This little guy can make a big difference in your life.
I cooked at home for years before I made my own stock. It just didn't seem like something worth my time. I could buy chicken broth by the carton...what's the difference? I imagined aproned grandmothers puttering between their steaming stoves and pots of petunias all day--not my scene. But then I finally broke down and made a chicken stock, just to experience it, just to try it out. And I can honestly say it improved my food so much that I'm ashamed of myself when I resort to using canned broth for lack of homemade stock in the freezer. Shame on us all for not making more stock!
It's not just that homemade stock's flavor beats canned; you can manipulate the flavor of your own homemade stock the way you can't possibly manipulate a pre-made product. For instance, if you're going to be using the stock in a Vietnamese dish, you might want to add a little cilantro, if you catch my drift. If you love garlic, you might want to toss in a few cloves (or heads). And you can control the quality of your food better. You'll know, because you paid for it, the quality of the chicken you use. If you're down with Tyson, that's your business; I go for something a little more organic. I don't put "scraps" in my stock, as some recipes or cooks will suggest. Basically, I don't put anything in it that I wouldn't eat...and I don't eat onion skins. Another major difference between homemade and canned is the gelatin factor. "Broth" doesn't have the natural gelatin that a stock, made from water-simmered bones, has. You know you have no gelatin in your broth when you refrigerate it and it doesn't "set" into some sort of savory jello-like consistency. And gelatin is what adds the natural body (read: yumminess) to a stock, which in turn adds natural body to your soup, stew, sauce, or whatever you're using it in.
Stock recipes abound; just about every cookbook I've ever seen has a recipe in it for light chicken stock. (FYI, I'm talking light chicken stock here; we're not roasting the bones for a dark chicken stock today. Stay tuned for that one.) I'm including my own procedure, but it's just a starting point. Fiddle around until you find your ideal combination.
Light Chicken Stock
1 chicken (3 to 4 pounds), giblets removed, rinsed
2 carrots, scraped and halved
2 stalks celery, cut crosswise into thirds (including leaves)
1 onion, peeled and halved
10 sprigs parsley
3 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
Put all of the ingredients in a medium to large stockpot and cover the chicken with cold water (about 3 quarts of water should do it). Over medium heat, bring the water to a low simmer; this will take about 40 minutes. During the first 20 minutes or so of simmering, skim off the foam that rises to the top. Simmer uncovered very slowly (i.e., barely-bubbling) for about 3 to 4 hours, or until the liquid is the flavor you like. Discard the big solids, like the chicken and bones, onions, etc. Line a sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth (you can buy this at Target in the gadget aisle) and pour the stock through it into a large bowl or another pot. Discard everything you catch in the cheesecloth. Refrigerate the stock for 5 to 6 hours (or overnight), to give the fat a chance to rise and solidify on the top. Once the fat is solidified, you can take the stock out of the fridge and scoop the fat off with a spoon, discarding it. Then, pack the stock into smaller, recipe-sized containers (usually 2 or 3 cups) and freeze up to 6 months, or refrigerate up to 4 days.
I usually get 2 1/2 quarts of stock from this recipe.
Note: you'll want to let the stock come to room temperature before you measure it for use in recipes. It really does set up.