I am a broth fan. It is a cherished ingredient for so many meals, filling the base layer with wholesome home-raised chicken goodness. I don't can chicken stock because I enjoy cooking, and I like to add the ingredients to the broth to make fresh stock with every meal that calls for it. The idea of simmered down celery, carrot, and onion juice heavily blended on the shelf for months in a chicken broth doesn't sound appealing. Simmering up a pot of new stock for the extra hour or two with fresh ingredients makes my kitchen feel like home, and I eagerly await the meal while enjoying the downhome aroma.
When I set out to homestead, I knew I wanted to use all the parts of the animals I raised. I didn't want things to go to waste out of respect for the animal. I know the overall health benefits of the meat products I grow would be better than anything store-bought. But chickens have some of those questionable parts.
Chicken feet, shanks, combs, and wattles are often considered less desirable in American cuisine. Those dirty bird feet didn't seem appetizing to me, nor did rubbery chicken combs or rooster wattles. Still, I couldn't deal with tossing them out. A veterinarian advised me not to give feet or shanks to my dogs unless I ran them through a grinder as the large bones splinter when chewed and can puncture the digestional tract. So it got me thinking about broth. Broth is a necessity in cooking and I couldn't stand buying those pressed cubes full of preservatives or organic stock that comes in those manufactured toxin-lined box cartons full of flat-tasting water. If it doesn't taste good out of the jar or the box how is that going to make a recipe good? Well, it doesn't, so I knew I was going to have to try to make a broth at home out of the chicken parts I had on hand.
After researching how to clean feet and shanks, I processed a large number of birds, trimmed out backs, clipped off wingtips, saved necks, combs, and wattles, and started simmering them in a couple of large pots on the woodstove and in crockpots. After a few days of simmering, I strained the broth and canned up the slurry. After I let it sit, I tried the broth to find out it was terrible. I had wasted time and a lot of chicken parts making something I ended up hoping that the dogs might enjoy.
After a few years of trial and error, I learned that broth is an art. Anyone who tells you differently hasn't spent any time ciphering chicken flavors, clarity, and proper technique. Different chicken parts have different tastes, and lumping them all into one pot creates a slurry of heavy confusing flavors that wipe out the lighter chicken tones. This is why some people prefer breast meat to dark meat. No one says, "Hey, I would like a little of both on my fork for each bite please," and this is the reason why most recipes call for light or dark meat. A simple chicken soup is better with light or dark meat. Not both.
Necks are full of really rich dark meat, and the backs have some of the organs left inside that are too time-consuming to remove when homesteading large scale. I also know they are beneficial for my health, so I leave them in there when making a regular chicken broth. I do remove the lungs and cook them for my dogs. Hearts, gizzards, and liver stock have their place in thanksgiving stuffing, but I find nowhere else to use it unless stuffing more poultry with a bready dressing or cooking rice in for cajun dirty rice. In any case, I only make fresh stock from frozen giblets when I need it.
Fat also can make or break a good broth. Too much fat left in the pot as the meat simmers off the bones will essentially "fry" the meat, bones, and protein that floats freely up near the top of the pot. This makes a broth take on a bitter, somewhat burnt flavor. Skimming the fat off the broth as often as possible while it simmers is essential for a clean tasing broth. The skimmed fat doesn't go to waste either.
Warm up the skimmings in a pan until completely melted, and then refrigerate overnight. The fat will rise to the top as schmaltz and broth will settle out on the bottom. The layers are easy to separate. A good layer of fat will pop right off the top of the broth. Schmaltz can be used to make soap, mayonnaise, salad dressings, a drizzle of flavor on roasted vegetables, and potatoes or used like butter on biscuits, cornbread, tortillas, or to fry foods in if you have enough. I have fried up some wicked-mean batches of chicken wings in a deep fryer full of collected schmaltz. Just beware; it tends to foam as the collagen in the fat starts to separate. It's safer to cook this meal outside until you are experienced with how the fat reacts in the frier. Always use a super deep pot.
Now for the good parts. Making good broth isn't an easy task, and it takes time and effort. A great broth is something to master.
For making a luxurious blonde broth, only use feet, shanks, combs, and wattles. Save the necks, backs, wingtips, and tails for regular broth. This blonde broth is collagen, hyaluronic acid, and a glucosamine machine. Tossing out something that people pay high dollars for that essentially comes from free leftover chicken parts on the homestead doesn't make "cents."
Since I process our birds here at home, the feet do not go in the scalder. I don't like them dirtying up the water, and I don't think the scalder is hot enough to kill all microorganisms that collect in there, I like to keep the water clean as possible. I use the shanks for handles to get the poultry into the scalder and the plucker. They are removed right before plucking.
The first step is washing and scrubbing dirty feet and shanks with a brush and water. Do not use soap. I buy a couple of small toilet brushes that are for kitchen use only. They stay in the dishwasher so they are cleaned every 12 hours and sterile for food use. I run the dishwasher twice a day as they save more water than handwashing. Our dishwasher uses 1.6 gallons a load. The toilet uses more than that to flush.
While scrubbing the feet, put a large pot of water on the stove and bring it to a rolling boil. Immerse the cleaned feet in the boiling water four to five at a time. Gently move them around to scald them quickly. In as little as thirty seconds, the feet will splay as the heat tightens the tendons. Do not cook the feet. Overcooked feet do not peel properly. Quickly remove them from the pot and place them in a bowl to cool. Always wait for the water to fully boil before adding the feet. Repeat the process until all of the feet are scalded.
Compare the photos to see how the feet splay just a bit when they are done scalding.
Once the feet are cool enough to handle, grab the shanks or toes, and with a twisting grip, pull the outer cover off, revealing the clean and fresh leg and toes underneath. It's just like peeling shrimp, but without all those creepy little legs. Ironic as it is only one large creepy leg.
Each of the toenails will also come off. Always be sure to double-check that you have removed them all. Once the nail cover has been removed, the toenail should feel soft and a little bit slippery. I save these protein-rich pieces in a bowl and give them back to the poultry. If it bothers you, don't do it. Chickens can easily digest the sharp nail tips, no different than a cow chew-hoof for a dog. Please do not give these chicken peelings to your dogs. The nails could cause choking or possible puncture wounds in the gut.
Once the feet are all cleaned, rinse them well again and squeeze the shanks well to ensure there isn't any blood left in them. Blood will add flavor and color to the broth.
You can freeze the feet at this point and vacuum pack them for later use.
Place the feet, combs, and wattles in a pot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil for a few minutes and then turn down to a steady simmer. Simmer until all of the meat falls off the bones. The longer, the better. All of the toes should fall apart and no longer resemble toes. Each shank will split up into several long skinny bones. Stir often and keep skimming off any fat on the surface as it rises to the top. Six to eight hours of gentle simmering and fat skimming will yield a healthy bone broth full of super sticky collagen. This is the kind of thing you can't buy in stores.
I will cook a large stockpot for three days on the wood stove in winter, setting the pot outside overnight in freezing temperatures to continue the simmer the next day. It isn't FDA recommended, and I am not recommending it to you. Always warm cold or frozen pot slowly. Pots contents can explode straight up, blowing a lid off from the heat trying to escape through a frozen top if heated too quickly. Also, never place a cold pot on a hot stove. Always warm cold pots slowly to prevent damaging the stove or the pot. It's the same concept as to why we heat jars before canning. A fast temperature change can cause things to break. If you ever wondered how some of those cracked iron skillets end up on eBay. That's how.
Once the meat is cooked down and the bones all are freely moving around in the broth, remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Cooling too much will cause the broth to thicken up and not strain correctly.
Set a large strainer or colander over another pot. Do not use a plastic strainer or pot. Plastics taint food flavorings. Lick your spatula or a plastic bowl; if it has flavor, it puts that flavor into your food, and although you might not taste it - your brain is a highly sensitive machine, more so than your phone, it knows something is off, and it won't trip your trigger as a clean meal will. If your strainer is loose and can fall in, use bread ties or kitchen twine to secure a colander or sieve handles to the stockpot handles to prevent a hot spill.
This photo is of regular chicken broth ready for the strainer. It is full of necks, backs, wingtips, and tails. Notice how yellow it is compared to a blonde broth.
Using a bowl... forget the ladle; it won't work. Dip out the contents of your broth into your strainer with the bowl. Let the bones drain for at least ten minutes. Press the mash to get all of the goodies out into your pot.
I could have cooked this a little longer. Not all of the toes completely broke down. It was the last few days of deer season, and I had to wrap up chicken processing to have the kitchen ready for deer processing.
Place a smaller size strainer over another pot and strain your broth one last time to get it extra clean. This removes any unsightly debris from the bottom of your canned jars. Return the broth to the stove and bring it to a boil one more time. Let the broth cool and refrigerate it overnight. The broth should be like jello when completely cooled. Any excess fat will have risen to the top and can easily be removed by skimming off the surface layer. Don't be afraid to skim off too much. Skimming off too little can lead to bad seals when canning from oil getting under the lid or cause rancid flavors after being stored.
Heat the broth one last time to a boil before canning. Follow the recommendations in the link below for canning. Print the page and tape it to the inside of a cabinet door in your kitchen to always have quick, easy, accurate, safe, canning instructions at your fingertips.
Here are a few kinds of broth I pulled from my pantry. Blonde broth made from feet, shanks, combs, and wattles. It is a thick base that is light in flavor, so I use it for white soups and dumpling dishes. There is a bone broth in the middle that had time to cook down more. I use those as medicine for upset stomachs and hydration, and sometimes we have it before bed just to wind down for the night. The golden broth that looks like honey is made from necks, backs, wingtips, and tails. I use it for a quick egg-drop soup and stock.
I also make turkey broth from feet, shanks, necks, backs, and cooked carcass bones. I am currently "out of turkey stock," so to speak. We had a rough turkey year. It also can make a blonde broth and a dark gold broth when the parts are separated. It goes great in turkey pot pies, cooking noodles in for turkey casseroles, and can be used as a substitute when the chicken broth runs out. Goose and duck broth is another blog for another time.
Growing Back to the Land is a novel about my first-hand account of returning to living off the land. Achieving food self-sustainability over 10 years ago, I grow and process 99% of my food here on the homestead.
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Additional Resources for this article:
National Center for Home Food Preservation
Selecting, Preparing, and Canning Meat