I have long argued that white chicken stock is the most versatile stock. Considering that it can be used in everything from light seafood dishes to deeply rich beef stews, that’s a pretty solid argument to make. There is another school of thought, however, and it says that the most versatile stock is brown chicken stock.
It pushes back against the idea that white chicken stock can be so casually slipped into a seafood dish, insisting that fish stock is almost always the only real option for that. And it further argues that the deeper, richer, more complex flavor of brown chicken stock makes it better suited to situations where it has to stand in for something as robust as a beef stock.
I’m willing to go to the mat on the white chicken stock–seafood question, but I have to admit, they have a point about brown chicken stock being the better choice when pushing it into red-meat territory.
In the end, it’s a dumb thing to debate. Both white chicken stock and brown chicken stock have their place, and depending on what you tend to cook at home, one or the other may make more sense for you.
Cook a lot of lighter dishes, including fish and seafood? White chicken stock may be the way to go. Never cook fish but make a lot of meaty stews, braises, and roasts with pan sauces? You probably want a supply of brown chicken stock.
What’s the Difference Between White and Brown Stock?
What sets a white stock apart from a brown stock is simple: roasting. A white stock is made from raw, un-roasted meat and vegetables, resulting in a lighter, cleaner broth that’s delicately savory. A brown stock requires an initial roasting step, in which the bones and aromatic vegetables are browned in the oven, opening the door to the Maillard reaction and all the deeply toasty, roasty, complex flavors that come from it. Brown stocks also often include tomato, such as tomato paste, to deepen the color and flavor of the stock even more.
White stocks are easier to make, since they’re as simple as filling a pot with all the ingredients, adding water, and simmering until enough flavor and gelatin has been extracted. A brown stock takes longer, given the initial roasting step, and has a slightly higher risk of bad results, since any accidental burning during roasting can taint the stock with an acrid flavor.
In both cases, you want to use bones that are loaded with cartilage and connective tissue, which are rich in collagen. As the collagen cooks, it melts down into gelatin, which adds body to the stock. Gelatin-rich stock are essential for creating sauces with proper body—what the French call nappe, a word that describes a sauce that is thick enough to lightly glaze the food it’s spooned onto. Chicken wings, backs, and breastbones are all good for this, but the feet are by far the best source of gelatin. I always try to add some portion of chicken feet to any chicken stock I make.
How to Make Brown Chicken Stock
Making brown chicken stock is very similar to other brown stocks, like beef stock. The main difference is the shorter cooking time, since chicken gives up its gelatin and flavor more quickly than beef bones do. You can do the simmering on the stovetop in about two or three hours, but I prefer to use a pressure cooker, which cuts the cooking time down by about half and produces phenomenal results, so that’s the recipe I’m sharing here.
Step 1: Roast Bones and Vegetables
Begin by coating the chicken parts lightly in oil, then roast in the oven until beginning to brown in spots. Toss the mirepoix (the aromatic mixture of onion, carrot, and celery) lightly in oil as well, and add them to the roasting pan. Continue roasting until both the vegetables and the chicken are well browned but not burnt.
Step 2: Transfer to Pot or Pressure Cooker, Deglaze Roasting Pan, and Cook
Transfer all the roasted chicken and vegetables to a pot or pressure cooker, then pour off and accumulated fat from the roasting pan (you can save it, since it’s basically schmaltz, or discard it).
Then add hot water to the roasting pan and scrape up any browned bits stuck to it, and add all that good flavor to the pot as well.
Any remaining aromatics like herbs (a sprig of thyme, garlic, some parsley) and tomato paste can go in now. Fill the pot with cold water. If you’re using a pressure cooker, be sure not to fill past that cooker’s max fill line, even if that means leaving some solids sticking up out of the liquid.
Cook, either at a simmer on the stovetop for two to three hours, or in the pressure cooker at high pressure for one and a half hours. Let the pressure cooker depressurize naturally before opening and continuing.
Step 3: Strain and Skim
Strain out and discard the solids.
If you need the stock right away, you can skim the fat off with a ladle. Even better is to refrigerate it until chilled, then scrape off the cap of fat that congeals on the surface.
If your stock is good, it will have set into a jellied blob, a sure sign that there’s a lot of gelatin in it. That means it’s ready for any sauce-making tasks you throw at it, whatever they may be (well, seafood dishes aside).
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