Do you have leftover chicken bones that you don't want to go to waste? Great soup, and many other dishes, start with great stock. And the best way to ensure the quality of the ingredients is to make it yourself. Now, if you've never made chicken stock, you might be conjuring images of raw bones, gigantic pots, and hours and hours on the stove. While this is one way to make stock, it is certainly not the only way. People around the world have been making stock in their own kitchens for...well...I don't have an exact number, but a very long time. And with today's kitchen technology, tending a pot all day is no longer necessary. In fact, making a fabulous stock happens better under low heat conditions, so a perfect environment for that would be your slow cooker! (If you don't own a slow cooker, see the notes below the recipe for how to adapt this recipe to a dutch oven.)
I make a whole roasted chicken about twice per month, and firmly believe that the bones should not go to waste. After all, that's where all the flavor is! This is why I started making my own chicken stock at home. This stock recipe uses two pounds of bones from a couple of roasted chickens. This isn't a clear stock because the bones you'll be using have been roasted, but that great roasted flavor ends up in your stock producing a rich, golden liquid.
Since most people don't make stock immediately after roasting a chicken (I know I don't), I find it easiest to save the bones in the freezer. To do this, after your roast has cooled, remove all the meat that you would like to save as leftovers from the bones. Then remove any fat or skin; this will only make your stock greasy and won't add any real flavor. Once the carcass has been cleaned, put the bones and any connective tissue into a freezer bag. If you make another roast, you can add those bones to the bag as well until you have enough to make stock. I usually have enough bones for a decent amount of stock after making two or three chickens.
Note: I would highly suggest using all organic ingredients since everything from the bones and skins is going to end up in your stock.
Before we begin, let's run through the components:
Bones- Obviously this is the primary ingredient for a great chicken stock. You will need two pounds. If you've been saving them up in the freezer, no need to defrost! You can throw them right in the slow cooker frozen.
Water- You'll need 6 cups of water. You should not need to add any additional water, and I wouldn't suggest it, because that will dilute the flavor of your stock. The water you use should be cold, and cover your bones. If your bones are still frozen and poke up a bit, or even a lot, that's ok. Once you turn on the slow cooker, they will begin to defrost and you can smash them down a bit. As long as most of the ingredients are submerged, it's fine.
Spices- For this recipe we'll be using dried bay leaf and whole, black peppercorns. The peppercorns should be lightly toasted in a dry pan at low heat and lightly crushed to release their flavor. Place the peppercorns in a pan over medium low heat. Once you can smell them, they're ready to be crushed. I usually use the nearest blunt object to get the job done.
Herbs and aromatics- To give the stock a deep and balanced flavor, we'll be adding garlic (this will be added when you add the bones), and roasted onion and carrot. The vegetables can be roasted ahead of time, or if you'll be home, you can just throw them in the oven (I used my toaster oven), when the stock is about an hour away from being done. You won't need to remove the skins of the onion or peel the carrots; just make sure they have been scrubbed clean. The skins will be strained out, but they contain great flavor, so we want to leave them on.
Making This Recipe
Put the bones in the slow cooker
Place bones in the slow cooker with lightly crushed garlic cloves, and 6 cups of cold water. Set the slow cooker to low and set a timer for 4 hours.
Prep your other ingredients
While the stock cooks, prepare your vegetables, herbs and spices. Cut the carrot into large pieces and quarter the onion. Toss them lightly with some neutral flavored oil (like avocado or canola), and place them in a 425 F degree oven for about 40 minutes, tossing them at the 20 minute mark. This will be just enough to brown your veggies and deepen their flavor. Toast your peppercorns lightly until fragrant, then crush and set aside. Finally wash your herbs. Parsley is the herb I use the most. If you have fresh thyme, that is excellent in stock. For the parsley, you don't even need the leaves. I was cooking something that required parsley at the same time I made this stock, so I just used the stems. The nice thing about stock is that it's a great way to use up scraps you have lying around the kitchen. If you have some leek tops or green onion tops, feel free to toss those in the pot when the time comes as well!
After four hours have passed, just add your veggies, herbs, and spices and let it cook for another hour. Turn off the slow cooker and allow it to cool slightly.
Strain your stock
The last step is to strain your stock. You can do this however you'd like. I don't have the best coordination, so I remove the biggest bones first with a slotted spoon to get them out of the way. Just place them in a separate bowl and let them drip off so you don't loose any liquid. These bones will be VERY hot, so be careful when handling them. Next you'll want to use a colander or mesh strainer over a clean pot or heat safe bowl. Pour your stock through the strainer to remove any larger pieces. From here it's up to you how "clean" you want your stock. To get a very pure liquid, you can line your strainer with a couple layers of cheese cloth and pour it through once more to remove any fine particles. I've seen people talk about using coffee filters, but I had very limited success with this.
If you don't have cheese cloth, the lazy method that I sometimes use is to just put it in the fridge after the first run through a fine mesh strainer. The stock is very robust and I find that most of the undesirable particles will rise to the top after it chills and solidifies. Once the stock is cold, you can simply skim off the top layer of fat and any impurities without any additional straining.
This recipe makes about 4 cups of stock. Stock will keep in the fridge for about 4 days, but it will last in the freezer for up to 3 months. If you don't plan to use it right away, you can split it up into portions (I usually use about 1 cup at a time, so that is how I like to portion it) and freeze it separately for convenience.
Homemade Chicken Stock
Food scale (to weigh bones)
Slow Cooker (or dutch oven- see notes below)
Fine mesh strainer
Cheese cloth (optional)
2 lbs leftover chicken bones
6 cups cold, filtered water
3 cloves garlic, cut in half
2 medium yellow onions, cut into large chunks, skin on
3 medium or (2 large) carrots, cut into large chunks, unpeeled
1 tbsp canola oil
1 bay leaf
1 small bunch parsley (or parsley stems)
About 5 sprigs fresh thyme
1½ whole black peppercorns, toasted and lightly crushed
Place chicken bones in slow cooker with 6 cups of cold, filtered water, and garlic (no need to defrost the bones if they were previously frozen). Set the slow cooker to low and set a timer for 4 hours.
In the meantime, preheat your oven to 400 F, and toss the onions and carrots with about a tablespoon of canola oil (or other neutral oil). Place vegetables on a cooking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
Roast vegetables in the oven for 40 minutes. Mix and turn the vegetables at about the 20 minutes mark.
After four hours has passed, add vegetables (with peels and skins), the bay leaf, herbs, and black peppercorns to the slow cooker. Allow the stock to cook for one more hour.
Turn off the machine and cool slightly. Strain through a fine mesh sieve lined with at least 2 layers of cheese cloth.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Store in the fridge for up to four days or the freezer for up to three months.
Prep time- 20 minutes
Cook time- 5 hours
Total time- 5 hours, 20 minutes
Yield- About 1 quart (4 cups)
Notes: If you do not have a slow cooker, but would like to make this recipe in a dutch oven, you can do that by preheating your oven to 180 F. Follow the rest of the recipe as indicated above, simply using a dutch oven instead of the slow cooker. You'll leave the dutch oven in the oven with the lid on for the same amount of time. You should check your stock periodically to be sure it isn't simmering or boiling. You should only see a few bubbles occasionally. Oven temperatures vary at times, so if you have an oven safe thermometer, you can keep an eye on your oven temp.