Make the Most Flavorful Chicken Stock

How to get more flavour out of your chicken stock

17 Feb Make the Most Flavorful Chicken Stock

Flavorful Chicken Stock is the key to a good soup by The Messy Baker

Not everyone reads the comments section, so I thought I’d start a separate post to share the conversation I’ve been having with Barbara about chicken stock. Barbara has moved to a small apartment and is re-learning to make stock without $7 stewing hens and a large stockpot. So far, she’s managed to create a very gelatinous stock — which is far more important to a soup’s texture than you’d imagine.  She’s being smart and using frozen, raw chicken backs from her butcher. They have a fair amount of meat on them and cost next to nothing, so they’re a perfect starting point. Her current stumbling block is creating a more flavorful chicken stock. 

For those who missed the original post, here are the ratios for good chicken stock regardless of what size pot you’re using.

    1. Fill the pot 2/3 with chicken bones. You need room for the vegetables.
    2. Cover with 1 inch cold water.
    3. Use a ratio of 3 parts chicken to 1 part vegetables (the classic vegetable mix consists of 2 parts onion, 1 part carrots and 1 part celery.)
    4. Add salt. Try adding 1 teaspoon for every quart (or 4 litres) of water.

Still not flavourful enough? I scoured my reference library for some other ideas:

Gourmet Today likes a very high chicken-to-water ratio. According to Gourmet, you can get a richer stock by using approximately half chicken wings and  half chicken parts. They use the neck and giblets (minus the liver) from a whole bird. They also add cloves and garlic to their stock. I’m not a big cloves fan myself, but love garlic. 

In Ratio, Michael Ruhlman says you’ll get more flavour from the peppercorns if they’re cracked. “For optimal flavor, toast them briefly in a hot, dry pan and crack them with the bottom of a small sauté pan before adding them to your stock.” He also adds 2 tablespoons tomato paste for every 2 pounds of raw chicken bones. That’s a new trick to me. I’d only heard of tomato paste used in beef broth.

In How to Cook Everything,  Mark Bittman says you can intensify any stock by roasting the bones and vegetables first. He roasts the bones, with or without vegetables, drizzled in oil, at 400°F for 40 to 60 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes. When he transfers the roasted bones and vegetables to the stockpot, he includes all the drippings. This produces a darker stock, which might not be suitable if you want a pale soup.

Got any ideas for intensifying the flavour of homemade stock? If so, please share them in the comments section.

In the meantime, here are the steps for Perfect Chicken Stock rewritten as a proper recipe. I’ve written it with the fewest steps and most cost savings in mind — raw bones, no added roasting time. This is really more a guideline than a true recipe. Adjust the quantities up or down depending on what size stockpot you own or how much chicken you have on hand. Will the results be consistent? Not always. But even if you don’t do a perfect job, this stock will be fuller, richer and more flavourful than the watery, salty commercial  broth available on store shelves.

Flavourful Chicken Stock
Recipe type: Pantry Item
Prep / inactive time: 
Cook / active time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8 to 10 cups
Use this as a guideline, adjusting quantities up or down as your pot or chicken stash allows. Onion, carrots and celery are classic, but you can use leeks, scallions and red peppers if you like. Just don't use strongly flavoured vegetables like cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower.
  • 4 pounds raw chicken bones, either fresh or frozen
  • cold water
  • 3 onions, cut in half, you don't even need to peel it
  • 2 carrots, cut in half (about half the amount of the onion)
  • 2 stalks celery, cut in half, leaves on if possible (about same amount as carrots)
  • 2 cloves garlic, optional
  • salt to taste -- 1 teaspoon per 4 cups water used
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 stems of thyme
  • 6 stems parsley, optional
  • 2 teaspoons peppercorns
  1. Place the bones in a large pot. The pot should be about ⅔ full, not more. If you are using frozen chicken bones, you do not have to bother defrosting them. Cover the bones with cold water by about 1 inch. Turn the heat to high and bring the stock to a gentle simmer, leaving the pot uncovered. Do not boil. The water will get cloudy at first but will eventually clear.
  2. While the water is heating, occasionally skim the foam from the stock, making sure you don't disturb the liquid too much. Do not stir.
  3. Once the stock is simmering, reduce the heat to low to maintain a slow, steady simmer. This can take about a half hour so don't rush things.
  4. Add the vegetables and salt. Simmer, uncovered, 3 to 4 hours for maximum flavour.
  5. In the last half hour of simmering, add the bay leaf, thyme, parsley, and peppercorns. If you want, you can toast and crush the peppercorns for more flavour.
  6. Strain the stock thoroughly. Traditionally, you should use several layers of cheese cloth, but a fine mesh strainer, clean (retired) curtain sheers or even coffee filters can be used. You'll be shocked at the residue that's left behind. Toss the residue once the stock is strained.
  7. If you're using the stock right away, skim off and discard the fat that floats to the top. If the stock is being used later, chill in the refrigerator and then scrape off the solidified fat.
The no-measure method reminder:

1. Fill the pot ⅔ with chicken bones and cover with 1 inch water.
2. Use 3 parts chicken to 1 part vegetables. Aim for 2 parts onion to 1 part carrots and 1 part celery.
3. Don't skimp on salt. Add about 1 teaspoon for every quart (litre) of water.


Related Post

  • Barbara Lashinsky
    Posted at 15:49h, 19 February Reply

    I am bound and determined to get a good tasting chickedn stock and my first try was just fair. I did add some more spices that helped, but not knowing what I was doing added some pepper (too much). I had just some small noodles and threw them in what stock was left and it was doable, but still not what I wanted.
    I weighed what chicken backs I have left in the freezer and the average package is about 3#. All together I have 25# of backs.
    I don’t feel like roasting all of those bones so will just add way more veggies next time.
    Sure is an easy way to save money if you like chicken salad — free bones and all of that salad. Now to find a place with free veggies and I’ll be in the free chicken stock and chicken salad department.
    I tried getting your tips to come through, but it would not work for me.
    Thanks for any more tips and help from anyone.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 11:06h, 20 February Reply

      If you find free vegetables, let me know! :-)

      From the sounds of it, if you increase the amount of vegetables and add salt, which really does help with flavour, then you should be making superb stock in no time. Just keep at it!

  • A Canadian Foodie
    Posted at 17:32h, 22 February Reply

    Really enjoyed the research portion. Chicken Soup – really – chicken stock with fresh homemade fine noodles – is a Balkan staple and I will tell you, the best North America Chicken cannot hold a candle to the flavour of a European non gmo fed or breathing chicken. It grossed me out, but one of the best stocks I ate there was when the head was thrown in the stock. Yup. The whole entire head. Absolute heaven. I do pretty much what you do – I usually throw in the onion skins, too – as I like a browner stock. I don’t use cloves as I find them too hard to pick out and cannot tell a difference with them in the mix – but I really love them in pork when I precook old country pork ribs, for example – to get a little fat out of the mix – I definitely throw a few cloves in the stock and that is incredible.
    I always add a bunch of fresh flat leafed parsley tied up and usually grow my own bay leaves which I love – cause, is it just me? I honestly cannot taste the flavour one bloody bay leaf departs in anything?
    Anyway, thoroughly enjoyed the read and make chicken, beef, and turkey soup and stock so much that I am sure I could do it in my sleep. The chicken is key key key… and I do like the idea of the wings and neck – to me, the more bones, the better.

  • Charmian Christie
    Posted at 17:57h, 23 February Reply

    I’ve noticed a huge difference in the chicken from my butcher vs the grocery store. Bigger, juicier and much more flavorful. I’m now curious to taste the European version. Regardless of where you get the chicken, its quality will affect the final stock.

    I think you’re right — the more bones the better, so adding the head would make sense. I assume the feet were added, too? I mainly use up bones from chickens I’ve butchered or pieces I’ve deboned. Chicken wings are getting expensive here, so they aren’t going into the stock pot. But I can see they would make a great addition.

    I’m intrigued you grow your own bay leaves. I live in a zone 5 and bay can’t winter over. Maybe I should grow my own indoors? Hadn’t thought of that! I’ll look into that for sure!

    Thanks for sharing your stock making tips!

  • Barbara Lashinsky
    Posted at 10:55h, 24 February Reply

    I have found a dedinite difference in the taste of chicken where it is purchased. The regular chicken from the store I will not buy. They carry a highter grade called Smart Chicken that has a better flavor. But I buy mine at a small gourmet store – the one that gave me all the chicken backs free,
    Las night we had a Pot Luck dinner here and one of the gals who caters for lunches and dinners and is a wonderful cook brought chicken rice soup. It was very good. She buys organic chicken and I asked her how she made it. I didn’t get the entire recipe for it, but she said she roasts half of the chicken for a meal and uses the rest for the soup. I didn’t get whether she make the soup from the raw half or the cooked. Whatever it was very good.
    She says she makes her own stock so I must find out from her exactly how she does this.
    I don’t know why, but there is a true difference in where chicken is purchased.
    Kind of like eggs that I have found have a different flavor if cage free or organic. I know that comes from what the chickens are fed so I’m guessing the same goes for chicken.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 09:55h, 25 February Reply

      I’m sure the feed and environment make a big difference to the taste of the chicken — as with the eggs. My cousin raises hens, and the eggs from them are amazing.

      Good luck on your quest for the perfect stock! I’d love to hear what your friends does.

  • Al Klein
    Posted at 20:22h, 06 March Reply

    If you really want to intensify the flavor, and make the stock gelatinous at the same time, make sure that most of the “bones” are chicken feet and lower legs. They’re birds so the legs have scales on them (feathers are modified scales), and some people prefer scraping the scales off before cooking, but you can just strain them out of the soup when you strain the bones out. Use almost all feet and a few cracked (to get the marrow out faster) drumsticks, and hold the water. You can always add boiling water later if it’s too intense a chicken flavor. There should be just enough water to cover the bones.

    And forget those things they sell in the supermarkets they call chickens – those are barely older than chicks. You want a chicken at least 3 or 4 years old if you want flavor. If there are no eggs in the egg sack inside (or there’s no egg sack), it’s not a chicken, it’s a chicken’s child.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 15:38h, 07 March Reply

      Thanks for the insight. Older laying hens used to be available from time to time, but I haven’t seen one in years. Interesting that you note the feet and lower legs make a more gelatinous stock. I guess the suggestion of using wings is an effort to imitate this.

      Again, thanks for the input. If I do find a bird with feet attached, I’ll be sure to nab it for chicken stock and strain the liquid well.

  • A_Boleyn
    Posted at 15:24h, 08 March Reply

    Chicken, duck, turkey, and seafood stock … I’ve made them all. And even a ham broth from cooking an 8 pound ham before roasting it or just slicing it up for future meals. I’ve never tried making my own beef stock and don’t remember my mom doing it either. She just used her chicken stock for everything. :) One of these days I should buy a bag of chicken feet from the chicken guy at the city market and see if it makes a difference.

    I prefer using roasted vegetables and bones even if I have to roast the stripped carcass after portioning up the meat first. Unlike my mom who used to raise her own chickens for meat and eggs and then used her old layers for a more flavourful chicken stock, I have to use the chickens I buy from the city market or local grocery store chains.

    I never add salt to my stock. If you want more flavour in your stock, strain out the bones, herbs and veggies and then put the stock into a fresh soup pot and cook it down uncovered by a third or a half.

    I don’t cook my chicken stock more than 2 hours as I think that’s plenty of time to get the flavour out of the bones. … chicken … duck … turkey … seafood (lobster, shrimp) … next time I don’t throw out the crab shell … ham broth recipe … the rest of the ham and 20 cups of ham broth

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 14:04h, 09 March Reply

      Thanks so much for the links. I tend to make only chicken stock since I have limited freezer space and want to create recipes most readers find accessible. But there’s no reason you can’t make stock from whatever you have on hand — or even mix meats. A turducken stock would be great :-)

      Interesting that you concentrate your stock by boiling it down further once it’s strained. That’s a great tip. I do add a bit of salt since I find it really does bring the flavour forward — but I can see how that would not be wise for a reduced stock!

      Thanks again so much for the wonderful ideas and sharing your expertise. Happy stock making!

      • A_Boleyn
        Posted at 15:05h, 09 March Reply

        Thank YOU for bringing up the subject. I’m a great proponent of making your own stock and it comes in handy when I want to make a risotto or tamales. Concentrating the stock also helps reduce the amount of freezer space you need to store the stock. I’m lucky in that I now have TWO chest freezers, the second inherited from my parents. One sits in a small area next to my kitchen and the second is in the basement. The only problem is remembering where I’ve put a particular item. :)

        • Charmian Christie
          Posted at 16:07h, 09 March Reply

          Concentrating the stock frees up freezer space? That’s BRILLIANT! I’ll try that the next time I make stock.

          For my freezer, I bought a magnetic dry-erase board and stuck it to the front. I write down what I put in and (with luck) erase what I remove. It works. When I remember to take notes. As always, human error is at the root of most of my troubles.

          Thanks again for your great insights.

          • A_Boleyn
            Posted at 17:26h, 09 March

            A dry erase magnetic board … genius!!

            I currently have 2 sheets of paper attached to my fridge with fridge magnets, one labelled Basement and one labelled Upstairs, at which I try to keep an up to date list of contents of the respective freezers. Of course, as I cross out items haphazardly, the papers run out of space so I need to have additional sheets added underneath to account for new purchases.

          • Charmian Christie
            Posted at 10:00h, 10 March

            I tried the paper method, too, and failed. You can buy the magnetic dry erase boards at Staples. My pack had 2 white 8.5 x 11 “boards”. I need both. Good luck!

  • paladin
    Posted at 22:28h, 26 March Reply

    To get a chicken broth, I poach 10 chicken thighs in Swanson’s non-fat, low-sodium chicken broth (in a box), along with the vegetables mentioned here, plus a tablespoon of mixed dried herbs (rosemary, sage, marjoram & black pepper). After 35 minutes or so, pull the chicken, shred it leaving a fair amount of meat on the bones, snip the bones in half and return to the broth. Put the meat into a container WITH SOME OF THE VERY HOT BROTH and allow to cool to room temperature before refrigerating. The resulting broth is rich

    The chicken meat becomes extra tasty

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 10:33h, 05 April Reply

      Interesting! Breaking the bones would release the gelatin more quickly. I’ve never done this but it’s a great idea. Using low-sodium commercial broth as a starter would also cut down on the time required. It sounds like a good compromise for people who don’t have all day to simmer stock. Thanks for sharing your technique! I’m learning so much from these comments!

  • Kathy
    Posted at 12:48h, 14 March Reply

    I usually roast a chicken with olive oil and rosemary and thyme, steak rub, garlic and paprika. I line the pan with a wide variety of veggies, parsnips, carrots, and green beans. Then I use the juices and all the bones and skin, neck, fat and water. Boil it till it reduces by a third. Then i scoop out all the chicken parts and refridge it overnight. The next day I skim off the fat. Then I add steak rub, garlic, bay leaf, sautéed onions and Porta bella mushrooms that are sliced paper thin, and 1/2 cup of red wine. I like making vegetable soup with this or I also just like drinking it on it’s own.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 20:53h, 15 March Reply

      I can see why you’d drink this on its own! I love the addition of portobello mushrooms and red wine. Be sure to save me some :-)

      Thanks for sharing your recipe. This soup sounds fabulous!

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