How to make basic chicken stock
If I were hiring someone to work in my kitchen (and, really, who hasn't fantasized about having his or her very own sous chef to do all of the prep work?), the test I'd give would be the test of stock. Mastery of basic soup stocks -- chicken, beef, fish and vegetable -- identifies a really good soup maker. Best of all, it's easy peasy to make your own stock. Though I often start with a rotisserie chicken carcass, today's chicken stock from scratch is the real deal: a whole chicken, some vegetables, a few peppercorns, and plenty of water. (Yes, technically, this is more a broth than a stock, because I include the meat as well as bones.) I never salt my stock, so I can season to taste when making soup. I like to use my large 7-quart slow cooker (crockpot) for this, but I've included stove top directions as well. Either way, you'll end up with a rich stock, and some boiled chicken meat that's perfect for a chicken salad sandwich.
Makes 2-3 quarts, depending on the capacity of your slow cooker or stock pot.
1 roaster chicken or stewing hen, 5-7 lbs
1 large onion, unpeeled, cut in half
1 large carrot, unpeeled, washed, cut in half
2 celery stalks, washed, cut in half
12 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
Prepare the chicken by removing the bag of giblets from the cavity. If you are using a chicken that comes with a little plastic pop-up timer, be sure to pull that out and discard. Rinse the chicken inside and out with very cold water.
SLOW COOKER METHOD: Place the chicken and the neck (from the bag with the giblets) in the cooker, and add the onion, carrot, celery, peppercorns and bay leaf. Fill the cooker with cold water, leaving two inches at the top. Cook on HIGH for 3 hours. Remove the chicken and vegetables from the cooker and set aside to cool. Continue cooking the stock on HIGH, partially covered, for another 2 hours, until it has reduced by half.
STOVE TOP METHOD: Place the chicken and the neck into a large stainless steel stock pot (I use a 12-quart pot). Add the onion, carrot, celery, peppercorns and bay leaf, and fill the pot with cold water to cover the chicken. Bring to a boil over high heat. Then, reduce heat to low, and cook, uncovered, for 2 hours. Remove the chicken and vegetables from the pot and set aside to cool. Continue cooking the stock on low, maintaining a low boil, for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, until reduced by half.
BOTH METHODS: Using a fine-mesh strainer, strain the stock into a large container, and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight. The chicken fat will solidify on the top; remove it with a spoon. Then, portion the stock into smaller containers, if you wish, and freeze until ready to use (up to 3 months).
Don't forget to strip the chicken carcass of the meat, which, although it gave most everything it had to the stock, will make a great chicken salad, stir fry or fried rice.