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The lovely bones go into the pot. The chicken is reserved for another use.

Barbara Kafka calls chicken stock “the universal solvent of the kitchen.” I wholeheartedly agree. So many recipes that I love call for chicken stock, and it’s essential that I have it on hand. As one reader pointed out last week, store-bought stock—even the organic versions—are laden with salt. This recipe is not. This is what you’ll want to use. Besides being embarrassingly easy to make, it’s economical, and it will fill your home with the aroma of simmering goodness—a perfect antidote to a cold autumn or winter day.

Last week I featured Kafka’s recipe for roasted chicken. Please bear that in mind as you consider this post; to state the obvious, roast chicken is the first step in making homemade stock. Again, my thanks to Barbara Kafka for giving me permission to share these recipes from her wonderful book Roasting: A Simple Art.

The finished stock, ready for measuring and freezing

Basic Chicken Stock
This makes about 3 quarts

Carcass and bones from a 5- to 6-pound roasted chicken, plus uncooked neck and giblets (I also add the wing tips I’ve trimmed before roasting the chicken); or 6 pounds chicken bones, necks and wings

3 quarts water or stock, or to cover by 2 inches
(I’ve never added stock and don’t recommend it doing so. See BK’s notes below.)

If using a whole chicken carcass, cut it up. Place the chicken parts or bones and parts in a stockpot with water to cover by 2-3 inches. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Skim off the fat and scum that rise to the top. Lower the heat so liquid is just barely boiling. Cover if desired. Cook 8 to 16 hours, skimming occasionally, adding more cold water as needed. The more skimming, the clearer the stock.

Pour the stock through a sieve and let cool at room temperature as time permits; then refrigerate. Remove the art from the surface and any sediment from the bottom.

Use as is, refrigerate for 1 week, or freeze for 6 to 9 months.

Some notes from Barbara Kafka, adapted from her introduction to this recipe:

  • Make the stock without vegetables; they can always be added later. Vegetables cloud the stock and can cause it to turn and sour. (Kafka points out that she also doesn’t know until she uses the stock what she wants the flavorings to be.)
  • Stock made from the bones saved from plates and the carcass of a roasted bird, with its giblets added, will be richer than stock made from unroasted parts.
  • Tie up the gizzards and hearts in a piece of cheesecloth to fish them out easily after an hour’s cooking time. (I have to admit I never seem to have cheesecloth on hand, and I always forget to remove the giblets from the pot after an hour. Never harmed my stock, as far as I can tell!)
  • Before using the bones of a roast chicken for stock, remove all the good meat and save it for another use. (You can see from the picture that’s exactly what I did; the following day I made chicken pot pie, and will share that recipe with you next week.)
  • Note that the pieces of tendon and all parts that look and feel unattractive are good for the flavor of the stock.
  • Once a chicken is roasted, it is easy to pull the carcass apart—cut it if you are fastidious. (I’m not fastidious. I just rip the thing to pieces.) But having the bones in smaller pieces means that less liquid is needed to cover them (and that yields a richer stock).
  • Use a stockpot that is tall in proportion to its diameter; this minimizes the amount of liquid required and constantly rotates the liquid over the bones, which should be covered by liquid by several inches. (When Kafka doesn’t have time to let the stock simmer for many hours, she cheats by adding canned stock to the water for a base. I’ve never done this and I suspect she doesn’t do it often herself. I should ask her!)
  • The key to the success of this stock is long simmering. Don’t be alarmed, but if I start my pot going after an evening meal, I’ll keep it simmering all through the night and into the next day. Just keep the flame on at its lowest—after the initial boiling, all you really want to do is keep it lightly percolating—one or two “burps” at a time. I keep the lid on, but slightly askew to let some of the heat escape.
  • Why don’t you want it to boil the entire time? Because, according to Kafka, boiling risks binding the fat and dissolving solids into the gelatinous liquid. And long simmering dissolves all the gelatinous bits, which is what you want. The bones fall apart, as she says, “having given their all.” It takes about eight hours minimum; she likes to keep it going up to sixteen hours, if possible, and so do I.