How to make bone stock

Stock is the foundation of all that is good and holy and I can feel worn down, depressed, grumpy and out of every form of energy, and I can have some homemade stock and immediately I feel like a new person again.

We always have soup in the freezer and fresh stock in the fridge, always. I make it a point to at least drink a pint of salted, warm stock every day day. It’s a great pre-breakfast pick-me-up when the day starts earlier than breakfast, or an afternoon snack, or a late, late dinner or a tonic after I’ve eaten junk food to immediately set me right. I really believe that well-made stock could transform the world.

Everyone should know how to make stock. It’s up there with balancing a checkbook, knowing how important it is to vote, riding a bicycle and brushing one’s teeth in life importance, in my book. It’s incredibly healing to the gut, the seat of the immune system. Giving stock in the form of homemade soup is a wonderful way of being neighborly. Chicken soup really is for the soul.

A friend got this mug for me as gag gift and I love the orange color on the inside. See my stock quaffing in the cold, winter air?!

Whenever we cook a chicken or turkey, I aways use the bones to make stock. Sometimes I’ll roast chicken backs or turkey necks specifically to make stock, but oftentimes the stock parts are the byproduct of other endeavors (sometimes roasting poultry to make soup). Beef stock usually is a separate affair that I roast marrow and soup bones for specifically, but the principles are the same. It’s a simple process that adapts well to whatever you have on hand.

I used to make stock by simmering several birds worth of bones in my 25-quart stockpot for a day or more, but these days my 8-quart Instant Pot is much less fuss (and more energy-efficient to run for 24+ hours than our gas range, plus the very real fire safety issues of running too low on water if you neglect the pot for too long).

Whether you use your Instant Pot, crock pot or a pot on your stove, the important thing is just to make bone stock!

The bones of one chicken work perfectly in the 8-quart model. When I make turkey stock from the carcass, I usually do it in two batches. One 2.5-lb bag of chicken backs and a package of feet (I always add a package of feet…) makes one batch. Each batch makes about a gallon of stock, which I store in 1/2-gallon mason jars in the fridge. We easily consume a gallon of stock a week, both as a hot beverage and in soups and braises. If you are going to freeze in glass, do so in pint containers with 3/4″ gap from the top and the wide-mouth containers work best. Any other sizes will crack in the freezer.

No truly worthy stock with ample gelatin for your tired bones and soon-to-be radiant skin can be made without feet. Double bonus if you use turkey feet, as they are like adding dinosaur bones to your pot and are full of nutrients. Chicken feet are also amazing.

Roasting the bones in advance isn’t absolutely necessary, but it will make the flavor much better, and then you will have pan drippings, which are a sine qua non of good stock in my book. If you are using a chicken carcass, the bones are already roasted, and definitely save every bit of those drippings!

Pan drippings are your friend in stock

To get all the precious browned bits off the roasting pan (you want to do this), put a little water in the pan and heat up on the stove until you can dislodge the last bit of juices and bits with a wooden spoon. Add this flavor-water to your stock pot.

Rinse the feet well and add them to your stock pot. Add 2 T. of organic apple cider vinegar, 1+ T. of real salt and enough water to reach within 1.5″-2″ of the top of the pot. Ideally, this mixture of bones, salt, water and vinegar would sit unheated for 30 min. The acidified water begins the process of extracting the minerals from the bones. Sometimes I don’t have time for that. It’s more important to make stock at all than to make perfect stock!

Simmer the pot of stock parts (do not boil) for 12+ hours, but definitely at least 5-6 hours. I usually set my slow-cook setting for 20 hours, with the keep-warm setting on after that, which buys me 10 more hours before I strain the stock. (The 140 degrees maintained in that setting is more than enough to keep extracting goodness out of the bones for your stock, and it’s also a food-safe temperature to hold poultry.)

These regular-mouth jars are more apt to crack in the freezer in my experience, so I often use wide-mouth jars. A cracked jar can of stock can be rescued with a fine-mesh strainer.

Upping your game with aromatics

If you are really on your game, add a couple of carrots and a couple of sticks of celery and a yellow onion, peeled and quartered, to the pot anytime within the last 2-4 hours of cooking. Sometimes I don’t do this, and the stock will just not be as aromatic. For bonus points, add parsley stems (up to a bunch of parsley) to the stock 30-60 min before completion. There’s lots of minerals in parsley and it adds great flavor. I rarely get to do this, but when I do it’s amazing. Adding vegetables too early in the process will create off flavors, and the long cooking times are necessary to get all the gelatin out of the bones.

I use a cone shaped fine-mesh strainer to strain the stock, but you can use anything you have. Even just on the keep-warm setting, the liquid in your pot will be hot enough to crack a glass (ask me how I know!) if the ambient temperature is sufficiently cold, so I usually strain into a large bowl and then ladle into the mason jars with my indispensable wide-mouth funnel. (Splurge and get a stainless steel one. I use it almost every day.)

Remember: it’s more important to make good stock than to make perfect stock. Just make stock!

A word about pressure cooking

The most flavorful stock I’ve ever had was made with the pressure cook “stock” setting on my Instant Pot, and it’s done in an hour or two, but there’s a lot to be cautioned about this approach, as many stipulate that it destroys nutrients. I will say that the stocks I’ve made this way had more gelatin, so who knows. There is not a lot of good science on the subject. My general rule of thumb is that if my grandmother didn’t have it in her kitchen, I best use the precautionary principle when deciding whether a particular ingredient, tool or method belongs in my kitchen, so most of the time I just use the “slow cook” setting, which is like a long simmering pot on the fire. The bonus with this approach is that I can fill the pot past the pressure cook line and get another quart of stock in the process.

Scenes from a real kitchen: turkey stock x 2 and chicken stock in 1/2-gallon mason jars with simple masking tape for labels. (Lacto-fermented carrots and ‘kraut on the right.)

Drink your stock!

Stock isn’t just for soup anymore. Every morning I drink a pint of heated, additionally salted stock poured over a teaspoon of minced ginger (one of the only prepared foods that I buy because it’s so gingery!) and a tablespoon of coconut oil. This tonic helps me think clearly and gives me nourishment to head to the barn before breakfast.

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