I usually just use leftover bones to make stock. But last weekend, I wanted to make a big batch of congee, and I wanted a whole chicken’s worth of meat in it. Roasting the bird first just to pull all the meat off and throw the bones in a pot seemed like it couldn’t possibly be the most efficient method. Plus, I kept reading (most recently here) that stock made with raw meat and bones beats the pants off the stuff made from a leftover, cooked carcass. So I decided to try the technique described in this recipe for pho ga.
Basically, you poach a whole chicken in 5 quarts of water for about a half an hour, and then remove most of the meat and reserve it so it doesn’t get over-cooked. The rest of the chicken goes back in the pot and gets simmered long and slow to draw all the flavor out of the bones and whatever vegetables and spices you want to use. Pretty simple, even with a few additional steps like charring some of the vegetables and parboiling the chicken. It takes a long time, but it’s mostly not active time—a good project for a weekend day when you’ll be around the house, but have other things you need to get done (like, for example, a dissertation).
Since I wasn’t looking for that distinctive pho flavor, I used leek tops instead of the cilantro and added a head of garlic, a few carrots, and a small celery heart—going for more of a typical European chicken soup flavor profile. The pho recipe also calls for 3 pounds of chicken neck and back bones, but I didn’t feel like making a special trip to a butcher and figured one whole chicken would provide plenty of flavor. I did crack the largest bones before adding the carcass back to the pot to expose the marrow, and I also added a little vinegar because supposedly that helps leach out the minerals. Trying to make the most out of those bones.
The result was glorious: stunningly rich, almost like a consommé. Much cleaner-tasting and less cloudy than the stock I usually make. The flavor was heady and slightly sweet from the charred ginger and onion and semi-roasted garlic. Plus, the chicken meat turned out succulent, flavorful, and tender. Just what I was looking for. Click for detailed instructions & photos:
Step 1: Char the onion, ginger, and/or garlic. For traditional pho, this would be done on a grill, and there’s no garlic involved. I used my oven broiler set at 500F. If you have a gas range, you can also char the vegetables by placing them directly on the burners over a medium flame. Peel the onions, but leave the ginger just as it is. If using garlic, wrap the whole head in foil.
For the broiler method: quarter the onions and place all the aromatic vegetables on a foil-lined baking sheet 1-2” from the heat. Cook for 10-15 minutes, turning every 3-5 minutes until they’re just beginning to soften and some of the edges are blistered and black. If using a fennel bulb, give it the same treatment.
Broil (or grill) the aromatic vegetables until they look like this:
Peel and crush the ginger and garlic, if using
Step 2: Parboil the chicken. This step is supposed to “remove impurities” that cloud the broth. First, you remove the chicken wings—the bones will pop out if you twist them back, and then you can just cut through the flesh. Then put the chicken, wings, and any other bones you’re using in a pot and add just enough water to cover them. Bring it to a boil over high heat and boil for 2-3 minutes. Then, dump it all out into the sink, rinse the chicken parts, and give the pot a quick scrub to remove any residue.
Remove the wings
Boil for 2-3 minutes and then rinse
If you don’t care about “impurities” or cloudiness, you can skip this step, but you might want to add 10 minutes or so to the chicken cooking time. Parboiling isn’t as effective at clarifying stock as a consommé "raft”, but it does get rid of some of the scummy particles. Instructions below for how to turn this stock into a true consommé.
Step 3: Poach the chicken with the vegetables. Return the chicken and wings to the pot, and add 5 quarts of cold water, 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt, the charred onions and any other vegetables you’re using. Add any other spices and herbs at this point too—peppercorns, bay leaves, coriander seed, cilantro, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, carrot greens, leek tops, etc. Bring to a simmer, not a full boil (turn the heat down if it’s bubbling too vigorously) and cook for 25 minutes.
Simmer the chicken and vegetables
Step 4: Remove the meat. Take the chicken out of the pot and let it rest on a cutting board for 20-25 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Keep the vegetables simmering. When the chicken is cool, cut the breast meat off and remove the legs from the body. If you pull the thigh & drumstick together, they should separate from the body pretty easily, and you should be able to slice through any connective skin & tissue easily with a normal chef’s knife, just like with the wings. Pull the leg meat off in large pieces, and cover all the meat and refrigerate it until you want to use it (keeping it in larger pieces preserves the moistness). Cut the leg bones in half with a cleaver or score them with a knife you don’t care about and snap them to expose the marrow. Return the bones to the pot and add 1 1/2 teaspoons of vinegar or a hefty glug of white wine (~4 oz).
Remove the breast and leg meat
Break the large bones to expose the marrow
Step 5: Simmer the bones. Cover the pot and cook for 3-8 hours. Some people claim that 3 hours is sufficient to get most of the flavor out of the bones, but it takes at least 6 hours to get all the collagen out. For some people, that’s the difference between “broth” and “stock”: the latter is richer because it contains more gelatin, so much so that it may set like Jell-O when chilled if you use enough bones. If you want that kind of richness, you will need the extra bones called for in the pho recipe—use a large package of wings if you can’t get your hands on chicken necks and backs.
Cover and simmer for 3-8 hours
Step 6: Strain, chill, and skim. I remove the large bones and vegetable chunks to a colander suspended over a bowl, and then return the liquid that drains into the bowl to the pot while I line the colander with 2 layers of cheesecloth. Then, I strain all the liquid through the cheesecloth and gather the ends together and squeeze it as dry as possible with a pair of kitchen tongs, kind of like a giant bag of chicken tea. Let the stock sit on the counter for at least 2 hours or up to overnight—if you refrigerate it immediately, it may heat up the interior of your refrigerator too much. I’m sure people who are fussy about food safety will blanche at the idea of leaving it out for 8+ hours, but I do it routinely without anyone ever getting sick. If you’re concerned or need it to be cool faster, immerse the bowl or pot in a sink full of cold water until barely warm to the touch.
Strain out the large parts in a colander, return collected liquid to pot,
then strain all the liquid through several layers of cheesecloth
The fat will float to the surface, and solidify when chilled.
Some people claim you should use stock within 3 days or freeze it; other people claim that you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 or 4 months. If doing the latter, it supposedly helps to leave the layer of fat on top to “seal” it and prevent spoilage. You can leave the fat in the stock if you like; however, it may make simple recipes like brothy soups taste greasy. Once chilled, the fat will solidify and can be skimmed off easily with a slotted spoon. In recipes that include emulsifiers or stabilizers like egg yolk or starch, the fat should incorporate easily and add richness without an oily mouth-feel. You can also cook with the fat—I skimmed it off and used it to sweat the mirepoix for my congee.
Bonus: In addition to 2.5-4 quarts of stock, this method yields 4-5 cups of perfectly-cooked chicken.
Recipe: Whole Chicken Stock (adapted from Viet World Kitchen)
makes 2.5-4 quarts stock plus 4-5 cups of cooked chicken meat
- One whole chicken, ~4 lbs
- 5 quarts water, plus more for par-boiling the bird
- 2 large onions
- 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice or 4-6 ounces white wine or dry vermouth (Noilly Prat preferred to avoid a peculiar aftertaste)
Optional stuff I used in this batch:
- 1 head garlic
- fresh ginger, about 4”
- 4 carrots
- a small celery heart (about 2 cups roughly chopped, with leaves)
- green tops from 3 leeks
Other optional additions:
- 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
- 2-3 bay leaves
- a few sprigs of parsley, thyme, rosemary, dill, or tarragon
- a large handful of sage, parsley, or cilantro
- a bulb of fennel, also better lightly-charred
- a few shallots or green onions, charred or not
- a tablespoon of any kind of whole spice you want, toasted in a dry skillet if desired
For traditional pho: use the ginger but none of the other optional vegetables for the stock, and add 4-5 star anise, a half a dozen cloves, a cinnamon stick, about 1 oz raw cane sugar, and 1/4 cup fish sauce. Skim the fat. To serve, place the following in large bowls: a handful of rice stick noodles that have been softened by a quick dunk in hot tap water, 2-3 tablespoons very thinly-sliced onions, a few ounces of meat or tofu (like shredded cooked chicken or thinly-sliced raw beef). Cover with steaming hot broth just before serving, or serve in small pitchers or jars and let people pour it into the bowls themselves at the table. Garnish with mung bean sprouts, thai basil leaves, lime wedges, and thinly sliced serrano chilis.
For lighter pho: use the ginger but none of the other optional vegetables for the stock, and add a large bunch of cilantro, 2 tablespoons toasted coriander seed, 1 oz raw cane sugar, and 1/4 cup fish sauce. Serve just like the traditional pho, with more cilantro to garnish. This lighter broth is more often served with chicken than beef.
For consommé: use the carrots and celery, but no ginger or garlic in the stock. Chill completely and skim off the fat. Dice 1 carrot, 1 celery stalk and half an onion or a whole leek and combine with 1 cup tomato puree, 3 lightly-beaten egg whites, and 1 lb. raw ground chicken meat (the extra meat enriches the stock and replaces some of the flavor you’re “clarifying” out). Put the broth in a large pot and spoon the mixture into it (still cool), and place over medium heat. Stir until it comes to a simmer. The solids will rise to the surface and begin to form a solid “raft” held together by the egg whites. Stop stirring and simmer for 30-45 minutes, letting the stock bubble up through the raft. Remove from the heat and gently remove the raft—in one piece if possible. Strain the stock through several layers of cheesecloth to remove any remaining egg white particles. The resulting liquid should be as clear as glass. Serve as a starter or between courses in a fancy plated meal, garnished simply with julienned fresh vegetables and fresh herbs, or a delicate, poached meat. Similar to pho broth, you can serve consommé in little pitchers or covered pots or jars to keep it hot and let people pour it themselves into a bowl filled with vegetables, meat, herbs, noodles or other garnishes at the table.