No one knows for sure when humans started making stock aka the lengthy simmering of meat, bones and/or vegetables with water to produce a flavored broth. The most conservative estimate dates to about 18,000 BCE with the discovery of the earliest known pieces of heatproof and waterproof pottery.
However, my favorite and quite possibly the most metal of ancient stock-making anecdotes comes courtesy of Greek historian, Herodotus. Somewhere around 450 BCE, Herodotus tagged along with a tribe of buck wild Eurasian nomads known as Scythians. These folks had zero chill in everything they did including how they made soup:
Fantastic. I bet that smelled like a nightmare.
As essential as good stock is to just about any restaurant chef or home cook worth their salt, good luck finding a consensus on how to make it. Thomas Keller insists on chicken feet and sundry necks and backs, David Chang swears by shallots and star anise and Alice Waters uses a whole, cut-up chicken and mirepoix. So who’s right? All of them, of course. There is no recipe for stock; only suggestions, methods and preferences.
So, just because I don’t use chicken feet in my stock, I’m not telling one of the finest chefs in the world, “Yo, Thomas Keller, your stock SUCKS, man.”
The method I prefer to use is shockingly simple for two reasons. One, it originates from the notorious fusspots over at Cook’s Illustrated. Two, it’s just four ingredients including tap water. The result is a rich, intensely-flavored stock that just tastes like chicken; something surprisingly elusive with other methods I’ve tried.
For me, chicken stock is going to be the basis for soups, gravies, stews, risottos, sauces, demi-glace, casseroles and…you get it. Because it is a foundational flavor in those recipes, all I want is – as crazy as this might sound – for it to taste like chicken; not star anise or peppercorns or celery. This recipe delivers that.
How? Well, stocks are often made from scraps or leftovers from already roasted chickens. This makes a lot of sense and is kind of magical; you’re making something new and useful out of what is essentially trash. The only problem is that the flavor of these stocks can be kind of muddy or even a bit livery/metallic depending on what scraps you’re using. There is no such calamity with chicken wings. Yes, it is a bit pricier than using scraps or even a whole cut-up chicken. However, in terms of price per ounce, it’s still cheaper than buying anything in a box or a can and the flavor just cannot be beat.
The other benefit of using chicken wings exclusively is the high ratio of collagen to meat and bone. Not only will this make your stock shake like a bowlful of jelly after it chills overnight, it will add both body and flavor to whatever recipe you fortify with it.
I should mention, however, it is my preference to not add salt to my stock when I’m making it. This is because I often use it to make reductions and salting it at this point would make the finished product inedible. However, adding a couple of teaspoons of Diamond Crystal-style kosher salt before cooking or salt to taste afterward is not a bad idea. Just keep in mind you’re going to be using this as an ingredient in other dishes and you don’t want to end up with something too salty.
Because this method uses a slow-cooker, it’s completely hands-off, so feel free to let it do it’s thing for 8-10 hours or overnight. A word of caution: this stock will make your home smell amazing and, in the middle of the night, you may suddenly find yourself floating mid-air Looney-Tunes-style toward your kitchen.
If you don’t have a slow-cooker, no problem. Place all of the ingredients in a large stock pot on your stove, bring it to a boil and then turn the heat to the lowest setting that allows for the gentlest simmer. Like, just-a-few-bubbles-breaking-the-surface-at-a-time simmer. Cooking stock on the stove requires a little more attention and a little less time. Six hours should do the trick. Furthermore, I would check on it every hour to hour-and-a-half to make sure it’s not simmering too hard or that too much water has evaporated.
Should you have plans for immediate use, store the stock in airtight containers in the fridge for up to three days. However, because this method yields just under three quarts, you’re going to need a plan for long-term storage. The beauty of stock is that it freezes well. My preferred method is to measure it into 2-cup portions, pour it into zip-top bags that have a reliable seal and freeze it flat. The benefit of this approach is two fold: it will take up minimal storage in your freeze and it thaws super fast with just a quick rinse under warm tap water.
As for how to use it, I’m going to be posting recipes in the upcoming fall and winter months that will require it pretty frequently. In the meantime, I’ve included a recipe for my favorite and simplest chicken soup.
Slow-Cooker Chicken Stock
Slow-cooker Chicken Stock
- 3 pounds uncooked chicken wings
- 3 quarts water
- 1 large onion chopped
- 1 garlic clove smashed
- 2 teaspoon diamond crystal kosher salt optional or to taste
Simple Chicken Soup
- 4 cups finished and chilled chicken stock
- 1 stalk celery thinly sliced
- 1 medium carrot thinly sliced
- 1 boneless skinless chicken breast
- kosher salt to taste
For the chicken stock:
Place all ingredients in a slow-cooker. Cook on HIGH for 8-10 hours or overnight. Yes, on HIGH.
Strain out chicken parts, onion and garlic. Use immediately or let chill overnight. The stock can be stored in airtight containers for up to three days in the fridge or up to four months in the freezer.
For the chicken soup
Thinly slice the celery stalk and peel and thinly slice the carrot. Next, in a medium sauce pan over medium heat, add the stock, chicken breast, carrot, celery and two-finger pinch of salt. Bring the stock to a simmer.
Once simmering, reduce heat to low and cook until juices run clear when the thickest part of the chicken is pierced, about 10-12 minutes.
Transfer chicken to a cutting board and slice or shred using to forks. Return chicken back to the pot. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt or pepper as desired.
Yields two generous servings.