chicken stock and chicken noodle soup

by Whitney on January 30, 2011

It’s hard to enjoy anything if you’re sick–especially the mental, physical and emotional demands of parenting.

We’re very much into proactive health care around here, and one of our tastiest tonics is homemade chicken stock. For years I bought the boxed stuff, but somewhere between then and now I learned that it has nowhere near the health benefits of homemade, and even less of the flavor. I am a stickler for both. Still, I found the concept of making my own intimidating. I don’t think I even knew what stock was until college. Before that, if I wanted chicken soup I would heat up a a can of Campbell’s.

I’m a planner. It took much reading (McGee, Zuni, countless blogs and forums) before I even dreamed of dropping one of my high-dollar (local! organic! free-range!) chickens in the pot. After a few experiments, though, I realized how simple it is. (It only takes me one day to make!)

Every foodie’s got their own take on how to make the best stock. Raw or roasted, parts or whole, mirepoix or naked, simmer or boil . . .

The short truth is that it really doesn’t matter that much. Any measure of home made will beat store-bought handily. Don’t make it as complicated as I did. Use whatever chicken you’ve got on hand, just cover with water, simmer until it smells like soup, remove from heat when it’s convenient, and strain out the solids. Done.

However, if you’re a little more  -ahem- particular, like me, here’s a more detailed explanation of my method:

Tools on hand

  • 8-10 quart stock pot
  • tongs or slotted spoon
  • boning knife (for removing breast meat from whole chickens)
  • chef’s knife (for chopping veggies and hacking off stubborn chicken parts)
  • wooden spoon (for skimming-There are better tools for this, I think, but this gets the job done.)
  • pot(s) or bowl(s) for decanting
  • colander
  • fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth

I start with a couple of pounds of fresh chicken (either a whole bird minus the breasts or a mix of parts–heavy on the wings), then toss in any roasted chicken bits I’ve got in the freezer. (When we roast I reserve the carcass, usually with some seasoned meat and skin still attached, for stock.) Some cooks aren’t as fond of this method, but I find a greater depth and richness when I mix it up.  The fresh chicken flavor is bright and clean, while the roasted brings a buttery, mouth-watering taste of umami.

That said, I almost always use my stock for a soup or other dish where this flavor profile works. If your ultimate use is unknown, skip the seasonings, and consider whether you want the roasted flavor at all. A gingery Asian soup, for example, would probably be best prepared with the simplest of stocks.

A couple of tips: Don’t break the bones. Do slash legs and thighs to release flavor.

The rest of the story

  • 1 stalk of celery, cut in 2″ chunks
  • 1 carrot, cut in 2″ chunks, washed–only peeled if necessary to remove dirt
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled, quartered, root end trimmed
  • cold water, enough to cover chicken (should be 3-4 quarts)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • Sometimes I include a pinch of fresh thyme, especially if there’s no roasted chicken in the mix.

early simmer foam

end simmer fat cap

In an uncovered pot, bring the stock to a simmer over high heat, skim foam, return to simmer. Add veggies and salt, skim once more. Reduce to a loooow simmer (no big bubbles, just effervescence, like champagne) for about four hours, or until it smells and tastes good. As you near that point, prepare an ice bath, a straining system, and a space in your refrigerator.

About all that:

my straining tower (colander, sieve, storage bowl, ice bath)

Ready a big bowl (or a couple) that will fit in your fridge. Place the empty bowl in a larger container or your sink and surround it with ice or ice packs, then cold water. This ice bath will help the stock cool faster, reducing risk of bacterial growth. When the stock is ready to strain, I create a tower of sorts over the receiving pot to lessen steps and mess. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to take out the big stuff (set aside), then strain into the bowl through a colander, with a finer sieve or cheesecloth underneath.

At this point, you may divide the stock among smaller containers for storage or put the whole of it in the fridge and decant later. Or don’t–if you’re making soup you might simply reheat the pot full of stock.

If you do decide to cool the full bowl at once, give it some room, or surround it with ice packs to speed the cooling process and protect surrounding items. (I use ice packs whenever I refrigerate still-warm foods.)

Sort through the set aside solids to pick out chicken. Most of the flavor is cooked out of the meat, but it’s still great for the likes of soup, chicken salad, and quesadillas.

gelatinous stock--once chilled, it wiggles

Once chilled, your stock should resemble golden gelatin. I don’t skim the fat.

If you’re obsessive like me and want to get into this even further, here are a few of my favorite resources:



  • Cooking Zuni – a home cook’s very thorough description of making stock the Zuni way
  • Kitchen Stewardship — great nutritional insight (Read this to learn why I don’t skim the fat!)
  • Chowhound — real people who know food (search the Home Cooking board for chicken stock)

I should note that the stock is also great for reactionary purposes. The kids have all been sick this week, and few foods bring more comfort than a steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup.

Here’s my recipe:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 medium carrots, cut into 1/2″ slices (I like a lot of carrots, halve this if you just want a few)
  • 2 celery ribs, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2″ slices
  • a few fresh thyme sprigs, or pinch of ground thyme
  • 2 quarts chicken stock, recipe above
  • 8 ounces noodles of choice (we used brown rice shells most recently)
  • 1 1/2 -2 cups shredded cooked chicken (possibly reserved from stock)
  • coarse ground Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • optional garnish: handful of fresh parsley

Place an uncovered stock pot over medium heat and coat with the olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, and thyme. Stirring regularly, cook for about 5 minutes, until vegetables are softened but not browned. Pour in chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add noodles and simmer (reduce heat if necessary) for 5 minutes until tender. Add chicken, and continue simmering a few minutes until heated through; season with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh parsley if you’ve got it.

Linking to Simple Lives Thursday: Consume Less, Produce More, a hop featuring tips and recipes for living a simple life.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Modern Country Style January 31, 2011 at 9:00 am

Oh, and the lovely thing about making your own stock for soup is that the whole house smells most deliciously of lovely cooking. Mmm…..

What a gorgeous blog you have! I subscribed at once!!



Whitney February 1, 2011 at 12:14 am

I do love to have something simmering on the stove all day–so comforting.

Thank you so much for the very kind comment! Your space is so lovely as well–and inspiring! My mind is abuzz with home decor possibilities.


Jackie @ Crest Cottage February 1, 2011 at 10:41 am

YAY! A recipe! I love how detailed you are in this recipe, and the tower cracked me up. I like to make my stock in the crockpot as I roast the chicken in there. Your method looks so much more professional. Thanks for sharing it!!!
Jackie @ Crest Cottage recently posted..My Favorite Bread!My ComLuv Profile


Whitney February 1, 2011 at 11:46 am

I’ve tried making stock in the crockpot a couple of times, but I just can’t get the same flavor out of it. I also like the control of stove-top cooking, where I can keep an eye on things. Of course, you can’t leave the house for hours on end, but sometimes that’s a good thing. :) I really do need to experiment with my crockpot more, though–I’ll visit the lovely Crest Cottage for ideas!


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