There are few things more fundamental to the culinary arts than good chicken stock. A good stock bring richness and texture to dishes; the ultimate supporting actor, it makes the lead ingredients come through without taking any attention away from them.
I prefer making my own because I can control the quality and, more importantly, the amount of salt. Canned stock has a lot of sodium, bullion less so but I think the flavor is a little thin. Penzey’s chicken soup base is a great substitute for making your own stock, but the fact remains that making chicken stock is easy and well worth the effort.
I prefer to buy whole chickens and butcher them myself because it is more cost effective and I get legs, thighs, and breasts that are equal in size, which is not always guaranteed when you buy prepackaged chicken parts in the market. The carcass, neck, and organs and wings get stored in the freezer for making stock at a later time. When I have 3 or 4 bags of chicken parts, I make stock. No part of the animal goes to waste.
You can make stock one of two ways, baking the chicken pieces first or simply adding them to the water raw and having them cook as the stock is being prepared. Honestly, there is no best method because each version brings something different to the party.
Baking the chicken parts first will result in a darker stock that has the distinctive flavor of cooked chicken. If you have a chicken carcass, cut it in half along the breast plate and bend it flat. Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees and put all the chicken parts on a half-sheet. Sprinkle liberally with salt and bake for 60 minutes or until the chicken is golden brown.
The advantage to baking the chicken first is that the fat will render out and you will not have to skim it off your finished stock. If you prefer a straw colored stock with a milder flavor you can put the raw chicken parts in your stock pot.
Also essential for the chicken stock are onions, carrots, celery, aromatics, in this case, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf, and peppercorns. The proportions are rule of thumb, I would suggest you start with the following baseline and scale up from there:
1 chicken carcass, including neck, organs, and wings.
1 yellow onion, peeled and cut into quarters
2 carrots, and if you have the tops use them with the aromatics
1 celery stalk
1 bay leaf
Tie the aromatic herbs into a bundle, add to stock pot with chicken parts, celery, carrots and peppercorn, and of course water. Boil and simmer for up to 2 hours. You can go longer and the flavor will intensify but I find that 90 minutes is sufficient. Remove pot from heat, extract the chicken parts, vegetables, and herbs, and pour through a sieve lined with a cheesecloth to catch the chunks.
Store in the refrigerator, use within 3 weeks. If you can preserve the stock by canning it will hold for years, but freezing in a suitable plastic container is also effective.