Using a whole chicken: Homemade chicken stock

Stocks and broths have traditionally been used as a remedy when people are feeling under the weather, and modern medicine is showing that this isn't just an old wives tale; there are actually a lot of proposed health benefits to drinking homemade broth/stock when we're ill. Many nutrients that our bodies require end up being stored in our bones, so it makes perfect sense that simmering animal bones in a stock would release valuable vitamins, minerals, and proteins that do a sick body good. Homemade stock is rich in gelatin, a protein-packed nutrient that is thought to aid in digestion, improve protein absorption, help heal the gut, and curb nausea and diarrhea. It provides several amino acids, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and fluoride. It even contains gluosamine and chondroitin - nutrients known to help improve bone, joint, and tooth health. Best of all, stock makes all of these nutrients available in an easily-digestibly form - ideal for a sick person with a poor appetite.

Store-bought chicken stock cannot be expected to pack the same nutritional benefits as homemade. Many grocery store stocks are very watered down and contain "natural flavorings" instead of high-quality ingredients. Making your own will ensure better nutritional quality, better taste, and better soups as a result.

Don't be alarmed if your homemade stock appears to have transformed into a big block of gel after it cools. This is a sign that your chicken bones have released a good amount of gut-healing gelatin into the stock. It's a good thing.
Homemade chicken stock
Makes 6 cups

1 chicken carcass (about 1 pound of bones, skin, and bits of meat)
1 large onion, peeled and cut into 8 big pieces
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 large carrots, cut into 2" pieces
2 celery ribs, cut into 2" pieces
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh parsley
5 whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
  1. Pile all of the ingredients into a large stockpot. Cover generously with cold water, about 4-5 quarts. Remember that the stock will boil down, so you want to add enough liquid to keep everything covered.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 4 hours, skimming the top occasionally if foam settles on the surface. 
  3. After 4 hours, strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl (or a medium saucepan) and refrigerate, covered, for at least 8 hours or overnight. 
  4. A pale-colored layer of fat will form on the top of the stock, and this should be removed with a big spoon before using. This stock can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. If not using right away, portion out into 2- or 4-cup portions and store in the freezer. 

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