When I made the decision to cut gluten and sugar out of my diet, I had to get more serious about reading nutrition labels. I’ve been a dedicated label reader for years, but cutting things from your diet requires a deeper level of scrutiny than before.
Most products in a supermarket offer a substitute if you don’t like the ingredients in a particular brand, but there was something I was having trouble with: chicken broth. It’s a common addition to the recipes in my kitchen, but all the brands I came across had sugar, and/or MSG, and/or other unpronounceable and unrecognizable ingredients. (I recently read that most “No MSG” labels are false. Not cool.)
I decided it was time to make my own.
First, I educated myself on the difference between broth and stock. I had noticed in the past that I purchased broth at the grocery store, but when people made it from scratch at home, they called it stock. As it turns out, broth is made out of the chicken’s meat, while stock is made from the bones.
Second, I purchased my first whole chicken. (Yes, that’s right. I’ve been cooking for years but I had never purchased a whole, raw chicken.) The instructions I followed remind you to remove the giblets, but the chicken I purchased had an empty cavity — no slimy bits to remove.
Finally, I needed to decide on the cooking method. Should I roast the chicken in the oven? Simmer the stock on the stove top? For my introduction to stock-making, I decided to take the easy route: I would use my (6 quart) CrockPot for both steps.
You really can’t ask for a simpler method of making stock. I located these instructions from The Happy Housewife, and followed them pretty much to the letter.
To cook a whole chicken in a CrockPot, this is all you have to do: Spray the CrockPot insert with cooking spray. Rinse the chicken. Put the chicken in the CrockPot, cover, and cook for seven hours. (The instructions recommend adding your choice of spices, but I left that out since I knew I’d be adding spices later to future dishes.)
After seven hours had passed, I removed the chicken from the CrockPot, allowed it to cool a bit, and stripped the meat from the bones. I used some of the meat for dinner that night and put the rest in the freezer for future meals.
By that time it was a Sunday night and I didn’t feel like cooking the bones, so I dumped the bones, skin, and anything else that didn’t look like delicious chicken meat into a plastic container and stuck it in the freezer. The following Friday, I took the container from the freezer and put it into the fridge to thaw. I would make the stock the next morning.
To make the stock, I dumped the contents of the container into the CrockPot and covered it with five cups of filtered water. It cooked for 10 hours on low, and after it was done I had this:
I strained the liquid (using cheesecloth to filter out any large particles) and put it in plastic containers. I ended up keeping the containers in the fridge instead of freezing them because I planned to use the stock in meals the following week.
In the end, I only had a few bones rattling around the bottom of the CrockPot — everything else had been used.
One thing to note: A few days later when I used the stock for the first time, I opened the container and removed the thin level of fat that had settled at the top with a spoon. Underneath the fat, I discovered that instead of the thin consistency I was used to with pre-packaged broth, my stock had settled into a jelly-like consistency.
Confused (and a bit worried I had done something wrong and wouldn’t be able to finish my dinner prep), I turned to Google. As it turns out, this consistency is normal (preferred, actually!). Since I had never made it before, I had no idea this is what’s supposed to happen to a good, well-made chicken stock. When you add it to whatever you’re making, the heat melts it back to normal and you’ll never notice the difference in the finished dish.
I’ve used this stock several times and I’m happy with the results. I love that it’s free of preservatives, sugar, sodium, and all of the unpronounceable ingredients in the stuff I used to buy at the store. I definitely plan to use this method again. In fact, there’s a whole chicken in my fridge right now, just waiting for the same treatment.