Saturday, January 28, 2012

Chicken Stock, Broth and Soup

It's that time of the year when I begin using up the chicken stock I made previously whenever I had spare chicken parts or a carcass from a roasted bird handy.  I rarely let chicken in any form go to waste as I know I'll need stock for a sauce, or like now, broth for a hearty chicken soup during the cold Chicago winter.   And as my supply is already running low, today I'm making fresh stock from chicken wings, which are really the best for this purpose.  But before I go on, I thought I would clarify a few terms, sorting out stock from broth and other commonly confused items.

Chicken stock is a liquid in which chicken bones and vegetables have been simmered for the purpose of serving as an ingredient in other dishes. Chicken stock is not usually served as is, as it has been reduced and has a very strong flavor. Stock can be made with less desirable parts of the chicken, such as feet, wings, necks or just bones:  the higher bone content in these parts contributes more gelatin to the liquid, making it a better base for sauces.

Chicken consommé is a more refined chicken stock. It is usually strained to perfect clarity, and reduced to concentrate it.  I usually just make stock, but if you want to impress, I discuss below how to create a nice clear consommé.

Chicken broth is the liquid part of chicken soup. Broth can be served as is or served as soup with noodles.  Broth is usually more mild than stock, does not need to be cooked as long, and can be made with meatier chicken parts.   Chicken bouillon or bouillon de poulet is the French term for chicken broth.  Chicken broth can be made from chicken stock.

Broth made from Carcass of Roasted Chicken
Mirepoix is a French term for a combination of onions, carrots, and celery. Often, when making stock, the less desirable parts of the vegetables (such as carrot skins and celery ends) are used since they will not be eaten.

While I use my stock for a wide-range of dishes, in the winter I'm most often making chicken soup, which is a family favorite all across the world.  It may well be the ultimate comfort food. Its soothing aroma and rich flavor often brings back memories of mother or grandmother making a pot and bringing it to you when you were not feeling well. You may be surprised to learn that the Chinese consume more chicken soup than any other culture. Chicken soup is also firmly entrenched as a traditional food in Jewish culture.  It's served in some of the world's finest restaurants and is also considered a peasant food, since it can be frugally made from parts of the fowl which are not necessarily meaty but contain intense flavor, such as the neck, back, wings and the bones. After the meat of a whole chicken has been used for one prime meal, the carcass can be transformed into an equally sumptuous and satisfying soup.  My own mother often did this and I do the same.  You can get so much good food from one chicken.  Is it Jewish penicillin?  Perhaps not scientifically speaking, but it does comfort and provides necessary sustenance and hydration while helping to stimulate the appetite.

Julian's Chicken Soup and Salad
Making Stock or Consommé (adapted from an original recipe by Sara Moulton)
5 pounds chicken wings
2 medium onions, quartered
2 small carrots, halved
2 celery stalks, halved
4 rinsed and dried fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
2 rinsed and dried fresh thyme sprigs
1 Turkish bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

As I noted above, you can use most any part of the chicken, raw or previously cooked to make a stock.  However, if you are just looking to restock your freezer with fresh chicken stock or consommé, I find it best to purchase chicken wings.  They really are an ideal combination of bones, skin/fat and meat to make the perfect golden nectar, and they are inexpensive to boot.

I typically rinse the wings and place them in a large pot.  Cover with cold water about 2-3 inches above the wings.  Starting with cold water promotes the extraction of collagen, which may be sealed in by hot water.

The stock should be simmered gently, with bubbles just breaking the surface, and not boiled. If a stock is boiled, it will be cloudy and if we want a golden consommé to serve our guests, ensuring it is very clear is important.

Start by bring the mixture just to a boil over high heat.  Simmer the chicken stock without adding any vegetables skimming and discarding the surface scum using a slotted spoon. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, skimming frequently, for 20 minutes before adding a rough cut mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery) and the remaining seasonings. 

Salt is usually not added to the stock, as this causes it to become too salty, since most stocks are reduced.

Simmer for 2–3 hours more. 

Remove from heat and when cool enough to handle the pot, strain out the solids.

To remove the fat, place the stock in the refrigerator overnight or for several hours until the fat has solidified and can be easily removed with a spoon. Otherwise follow these instructions to remove the fat.

Return the stock to a pot and simmer until reduced by one third, about 30 minutes.

Divide the stock among several freezer safe containers or molds.  I typically use a Wilton Easy Flex Silicone Four Cavity Mini Loaf Pan, as each holds two-cups of liquid and once frozen, the golden bars are easily removed, wrapped in plastic wrap and placed in a zippered plastic bag in the freezer.  Two cups is often just the amount of stock I need to make a sauce or soup, remembering that this has been reduced and is strong in flavor (to make soup you must add water.)  Chicken stock can be frozen and kept several months, although at my house we have trouble keeping around that long!


  1. Dr Lostpast tells me I am a chicken stock hoarder. I just can't bear to let a carcass go to waste... goose, chicken or duck. I am like you... I save the bones in the freezer until I have enough and then cook them for hours.

    I love the idea of that loaf pan. As it is, I freeze them in gallon bags and lay them flat. When I need stock I take a little ax to them! I found the quart bags were too bulky. Little blocks would work nicely.

    Thanks for the great idea.

    1. Thanks for the post, Deana. Out of storage containers and desperate to find something to freeze my stock in, I turned to silicon tea cake molds a friend had given me for Christmas. They were smaller and sun flower shaped, but they worked great. So I purchased these small loaf pans that work even better. The size seems just right for me. I hope they work well for you too.