This year, step away from the box – boxed chicken broth, that is. Simmer chicken pieces (or bones) for a few hours with carrot, onion celery and herbs, then strain, cool and freeze. The house will smell heavenly and you will have “liquid gold” in the freezer to use for fantastic soups, stews, risottos and more.
Making homemade chicken broth is easy. Most of the time is hands off while it simmers on the stove. The big reason to make it is taste. Homemade tastes much better than anything store bought. You control whether it’s a rich or light in flavor. You control the sodium level. If you read the labels on most store brands, you will be shocked at the sodium content and other ingredients (like sugar). Not healthy.
Broth or Stock?
So is it broth or stock? These days the terms are used interchangeably. Traditionally, chicken broth is made with meaty chicken pieces and chicken stock is made from chicken bones.
What Kind of Chicken?
When making homemade stock I often use a whole, cut-up organic chicken. I’ll buy the two packs at the warehouse store because their prices are good on whole organic chickens or buy them on sale. I also use bone-in chicken thighs and legs. Check with the butcher and ask if they have chicken bones or parts for sale. It will usually be backs and necks from chickens they have cut up. Some cooks even add chicken feet. They all work, as long as there are bones. Use what you can get at a good price.
To prepare your chicken, rinse and remove as much skin (fat) as possible so there is less skimming and fat at the end. If using a whole chicken, you’ll need to cut it up into pieces. Follow the photos. Use a sharp French or chef’s knife or a cleaver.
Start off by freeing the leg-thigh major piece above the joint. Cut through the skin and cut above the joint. Bend the chicken in your hands to tell where it is. Remove the skin then cut this larger piece into the leg and thigh.
Next, cut off the wings, again above the joint. Next, cut off the breasts. Start by slicing through the center breast bone. Free the breasts from the body and cut them in half crosswise.
Lastly, cut what is left of the body in half crosswise. You will end up with twelve pieces. After cutting up raw poultry, immediately wash and sanitize your tools. See my note at the end on a good non-toxic sanitzer.
Bones are important because they contain collagen protein. That’s what gives the broth body, flavor and mouthfeel. When you simmer your broth for 4-5 hours or longer (I usually simmer mine for 8 hours), the collagen breaks down and releases into the broth. When cooled, good broth will be wiggly like gelatin. That’s because of the collagen.
I’ve started adding a pound of chicken feet when I can get them. Yes, they look weird, a bit unnerving at first, but they do make for a nice wiggly broth after it’s cooled because of their high level of collagen.
What is That Scum?
The brownish, foamy scum that appears when you first begin to simmer your broth is impurities being released. Skim if off and discard every few minutes until it’s gone.
Next, add your aromatics and herbs. I add carrots, onion, celery (all organic), a dried bay leaf or two, black peppercorns, fresh parsley and thyme sprigs. What don’t I add? Salt. Skipping salt allows you to add the right amount of salt in your final dish to meet your tastes. A no sodium broth is also good for people with sodium restrictions.
As your broth simmers over a few hours, the water level will drop. I keep a kettle of hot water on the stove and add water as needed.
Note – Never cook your broth above a low simmer. If you boil or stir it your broth will be cloudy. Just let it happily bubble away, filling your house with heady fragrance.
Finishing the Broth
At the end of simmering, your broth will be golden and clear. Carefully strain out the spent bones, meat, vegetables and herbs. I discard them, as they have given their best to your broth. Place the strained broth in a large stainless steel bowl or another pot and place it in a sink of ice water. This will help it cool quickly.
To speed the cooling, place a trivet under the bowl or pot for ice water circulation. Stir occasionally until it’s cool. From there, refrigerate and use within three days or freeze. You can use muffin tins for small measures, canning jars and larger containers. Measure it out, label (masking tape and a Sharpie should always be in the kitchen) and freeze for up to three months.
In a pinch, we may all need to occasionally resort to a good canned or boxed brand of chicken broth, but try making homemade. It’s the best.
Liquid Gold: Homemade Chicken Broth
Yield: About 3 quarts or 3 liters
- 1 whole chicken, about 4 pounds (1.84 K), or thighs, legs or bones
- 2 large celery ribs, roughly chopped (about 4 ounces or 120 grams)
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped (about 4 ounces or 120 grams)
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped (about 8 ounces or 230 grams)
- 1 large dried bay leaf
- a handful of parsley leaves and stems
- 1/2 teaspoon of black peppercorns
- 2-3 fresh thyme sprigs
- 4 quarts (4 L) of filtered water
- Rinse the chicken. If using a whole chicken, break it down into pieces with a sharp French knife, Chef’s knife, or cleaver. See the photos in the post for help. Start by cutting off the leg and thigh pieces and cut them in half, then cut off the wings. Next, cut through the center breast bone of the chicken, splitting the body into two halves. Cut the breasts free and cut them in half. What’s left is the body. Cut that in half crosswise. Remove as much excess skin as possible.
- Add the chicken pieces to a large stock pot, eight to ten quarts. Cover with the water and bring to a simmer. As the chicken simmers, impurities will begin to rise to the top. It looks like a brownish foamy scum. Not a pretty description. Skim it off and discard. Continue to skim and discard until its mostly gone.
- Add the vegetables, herbs and peppercorns. Keep the pot at a low simmer for four to five hours, adding hot water if the water level gets low.
- Strain out the spent vegetables, meat, bones, etc. and cool the broth in a large stainless steel bowl or pot in a sink filled with ice and water. Place a small rack or trivet under the pot to speed cooling. Stir occasionally to assist cooling. Refrigerate broth for 3 days or freeze in small container (or even muffin tins) for up to three months.
Note – I often let my chicken broth simmer for 8 hours. As the water level drops, add hot water from a tea kettle to bring it back up. It won’t dilute it. My broth comes out gloriously golden. Any questions, please comment or email me a note.
Helpful links and information:
Golden French Onion Soup, recipe here
Tuscan Vegetable Soup, recipe here
After working with raw poultry or meat, it’s smart to immediately wash the area and any tools with soap and hot water. After that, use a sanitizer such as Mediquat by FreshAWL. Mediquat is non-toxic, safe for food preparation areas (and other areas in your home). I make a small amount and keep it in spray bottles. They specify 2 ounces per 1 gallons of water, which is lot for most homes. To make a smaller amount, I use a 1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) per quart of water.
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