I have had tons of questions about how to make homemade chicken stock, and I’m finally getting my act together. These directions and any health benefits I mention pertain to pastured chickens specifically, although you can do this with any chicken.
First, we’ll discuss cooking a whole chicken. You have a few options. My favorite is to make roast chicken in the oven. Then we enjoy the meat for dinner and use the leftovers for a casserole or soup. And with the bones, I make into chicken stock! But you can also cook the chicken in a crockpot and just harvest the meat for your soup or casserole. The juices it produces make a lovely rich chicken stock, and you can still take the bones and make another batch of stock. This really helps get the most out of your chicken. The other thing you can do is boil the whole chicken and make stock that way, and harvest the meat for casseroles or soups. We’ll discuss all three methods here.
A Word About Defrosting
When you get your chicken from the farm, it will likely be frozen; mine always are, anyway. You can defrost him in the fridge for a couple of days, but I don’t tend to plan very far in advance, so I usually just stick him in the kitchen sink in a tub of cold water for a good 5 hours or so the day I plan to roast him.
How to Make Roast Chicken
It is important when roasting a pastured chicken to cook him slowly at a low temperature. This is from the Lindenhof Farm website:
The pastured chicken is a very different animal than the battery (or caged) chicken, because it has more musculature. Obviously, an animal that has had access to exercise and can scratch in the dirt will have a very different kind of meat because it will have very different leg, thigh and breast meat structure. The recent craze for high-roasted chickens (450 degrees for a shorter period of time) is fine for a battery or caged chicken but will not work for a pastured bird; the muscles simply freeze up and you end up with a chicken-shaped hockey puck. For the pastured bird you need to cook “low and slow”.
1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.
2. A few hours before you want dinner, remove him from his wrapping and wash him well, inside and out. Remove any giblets from the cavity. Pat him dry with paper towels.
3. I like to salt and pepper him, inside and out (I use celtic sea salt and freshly ground black pepper) and then I usually stuff him with a large head of garlic, sliced in half, a lemon, also sliced in half, and a handful of fresh thyme from my deck. (That’s the Ina Garten method.)
4. Then I place him on a rack in my large roasting pan. I always roast chickens breast-side down, so that the fats and juices will drain down into the breast meat, but this won’t give you a crispy crust. If you like a nice crispy browned skin on your breast meat, then put him in the pan back-side down. You can also spread melted butter over his skin. I usually don’t bother. And I never tie up the legs or any of that nonsense either.
5. If you want, you can place cut-up potatoes and root vegetables in the roasting pan with him for a one-dish meal.
6. I don’t baste him while he cooks, and I don’t turn him over during baking, but you can.
7. He’s finished when he’s nice and golden brown, usually about 2 hours for a 5 or 6 pound bird. I just go by sight, but you can puncture the thigh to see if juices run clear. Or you can use your handy-dandy meat thermometer. If you want a crispier skin, you can turn the heat up to 400 degrees for the last 20 minutes of the cooking time, but I don’t find this to be necessary.
8. You’ll want to let him rest for 15-20 minutes or so before carving him.
9. The best way to carve breast meat is to slide your carving knife under the breast meat and cut off the entire piece. Then slice downward so that each slice has some skin attached.
Then detach the thigh/leg pieces, and slice between the two. Serve the legs and thighs along with the chicken breast meat. I leave the bones in those dark meat pieces. If you didn’t roast veggies with him in the pan, a side of mashed potatoes and roasted carrots or any other roasted veggie you like is ideal. YUM.
Alternative to Roasting: Slow Cooking
If I don’t plan to serve the chicken as-is, but I want the chicken meat for a casserole, I just do steps 2 and 3 from the roasting instructions. Then I put him in my crockpot, breast side down, turn it on low, and forget about him for 7-8 hours. When he’s done (the legs will pretty much be falling right off the body) I take him out and let him cool for 30 minutes or so, till he’s cool enough to handle.
UPDATE: If I don’t roast him, I have begun using the whole chicken to make stock, thus eliminating the slow cooking step.
How to Make Chicken Stock
1. When the chicken is cooled down enough to handle without burning your fingers, you can remove the rest of the meat from the bones. If you did the crock pot method, you may want to break it up the bigger pieces for use in soups or casseroles. I usually save out some of the best white meat for chicken salad. Just keep in mind what you’ll be doing with it as you pick it apart, and plan accordingly. And don’t forget the meat on the back. There’s lots of good meat in there too.
You do not need to clean him right down to the bone. Any meat left on is just fine. In fact, it will be easier to remove later.
2. Place the chicken carcass (break it up some if you want) and any discarded chicken bones from dinner into a large stockpot.
UPDATE: Alternatively, take a whole chicken and put him right in the pot and proceed.
3. Throw in leftover raw carrot tops, celery leaves, onion skins, garlic, and anything you may want to get rid of. I actually save these pieces throughout the week so when I go to make stock, I have a ziplock baggie full to throw in my pot. If I don’t have leftovers in the fridge, I’ll sometimes cut the ends off my carrots and celery and then save the good parts for snacking the next day. I also throw in the garlic and thyme from the innards of the chicken that I roasted/slow cooked, but I discard the lemon.
At this point, I sometimes throw the whole pot into the fridge because it’s usually about 10:00 at night when I get around to picking over the chicken I cooked for dinner. Then the next day, I continue the process.
4. Cover the bones and veggies with cold water and cover the pot. For optimum health benefits, add 1 or 2 Tbsp vinegar to the water. Let it sit for an hour or so. The vinegar will draw minerals out of the bones.
5. Heat the pot over high heat until it comes to a boil. Skim off any junk that rises to the surface as it comes to a boil; supposedly this is full of impurities. I don’t find that I need to do this when I boil off the bones, but when I boil a whole chicken, there is a lot of this gunk. This is what it looks like. (I know… sorry!!! Bleh.)
6. Once the pot is boiling, turn it down to low so that it’s just simmering. You may have to adjust the temperature a few times to get it right. You don’t want it to continue boiling hard, but you do want a nice steady simmer. I simmer mine for anywhere from 3-6 hours.
7. When you’re done, remove the bones or the chicken from the pot, depending on which method you used. If you cook a whole chicken, he will be falling apart.
8. Remove the meat from the bones and store for future use.
9. Drain the remains of the pot through a wire mesh strainer set over a large bowl or measuring cup. Discard the pieces of bone and skin and veggies.
10. After it cools down a bit, I pour the stock into quart-sized mason jars and store them in the freezer. And I always have stock when a recipe calls for it!
Almost every time I cook a chicken, I make chicken noodle soup.
My kids love it, and it’s so nutritious — the rich, gelatinous bone broth is great for building up your resistance to germs and viruses. It’s also super easy, once you have the stock sitting in your fridge and the cooked chicken all ready to throw in.
Get my homemade chicken noodle soup recipe!!
Also, a delicious chicken rice casserole to make with cooked chicken.