winter), you may be able to use your garage as a cooler. Don’t forget the stock in there! A word of warning: it is harder to remove bits from COLD stock than sool stock, particularly because the fat congeals at the top. I prefer to do step 17B first, then cool the filtered stock before putting in containers.
- Remove the spent pieces from your stock. There are several ways of getting all the bits out of the stock:
- Method A: Place the fine-mesh colander/sieve over the glass measuring cup and scoop contents of pot onto the sieve so the stock collects into the jug. You will need to pour contents of jug into the container(s) of your choice as soon as your jug is full.
- Method B: Place the fine-mesh colander over another pot or large bowl (glass or steel) and POUR contents of stockpot or crockpot into the colander/sieve. This is heavy and can be messy (until you develop a routine), but it is often the fastest method. If it is too heavy to lift the pot or crock, use the ladle and take your time. You can let the pot of clear stock cool in the garage; as long as the temperature in your garage is as cold as your ‘fridge, you can leave your stock, covered, in the garage until morning and deal with it then.
There you have it! It doesn’t sound easy just looking at the instructions, but it is as simple as making chicken for dinner and boiling the leftovers for 24 hours. You’ll be glad you made this significant choice toward a brighter, more nutritious future!