The Art of Making Chicken Stock
Getting it right is simple. You just need two things; know the basic ratio and use quality ingredients.
Open any culinary text worth its weight and you’ll discover more praise and admiration for homemade chicken stock than any other ingredient, and while culinary folk can tend to get overly sentimental toward food, chicken stock deserves alllll the love we can give it. The French refer to stock as ‘fonds de cuisine,’ meaning the “foundation of cooking” due to the depth of flavor and complexity it brings to a dish. When compared to other elements of cuisine, its simple preparation is simply unrivaled.
Making chicken stock is an easy and essential kitchen preparation, yet many home cooks still hesitate to make their own. And that’s a shame, because — when executed correctly — this culinary powerhorse has the ability to elevate a dish from mediocre to sensational.
Getting it right is simple. You just need two things; know the basic ratio and use quality ingredients. Pre-packaged chicken stocks pale in comparison to the lush flavor bomb available right at home. Not to mention the added preservatives not only downgrade flavor but turn an extremely healthy concoction into a sodium torpedo.
Top Three Reasons for Making Chicken Stock:
- Quality – It elevates the flavor and complexity of your food
- Sustainability – You’re utilizing the whole animal (and whole vegetable) while saving money
- Investment – Minimal time and effort needed
In the simplest terms, stock is water infused with flavor. There are many variations on how to prepare stock based on type of cuisine, time, and availability of ingredients. Below is a breakdown of what you’ll need.
- Chicken bones and scraps
- Mirepoix and aromatic vegetables
- Aromatic herbs and spices
Chicken bones & scraps
The beauty of making chicken stock is that you’re using every part of the bird. Zero waste.
This includes everything: backbone, wings, neck, heart, gizzard, bones and any meat scraps still hanging on. If it belonged to the chicken it belongs in your stock pot. The only innards I withhold from including is the liver. Some people claim it gives off a metallic taste. I personally save them to make chicken liver pate or fried chicken livers, but that’s an article for another day.
Chicken wings are an especially popular addition because they contain a lot of collagen (a type of protein) that thickens the stock and gives the final product a rich mouthfeel. The chicken back is also a great source for fat and flavor.
Mirepoix and aromatic vegetables
‘Mirepoix’ is the French term for a combination of onions, carrots, and celery. There’s also a white mirepoix that uses parsnips instead of carrots for color. In recent years I’ve heard people use the mirepoix to describe any aromatic vegetables. These veggies elevate the stock’s complexity by adding subtle but striking background flavors that produce depth great depth of flavor.
- Standard Mirepoix – 50% onion, 25% carrot, 25% celery
- White Mirepoix – 25% onion, 25% leek, 25% parsnip, 25% celery
*White mirepoix is commonly used when the color of the stock or sauce is important for presentation. Carrots will add a deeper color.
Aromatic Herbs and Spices
Much like mirepoix and other aromatic vegetables, aromatic spices are added to infuse flavor and aroma into stock, sauces, marinades, or soups. The two classic pairings when making chicken stock are as follows:
- Bouquet Garni – 1 sprig thyme, 4 parsley stems, 1 bay leaf, 3 leek leaves
- Sachet d’Epices – 4 parsley stems, 1 sprig of thyme, 1 bay leaf, 1 tsp/2g cracked peppercorn, 1 garlic clove
One of the keys to a good stock is mouthfeel. As the chicken bones and mirepoix infuse the water, gelatin and fat from the chicken will create body within the stock leaving a great mouthfeel. The closer the chicken to water ratio, the thicker the stock. Depending on how you’re using your stock, you can adjust your ratio accordingly. For example, some chefs create very flavorful, gelatinous stocks that solidify when cooled. They’ll portion them into ice trays then freeze them for individual servings to add to dishes and sauces.
But if you’re making chicken stock based soup, then you’d want less body to account for additional ingredients being added that will also thicken the liquid.
Enter the 3 : 2 ratio by weight. This ratio results in excellent stock with great body and flavor. It’s also an economical use of the ingredients that produce a great yield.
- 3lb (480z) water
- 2lb (32oz) chicken parts and bones
Now that the basic ratio is established, let’s discuss adding flavor to our base formula. You can’t create a complete stock without some form of mirepoix. At the very least, you need onion and carrots to add depth and complexity. The mirepoix or herbs you add can vary based on desired flavor profile and what you have on hand in the kitchen. Remember, one of the beauties of chicken stock is the time-saving, sustainable aspect of creating a delicious kitchen staple with things you already have.
A great general rule for deciding how much mirepoix to add to your stock is 20% of the total weight of chicken bones and water.
- 5 lb (80 oz) x .2 (20%) = 1 lb (16oz) of mirepoix
Balancing Chicken Stock Flavors
You’ll get a wonderful chicken stock flavor with a good yield if you follow the 3:2:1 ratio.
- Water 100%
- Chicken parts and bones 66%
- Aromatic vegetables 33%
- 3 lbs chicken parts
- 8 oz carrots
- 8 oz onion
- 4 oz celery
- 1 gallon water
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Add olive oil to a large dutch oven or pot and heat until shimmering
- Add onion, carrot, and celery to pot and saute until lightly browned and softened
- Add chicken parts
- Cover with water and bring to a low simmer
- Let mixture simmer for 1.5 hours removing any impurities that rise to the surface.
- Strain through cheesecloth or chinois into a clean bowl
- Store in refrigerator for 5 days or freezer for 3 months