There are a few things to know about homemade chicken broth.
Actually, there are a lot of things to know, if you’re interested . . . just google “chicken bone broth” and you’ll find tons of books and websites with reams of information about cooking techniques and health benefits of broth.
But, if you’re not that serious about the whole thing, here are what I consider the basics of brothing:
First, get some really good chicken (organic, no antibiotics, no gmos, etc.). You’ll want to get bone-in and skin-on for the most nutrients and flavor. Legs and thighs are cheaper and they make a nice rich broth, so I often use those, but feel free to use split chicken breasts, or a whole frying chicken if you prefer. You can also use a leftover chicken carcass, if you happen to have one. (And on that note, a leftover smoked chicken carcass gives the broth the most unbelievable smokey flavor, so highly recommend trying that sometime!)
Second, cook the chicken at a low simmer for as long as possible. This can be anywhere from 2 to 8 or more hours; basically, the longer and slower the cooking, the better. And although good chicken broth does take a while to cook, it doesn’t require much attention, so you can start it early on a Saturday or Sunday and let it cook all day. (As an alternative, you can cook the broth in your slow cooker on low for 8 hours.)
Third, people say the most nutritious chicken broth is one that “gels” (i.e., turns really thick like jello) after refrigeration. This thickening is a result of the natural gelatin / collagen in the bones and cartilage being released into the broth. (There’s nothing better for your hair, skin, nails and gut, so even if “chicken jello” sounds a bit unappetizing, gelatinous broth is a really good thing!) So don’t be concerned if the broth is solid after chilling in the refrigerator; it will liquefy again when you heat it up.
Fourth, and this is a mistake that I often make, don’t dilute the broth. As the broth cooks, it will reduce a bit and you may be inclined to keep filling the pot with water. Don’t. That’s too much water. I start with about two or three quarts of water and then only add a few cups more, if needed, during cooking. Too much water will weaken the flavor of the broth, and also prevent your broth from “gelling” (the chicken jello thing discussed above).
Fifth, after cooking the broth you’ll want to remove and discard everything solid (onions, garlic, carrots, bay leaf, and chicken bones and pieces). Some people strain their broth to get a really clear, clean final product, but it’s kind of a hassle and I usually don’t. Just season with salt and you are good to go :)
Stay tuned for my next post about all the great ways to use homemade chicken broth!
Basic Homemade Chicken Broth
Makes about 2 quarts
1 package (1 1/2 – 2 lbs.) organic bone-in skin-on chicken legs, thighs, wings or breasts
2 – 3 quarts water
2 carrots, sliced (or a handful of baby carrots)
1 medium onion, sliced in quarters
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 bay leaf
Place everything in a large stock pot or dutch oven. Set the lid ajar, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer over medium-low heat. As foam rises to the top, use a spoon to scoop it off and discard.
The next step depends on whether you are cooking chicken with meat on the bones, and whether you want to save the meat (for later use in soup, salad, tacos, etc.).
If there is meat on the bones and you want to save it, simmer everything for about 1 hour, or until the chicken is cooked through. Then use tongs to remove the chicken pieces and set them aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, pick the cooked chicken meat off the bones (don’t throw away the bones!!) and store the chicken meat in a separate container. Return the bones to the stock pot and continue to simmer for at least 2 and up to 8 hours. (You can also do this in a slow cooker if you prefer. Cook on low for 8 hours.)
Alternatively, if there is no meat on the bones you are using (e.g., a leftover chicken carcass) or if for whatever reason do not want to save the meat, simply simmer everything for the 2 to 8 hours. (And again, you can do this in a slow cooker if you prefer. Low for 8 hours.) You will discard the meat when you discard the bones later. Although you could still eat the meat after 4 to 8 hours of cooking, it will be very soft (almost mushy) and have minimal flavor.
Some of the water will evaporate during the cooking. You can add 2 or 3 cups more water, as needed, to bring it back up to the original water level, but don’t add much more or you will dilute the broth and lose the rich flavor.
When finished cooking, remove pot from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Using a slotted spoon, remove all of the solids (bones and pieces, carrot, onion, garlic, bay leaf) from the pot and discard. You may also strain the broth at this point if you wish.
Seasons with salt and then either use in recipes, refrigerate or freeze.