Golden Elixir: The Ultimate Chicken Stock

If you buy your chicken stock in a box or a can--even it it's the organic stuff--you'll be amazed by the difference when you make your own. Time-consuming? Not so much. Plus it's cheaper, more environmentally friendly and a lot more nutritious. You can make a big batch to freeze in small jars or containers that defrost quickly whenever you need them. If space is at a premium in your freezer, boil the stock down to a concentrated and syrupy demi-glace which can later be reconstituted into stock by adding water. Once you make a batch of your own chicken stock, I guarantee you'll never want to go back to store-bought, no matter how how convenient it may seem.

This recipe is quite similar to most chicken stock recipes you'll find, with one key exception: you cook it over very low heat for at least 6 and as many as 24 hours! This makes an enormous difference in the flavor, color and consistency of the stock. It's rich, golden, unctuous without being greasy, and highly flavored. Free-range, organic chicken will produce much better results than a factory-farmed bird, but the good news is that you can make great stock using the cheapest parts--feet, necks and wings. In fact, these make the best stock, imparting the richly nutritious gelatin that is largely missing from the canned stuff. It aids digestion and helps the body more fully utilize the proteins ingested. We're all familiar with the folk wisdom about "Jewish penicillin," but chicken broth has actually been prescribed since the 12th century for colds and asthma. The bottom line, of course, is flavor, and it will convince you above all else. When you make your own stock, you will marvel at how this combination of a few meaty bones and some simple vegetables gives rise to such bounty.

makes 3-4 quarts

Note: This recipe calls for no salt. It's generally best to add salt once you know how it's going to be used. If you salt your stock and then reduce it for a demi-glâce or a sauce, you may find it way too salty.

2-3 pounds bony chicken parts, including necks, backs, wings and feet
gizzards from one chicken, optional
4 quarts cold filtered water
2 tablespoons organic cider vinegar
1 large onion, skin on and coarsely chopped
3 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
1-2 leeks, white and light green part only, cleaned and coarsely chopped
1 bunch parsley

Cut chicken parts into several smaller pieces. Place in a large stainless steel pot with the water, vinegar and vegetables (except the parsley). Let stand for 40 minutes. Bring to a boil, and skim off and discard any scum that rises to the top. Then reduce the heat to low, cover and gently simmer for as few as 6 or up to 24 hours. The longer you cook the stock, the richer and more flavorful it will be.

About 10 minutes before taking the stock off the heat, stir in the bunch of parsley. This imparts additional minerals to the stock. Turn the heat off, and allow to cool slightly before removing chicken pieces with a slotted spoon.

Pour the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl or jar and refrigerate, covered. A layer of fat will rise to the top and congeal. Skim off this fat and save to use if you like. (I keep mine in a jar in the fridge, using it to roast vegetables, fry potatoes or baste roasting chicken.) Reserve the stock in covered containers in your fridge or freezer. It will keep in your fridge for 3-4 days; if you want to keep it there longer, you need to boil it again. In the freezer it will keep for several months, but you will use it up before then: in soups, sauces, rice, etc.