chicken stock recipe

All photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman, click them to go to her site.

Last week I posted on Twitter that leaving chicken stock (recipe below) out on the stovetop all week was fine and I got all kinds of mystified tweets about how could this possibly be safe.

It is, and it’s a great way to have stock on hand all week for a quick sauce, a poaching liquid, an instant soup, add it to a stir-fry and thicken with cornstarch.  You don’t need to go through all the straining and storing and labeling of stock and cleaning a big heavy stock pot. I do like to strain it out of one pot into another to get the bones out of it, but even that’s not strictly necessary to have easy chicken stock available most days of the week. [Update 8/24/2011: I should have clarified, provided that you boil it for at least several minutes, but, according to an article in today's NYTimes by food science authority, even this is unwise.  While simmering the stock will take care of bacteria, it does not kill spores, and it does not destabilize all toxins.  So prudence suggests that if you leave the stock on the stove top to cool overnight, bring the stock to a simmer the next day, strain and cool it then. (I'd like also to note, that the idea for Harold's article came from me—and I'm glad for Harold's reporting, as ever.)]

I’ll address the bacteria issues then describe how I personally make small batches of stock all year long using the leftover carcass from a roasted chicken dinner, which I do about once a week.  (You should too, Russ Parsons!)

People are unnecessarily afraid of bacteria. Once your stock is cooked, it’s safe to eat.  If there was bad bacteria in it, you’d have killed it. Let it cool uncovered (the faster the better; don’t fear bacteria but don’t give them the upper hand). Leave the pot out on the stove top (covered or uncovered once it’s cooled, doesn’t really matter).  Bring it up to a simmer for 10 minutes or so the next day and any bacteria that landed there and began to mulitply (and they multiply with astonishing speed at 90 to 110 degrees F.) will be dispatched well before the stock hits a simmer.  [Again, as the article mentioned above notes, and as a commenter below notes, this leaves the possibility for heat stable toxins to develop.]

The only issue in leaving stock out all week is flavor.  During the winter, our kitchen is cool.  In the summer when it’s hot, I can’t leave the stock out because bacteria makes it sour.  They don’t make it harmful.  I would not leave it out for a week cold and eat it without reheating it. The following are recipe and pix of how I make small batches of chicken stock all year long. It take minutes of actual labor, not hours. Having Made And Consumed the The World’s Most Difficult Chicken Recipehere’s what you do:

Easy Chicken Stock

  • Chicken bones and scraps from the devoured chicken
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 or 2 carrots chopped (I peel them for photos!)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, cracked
  • optional: tablespoon tomato paste, garlic, thyme
  1. Combine all ingredients in a 2 quart pot cover with water, and cook over low heat (no bubbles, 180 degrees F/82 degrees C is ideal) for 4 to 6 hours or bring to a simmer and put it in a low oven (below 200 degrees F/93 degrees C) for 4 to 6 hours (I sometimes just leave it in overnight).
  2. If you want to strain it, strain it.  If you want to skim the fat off the top, fine.  If you don’t, don’t.
  3. Bring to a simmer before using; if not using the next day bring it to a simmer, allow it to cool and refrigerate it.

The following are pix from start to finished stock:

chicken stock recipe

Stock mise: broken up chcken carcass, onion, carrot, bay, pepper

chicken stock recipe

The stock on the left is cooking at the correct temperature—too hot to touch but not simmering. Don't boil it! Stock on right will be cloudy and have a lower yield. There are reasons you might boil stock, but generally it's not good practice.

chicken stock recipe

Depending on my schedule, I cook the bones first for 4 hours or overnight, then add the veg and cook another hour or so. Too much time in the heat and veg breaks down, absorbing stock that you lose in the strainer.

chicken stock recipe

This stock is almost finished.

chicken stock recipe

If I will be storing the stock, I strain out all the bones and veg into a 2-quart measuring cup; if I'm doing leave-out-on-stove-top for use through out the week, I strain it into a clean sauce pan. You could leave all the bones and stuff in it all week, I suppose, but it looks kind of gross, and each time you brought it to a simmer, you'd create more stock-stealing fragments.

all-strain kitchen cloth

When I want my stock very clean and refined, I strain it through a cloth. (The above is one of my All-Strain kitchen cloths, usually available at OpenSky. Their site is undergoing an overhaul, though, so if you're interested in them, email me, or see link below for info on all my kitchen tools.)

chicken stock recipe

One chicken carcass and veg give me about a quart of stock. If I'm not keeping it out on the stove for weekday cooking, I store it in the fridge, removing the layer of fat that congeals on the surface. It will keep in the fridge for a week, or you can freeze it for a few months before it begins to pick up freezer odors.

UPDATE 4/8/11: After an email exchange with a commenter, a large-animal veterinarian who wishes to remain anonymous, I’m adding information on bacteria for those who want it. I stand by all of the above, and I left Monday’s chicken stock on the stove to cool overnight and didn’t get around to finishing it till 4 the next day.  I honestly think it’s highly unlikely that it’s unsafe, so unlikely that I won’t hesitate to feed my kids chicken soup tonight, but it is possible that bacteria could be introduced to such a stock, two of which could potentially grow and create enough heat-stable toxin to make you ill.  When I emailed the vet that it was more dangerous to drive a car than leave a stock pot out at room temperature (which it is), she advised me to wear a seat belt.  Which I do.  Also I refrigerated my stock when it was done in a quart deli container.  While I don’t think anyone is going to stir their stock with a toothbrush or pick their nose over it, then leave the stock out for several days, it would indeed be irresponsible of me not to convey as much info as possible about this issue for people who have concerns. Staphylococcus aureos is a common bacterium found on skin and in noses, where it is harmless, but it can, in the wet warm protein conditions of stock, generate a heat-stable toxin that could make you very, very uncomfortable. And there is a type of  E. coli, unrelated to the nasty 0157:H7, that can generate a toxin that can give you diarrhea, which is no fun, especially if you are dining at Paul Bocuse (which happened to me this winter, almost certainly froom food poisoning). And if you want to get really paranoid about things keep the handy chart at the bottom of this link taped to your refrigerator. If you liked this post on chicken stock, check out these other links:

    © 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.
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192 Wonderful responses to “Stock Convictions”

  • Dana

    It’s great that this works for you, and thanks for sharing your experience, but you seem determined to play the numbers, and people aren’t numbers. You do what you want to do, I guess it is still a free country, but don’t cast aspersions on other people’s characters because they don’t want to be as risky as you are. There’s a reason our species has been successful: culture overriding instinct. In other words, the mistakes of one generation are learned from and the lessons passed down to the next. This is why, for example, we now know it’s a bad idea to dive into shallow water head-first. Enough people have broken their necks doing so by now that no one needs to test that behavior anymore. We already know what can happen.

    Different people have different tolerance thresholds for risk-taking, that’s all. It doesn’t mean they’re stupid, superstitious, too conditioned by access to refrigeration (what the hell does that even *mean*? Fine, sell your fridge and do without), or go around in life afraid of their own shadows. Doesn’t mean you’re enlightened and brave, either. It just means you forgot to put the stock up last night, that’s all. Bravado is a common response to embarrassment at one’s own shortcomings. I get it. :P

    As for the stock pot not fitting in the fridge, there’s an easy fix for that. It’s called the quart canning jar. Actually, your straining cloths would be an excellent accessory to that. Thank you for coming up with the idea and making it available on a wider basis.

  • Rachel

    This is so strange. Why are we leaving out stock out all week on the stove top? Glass containers for fridge and freezer are great. Let the stock cool (overnight is fine if it’s late when it is done simmering), but then get it taken care of. It doesn’t take that big of an effort just do things on the safe side, right? More people will use the healthy, wonderful stock recipes if you left out the iffy food safety issues from the start.

    Let’s all focus on the amazing nutrition in a bone broth and stop arguing over sanitation! Yes, our grandmothers all left things on the counter for days, but people are scared these days. If we want people to eat our nutrient-rich, homemade foods, we need to keep our kitchen clean and safe. It’s good PR for the Real Food home cook!

  • Jennifer

    Great points, but I could never do that at my house. Not because I don’t agree with your reasoning, but because my dog would have it gone before a single bacteria cell could complete fission! This dog has taken a slow cooker with a locked lid off my countertop, then dragged it to her bed and unlatched it to consumed the entire contents. A stock pot would be no match for her. We use our refrigerator to protect our food from canine pilfering as well as spoilage.

  • Laura

    Thanks so much for the article. IMHO people are far too paranoid about bacteria and germs in general. I almost never get my stock put away rapidly. I rarely have space on my stove top or in my fridge or freezer so I always pressure can it and store it that way. Since I pressure can it I don’t consider leaving something out overnight is a danger.

  • Mike

    What oven temperature do you need when the pot is uncovered, as per the instructions ? I am making the stock today, and after bringing it to 180F on the stovetop I put it in my oven which was preheated to 200°. The temperature promptly started to drop. I brought it back to 180 on the stove top and increased the oven temp by 10°. Still the temperature dropped.

    I kept repeating this cycle, watching in amazement as I got my oven to 250F before I could get the liquid to stay at 180F. I’m using a Thermapen to measure the liquid so I think it’s accurate. And I have both an oven thermometer and an infrared thermometer that say my oven is at 250, so I don’t think it’s just a miscalibrated oven dial.

    This is my first time making stock, so I don’t really know what to expect. I wanted to check and see if other people need to set their oven considerably higher than 200F in order to keep the stock at 180F. I understand with an uncovered pot there is going to be some cooling from surface evaporation, but this is way beyond what I would have expected. And the instructions Michael Ruhlman posted say to set the oven at under 200.

    • ruhlman

      I can’t explain it either, given all that you say. Also, I think it’s probably fine if the stock simply stays above 160. What’s important though is that you’re thinking. You’re paying attention. You’re evaluating your stock and youre evaluating your tools and using your common sense. I’m betting your stock is excellent.

      • Mike

        Actually it is! I’m so glad that I made it. I got a great gelatin texture to it once I cooled it in the fridge, and the taste (once I added a bit of salt) is so much better than anything I’ve ever bought in a box or reconstituted from the demi-glace they have in the supermarket.

  • Nina

    This is quite basic version of chicken stock. I always use also celeriac, parsley (leaves and root), allspice, lovage

    very often also thyme and rosemary and… a small piece of fresh ginger

    all vegetables are often peeled – it is important for taste. I don’t peel an onion – use in whole instead, additionally I kind of burn it in an open fire – it turns out black and gives a nice flavour to the stock.

  • luis

    I am finally fed up with store bought stock, freezer aisle convenient chicken.. from the inside of me. After reading this blog forever there has been a mindset shift in me. Maybe I am beginning to discern fresh from frozen and organic from non-… but this change seems to be coming from inside me and its non reversible.
    Prices for food have gone up at the same time I realize that cheap food is crap. Thanks Boss….. and yes I am making stock whenever I buy whole chickens.

  • Jay

    You say food poisoning is unlikely with your stocks and then bad mouth a world renown chef.

    It probably wasn’t food poisoning, more likely somebody that had too much to eat.. or drink…….

  • ruhlman

    again, i shouldn’t comment, but if you would read more carefully, it wasn’t restaurant bocuse I was blaming for food poisoning but rather the crappy hotel food i ate the day before. bocuse is a hero.

  • Valerie

    I have a big bag of bones in the freezer waiting to be made into stock. Before I do, can you clear up a question for me? A lot of people say to save all your veg ends and peelings for stock making, which makes sense. But some of them say to *include* onion skins for great flavor, while others say *not* to include onion skins because it will make the stock cloudy or dark or sour or something.

    Which is it? Should I use onion skins in my stock, or not?

    Thanks!

    • ruhlman

      I don’t put ends and peelings in my stock. A stock pot is not a garbage can. That said, I remove outer dirty dried onion skin, but if there is clean smooth brown onion skin, I do add that if making a roasted stock because it adds color and flavor.

    • emilia

      Yes the links have some issues at the moment from Opensky as they are changing their website. I will let Michael know that you are interested in the cloths, they are fab.

  • JB

    What would you think about veal stock left to simmer in an oven all night; with the oven accidentally turned off? I came in this morning to add aromatics expecting to find my stock at a safe 190; at some point, the oven turned off, and it was 119. Not cold, as you describe sitting unheated on the stove, but a bacteria-loving slightly warm environment. I boiled it, then put it back into the now-190 degree oven, where it is now, but would you risk it? I have no idea how long the oven was off.

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