The soul of any soup is its broth. If you have a weak broth or broth, you will have a weak soup, no matter how good the other ingredients are. With so many decent broths and broths available in stores, why should you make your own? For me, it comes down to three simple reasons. First, I can control the amount of fat and salt and end up with a healthier broth. Second, I can consume ingredients from other foods. Third, and most importantly, it just tastes better. When was the last time you heard someone say “this has too much flavor”?
A good chicken broth starts with simple ingredients. Obviously, you will need chicken bones and cartilage. This can come from a rotisserie chicken or be purchased as is. You can add meat if you like, but it’s the bones and connective tissue that will add the most flavor.
Aside from the chicken, you will need some aromatic greens, the classic options being carrots, onions, and celery. Leeks, fennel root, and parsnips are other vegetables that I like to use. And I almost always add a garlic clove or two. Whichever ones you choose, they should be cut into large pieces, not too small.
The last ingredients to choose are herbs and spices. It is best to use fresh, whole herbs where possible. Thyme, sage, parsley, oregano, and bay leaves are my usual choices. To make life easier, use a food-safe string such as butcher string to tie the herbs in a bundle and tie the other end of the string to one of the pot handles or a wooden spoon. This will allow you to easily remove it. The last spice to add is peppercorns, which you can add. One thing I don’t add is salt, because I can always add it to recipes where I use the broth.
There is some discussion as to whether you should grill chicken bones before using them to make broth. Honestly, there is only a slight difference in taste so I don’t think it’s worth the effort of grilling the bones. However, if the chicken was already roasted, you won’t have to make that effort. It is true that the bones of a whole roast will have lost some of their flavor, but the quality of the flavor of the roast will make up for it.
When you have all your ingredients in a soup pot, add enough cold water to submerge the ingredients. It is very important that the water is cold, as different organic molecules will be extracted at different temperatures. A slow increase in temperature will allow time for this extraction to take place.
Bring the water to a simmer, not a full boil, and keep it there for at least two hours. From time to time add a little hot water to replace what is lost through evaporation. Also, be sure to keep the ingredients submerged. An upside down folding basket steamer is a great way to do this. As the broth simmers, you will get a layer of foam on top, which needs to be removed from time to time.
When you’re done simmering, use tongs to scoop out the larger bones and veggies, and then use a ladle to transfer most of the liquid to another pot. When safe to do so, pour the remaining liquid through a strainer to remove any small solids and return all of the liquid to the soup pot. Reheat and reduce liquid by boiling gently. Reducing the broth will intensify the flavor, and if you reduce it by half you will notice that the broth has a slightly gelatinous consistency when it cools. This is a good indication that you’ve pulled a lot of good stuff out of your bones, because it’s the collagen from your bones and joint tissue that keeps the broth moving and packed with flavor and nutrients.
You can use the broth right away, or store it in the refrigerator for about three days, or in the freezer indefinitely.
The whole process is simpler than it sounds, but it takes time and attention. But if you try it, I think you will agree that it is worth the effort.