This speedy and versatile chicken stock covers a lot of territory in a short amount of time.
Credit: Greg DuPree

Store-bought stock is a modern convenience that simplifies life for home cooks. But I’ll let you in on a secret that you probably already know: Your food will taste good with purchased stock, but it’ll be over-the-top with homemade stock.

Go ahead and roll your eyes while you open a can of Swanson, my (and Cooking Light’s) go-to brand. I buy it by the case for lazy days, but I also keep a stash of frozen homemade stock—aka pure freezer gold. 

Although the terms stock and broth are often used interchangeably, stocks are the heavyweight players in the kitchen. They are richer-tasting, versatile building blocks for sauces and other dishes. Thanks to a long simmer with lots of bones, stocks often gel when chilled. Broths tend to be lighter (due to shorter cook times and fewer bones) and are typically used to add depth to soups and sides. So in a nutshell, think of broths as flavored water and stocks as diluted sauce.  

I used to simmer big pots of stock for hours—a half-day project if you include butchering the chicken. Nowadays, I whip up delicious batches in a pressure cooker in less than an hour and a half. Pressure cookers are game changers for homemade stock—they quickly extract intense flavor from ingredients. Multifunction cookers like the Instant Pot are programmable pressure cookers, so you can set it to cook and walk away.  

Good stock isn’t as simple as simmering a hodgepodge of ingredients. For the best flavor, combine meaty parts (such as thighs) with scraps (like the carcass). Add chicken feet to inject the wonderful richness of gelatin; ask a butcher for them, or make a trip to an Asian market. 

Since there are only a few ingredients that go into stock, make sure they’re all of good quality. Use water that you like to drink. Add aromatics and herbs, but limit the vegetables since they can suppress the chicken flavor. The beauty of my East-West Chicken Stock is you can tweak the direction with a few simple swaps. Keep it Western by sticking with bay leaf and parsley; use this version for everything from killer gravies and sauces to risotto. Or take it in an Asian direction (East) by trading those herbs for ginger and cilantro, and use it to transform a wimpy wonton soup into a soul-warming dish. Regardless, add a Fuji apple, which lends a natural sweet edge to amplify the stock’s umami depth. That’s a trick I devised for making pho broth, and it totally works for both versions.

To ensure a clear stock with a clean flavor, take a two-step approach: Initially parboil the chicken scraps, then filter the finished stock through paper towels or cheesecloth to remove most of the scum (technically denatured proteins) without robbing the stock of its highly coveted rich flavor. 

Since homemade stock freezes beautifully, make a couple of batches to keep on hand for the holidays. Trust me: This stock will help your dishes sparkle all season long. And thanks to your pressure cooker, you can whip it up in record time.