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Homemade chicken stock--fat-skimming problems

  • s

I made my own chicken stock for the first time yesterday, using several roasted-chicken carcasses that I had been collecting in the freezer, and following the instructions in *Joy*.

Had a blast; felt like a real cook; and the resulting stuff looks and smells wonderful, but it is also obviously very greasy.

I chilled it overnight and this morning I tried to scoop the fat off the top with paper towels and a tea strainer; got a lot of it, but the remaining stock is still cloudy and visibly glistening with fat. What can I do? Should I put it back on the stove and boil it, skim some more, then chill it again? Buy an extra-large gravy separator and try to separate it in batches?

Or are there uses for fatty stock? *Joy* says that a good stock should be very lean, but does it make a difference for the uses I want to put it to--e.g., in risotto, in couscous, etc?


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  1. Quickly,

    You might have cooked the stock at a hard boil. That is the liquid boiling very fast over a high heat.

    IMHO Stock is cooked at a simmer, over low heat with just a few bubbles breaking the surface.

    That being said I would gently bring your greasy stock to a simmer, cool, throw it in the ice box and see if the fax settles to the top.


    1. You are correct. Good stock should be nearly fat free, since it is all skimmed from the top...

      that is weird if after chilling that the not all the fat is at the top. Oil is less dense than water, so by chemistry, it should eventually come to the top. Maybe something you added has acted as a sort of emulsifier? but I can't imagine what you would add to stock that would do that. Are you sure it is fat?

      anyhow, try reheating - gently simmering - then chilling again. Good luck...

      2 Replies
      1. re: adamclyde
        Reared on Home Cookin

        oil is not just less dense than water, but also not miscible or "mixable" (because oil is non-polar while water is polar) so the two will generally separate... unless you've got alcohol in there (partially polar) which will serve to mix with both... doesn't apply here, but does anybody know of a food that relies on this for mixing? and of a restaurant that serves it? ;)

      2. I usually bring the carcasses to a boil, then dump the first batch of water out, then add water again to make stock. This reduces cloudiness. I also strain through cheesecloth before cooling to futher reduce cloudiness. You can still use it if it is cloudy. You took all the herbs, meat, bones and stuff out before cooling, correct?

        I'm not sure that what you are seeing is actually fat. If the finished stock doesn't have enough water, it will become gelatinous. That just means that you have a more concentrated stock.

        11 Replies
        1. re: rudeboy

          Thanks for all your ideas!

          I did strain it through cheesecloth before chilling, and I did cook the stock at a gentle simmer, not a full boil, but here are two things I may have done wrong:

          1) I didn't trim all the fat off the carcasses before simmering (missed this line in the directions);

          2) I didn't let the strained stock come to room temp, but instead stuck it in the fridge while still hot, because at that point, after three hours of simmering, it was 12:45am and I wanted to go to bed.

          Tonight I'll try simmering it again, then letting it cool gradually before refrigerating.

          1. re: Sarah W-R

            Be careful putting a pot of hot stock into the fridge...if the pot is large enough (more specifically, if the thermal mass of the stock is large enough), it can raise the temps in the fridge to a dangerous level.

            1. re: Sarah W-R

              I learned at cooking school that one should cool down stock IMMEDIATELY after taking off the stove. We did it by putting the pot in an ice bath. Leaving it at room temperature to cool can result in harmful bacteria forming. At home (not having access to a big ice machine) I simply put the stock -- after straining -- into a large bowl and pop it in the fridge.

              1. re: Susan Hope

                You should never put a hot stock in the fridge. The fridge actually keeps the stock warm longer, resulting in not only a spoiled stock, but a whole fridge of spoiled food as well.

                1. re: jvLin

                  The fridge keeps the stock warm longer than....what other method? Yes, perhaps the ideal is to put the pot into a sink full of ice water and continually swirl the water around, but that's just not realistic for many folks.

                  I've often heard folks say that a pot of hot stock can spoil a whole fridge, but that depends on the conditions. Pack the pot in in a full fridge? Maybe. Pot on it's own shelf with plenty of air circulation? Doubtful.

                  On point, I personally don't think it's a big deal to have a bit of fat in chicken stock. Any dish I make with stock will have fat in it anyway. As long as it's not a grease bomb, I personally wouldn't worry about it.

                  Why is there still fat in your stock? Are you sure there is? For it to be in the stock and not at the top after cooling it would have to be emulsfied, and it's unlikely you have an emulsifier in your stock. Maybe your stock is viscous because of collagen content? And that's a good thing.

                  1. re: foreverhungry

                    The fridge supposedly keeps the stock warmer longer than leaving it out. As you said, it really depends on the conditions. If you're cooking a big pot of stock for a restaurant, it'll take forever to cool down. If it's just a tiny pot of homemade stock, it might not be a big deal to put it in the fridge.

                    Science has shown that the reason you blow soup to cool it is not to chill the soup itself, it's to blow away the heat above the soup, which is what keeps the soup warm. If you put a big pot of stock in the fridge with no air circulation, the heat will be trapped within the fridge, actually keeping the soup warm longer than it would be in the open.

                    At any rate, this is not from personal experience, so it might not be entirely accurate. I do a lot of research both online and in cooking textbooks before I try something. I learned that you aren't supposed to fridge stocks a long time ago, so I've never taken the risk to try it.

                    1. re: jvLin

                      This is why it depends on the conditions in the fridge. A refridgerator has more air movement than your kitchen counter, unless you have a fan blowing on it. Basic physics says that moving cold air around a hot vessel will cool it faster than not moving room temp air around that same vessel. If the vessel in the fridge is packed with other goods, then sure, cooling won't be as quick.

                      Unless you're cooking in an industrial kitchen and have access to a walk in fridge/freezer, cooling large quantities of stock is difficult. During the winter, I put the pot outside with a brick on top. Minnesota winters work great for chilling large volumes of liquid. During the summer, when I'm done cooking it, I'll make sure there's a simmer, put the lid on, and take it off heat. That way, it's been (almost all) sterilized from the simmering, and then a lid goes on to protect it. I'll cool it for an hour or a couple that way, then pour it into individual quart containers that get lidded immediately. Most go into a chest freezer, some into the fridge. Using this method, I've kept stock straight from the pot into a container in the fridge for up to four weeks just fine.

              2. re: Sarah W-R

                To cool the stock really quickly, I saw on Alton Brown's show that he takes small plastic water bottles (like the 500 ML size, about 16 oz) and fills them up about halfway with water, then freezes. Putting a few of these in your strained stock will get it to a cool temperature fast, especially if you put the pot in a sinkful of ice water as well. Avoids that danger zone, keeps your fridge from warming up too much and gets you to a cooler temp so you can get the stock in the fridge and COLD to get that fat off the top!

                1. re: farmersdaughter

                  Here are the details from that episode. It's full of great info on stock making; it's worth reading the transcript.

                  Link: http://goodeatsfanpage.com/Season7/EA...

                  1. re: nja

                    Thanks for the link to this great transcript. I've successfully made chicken stock for years, but learned a lot of things from this Alton Brown transcript and look forward to applying them next time the stock pot comes out.

                  2. re: farmersdaughter

                    Those bottles are also useful for de-fatting room-temp stock - anything frozen will catch the fat as it congeals on the icy surface. I've also read of using chilled lettuce leaves to congeal and collect the fat on a tepid stock.

                    In my experience, chicken stock made from cooked carcasses is grayer and more opaque than that made with raw parts.

              3. Are you sure that what you are seeing is fat (unusual) and not just gelatinous, congealed stock?

                2 Replies
                1. re: JudiAU

                  Hmm, not completely sure, though I do think this is golden, shimmering oiliness distinct from the main liquid of the stock.

                  I'm going to try re-simmering and re-chilling tonight and will report back.

                  1. re: JudiAU

                    This was my initial thought too. This happens all the time when I make stock. Gelatin comes from bones, as you probably know. It's completely normal. Fat should rise to the top and solidify to a hard, cream-colored mass (about as hard as butter). The cloudy, gelatious stock remains on the bottom. When reheated, it should liquefy right away and you'll know immediately that it's stock, not fat, by its consistency.

                  2. I don't fully understand what the problem is. I'm sure you have some fat in your stock. What I do, after boiling the bones for several hours (with some onion, celery, carrot), is to refrigerate that overnight. Next morning there is usually either a fairly solid plug of fat on top, or a kind of thick-ish fat--I imagine there might be 2 different kinds of fat, with different viscosities. IAC, the solid plug of fat lifts out, and you can spoon off the top 1/4 inch or so under that, and then you have your chicken stock.

                    BTW, one thing I do with chickn stock is to make a roux, using EVOO, then pour in the stock, so as to make a thickened chicken soup. You can then add all sorts of stuff to that--herbs, vegetables, bean crud, etc.

                    Oh, and be SURE to add enough salt! There are few things in this world worse than under-salted chicken stock!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Howard-2

                      I don't ususally salt my stock. The reason is whatever application I'm going to use the stock in, I want to be able to control the salt in that dish. I figure it's kind of like unsalted butter, just gives you more options later on. You can always add but not remove.

                    2. c

                      a little fat in your chicken stock is not a big deal for most uses. You might want zero fat for medical reasons; it might not look nice if you serve it as a bowl of consommme, especially cold; and i guess if you were doing something "technical" (in the chemical engineering sense) like a baking a chicken souffle(?), then the wrong amount of fat at the wrong time can mess up a tricky process.

                      In all likelihood, those conditions do not apply, and you'll be using the stock in a soup or dish that already gets other fat like butter or oil. In that case, chicken fat tastes good, and adds to the hearty-velvety quotient, and you just need to consider how much of it there is and adjust accordingly.

                      Other posters have said some useful things:

                      In general, don't boil your stock vigorously or it will get cloudy (from chicken blood, IIRC) and furthermore, it will increase the quantity of gristley things that get turned into debris. Now, if you are making a hearty peasant-style stew that you will serve thickened, this doesn't even matter and might even be considered a benefit since it would speed up the process and lend to more "authenticity".

                      And, yes, chicken stock when cold will turn to an opaque jello; the chicken fat will be a distinct yellow-white; in addition there may be (especially if you hard boil it) other scum and debris in there, all edible and perfectly tasty, just not so nice looking.

                      I would not recommend, however, throwing away the first wash of water! You are losing too much flavor. You might separate out a first wash if you have caramelized a lot of pan drippings and you want something lighter in color for a particular narrow purpose, but in this case, use the first wash, do not discard it. NEVER.

                      Two more tricks for clarifying your broth: get one of those measuring-cup-oil-can-watering-can looking things that has a pour spout off the bottom, esepecially a big one made of glass so you can see. With one of these you heat up the stock, pour it in, let it settle, then pour off the debris from the bottom, then pour the good stock, and leave behind the last bit with the fat. You can use the poured off parts in somthing like risotto: you've gone to all this work, don't throw it away.

                      Second trick, heat it up, and lay a paper towel on the top, and then discard it after it soaks up the fat, repeat as necessary, just like it was an oilspill.

                      Any fat you skim off, you really should save to use for other cooking projects. The yiddish word for chicken fat is "shmaltz" and it is served, in an authentic deli, right on the table as a condiment so you can add it to things. It tastes very good, and just needs to be disguised and worked in so it is not visible.

                      Link: http://cooksillustrated.com/

                      1. I too do not see there being a problem with a little fat in your stock, and if you re-chill it, what fat is left *will* congeal on the top of the stock. It's as guaranteed as the sun rising.

                        To clarify stock, you can stir in egg whites in the simmering stock. It will collect all the solids in the stock and then the egg bits and pieces can be strained out in a cheese cloth. This is a techqnique recommended by Julia Child in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, IIRC.

                        1. I sometimes have the same problem. I've noticed that when I put fatty substances (chicken stock/turkey drippin's/whatever) in the fridge in a tall and skinny container, I can skim the fat most easily. The reason is when it is in a tall skinny container the fat still collects at the top and you can peel or scoop it out in chunks rather than having to gently skim the fat of a short, squat stockpot.

                          Try this in several containers if need be. This should not conflict with any other recommendations here.

                          1. To clarify stock for clear soup: In order to remove solid flecks that are too small to be strained out with cheesecloth, combine ΒΌ cup cold water, 1 egg white, and 1 crushed eggshell. Add to strained stock. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and let stand 5 minutes. Strain again through a sieve lined with cheesecloth.

                            1. Hi guys I thought id add in my comment here. I read the thread and decided to try something with my own hard boiled room temprature stock!!! ( yep.... total Newb here!) I got a realy fine holed strainer and lined it well with kitchen roll and then simply filled it up with a jug of the stock to see what would happen. Now it did take a long time .. maybe an hour , but the large bowl I balanced it over ended up with a VERY clear liquid of stock with absolutely no fat whatsoever. I repeated the process five times. it took almosty the whole day but I ended up with an extreamly clean stock. I dont6 know if it reduces the taste in any way but it definitely solved the fat skimming problem. Additionaly the mulch left in the drainer should sensibly be throw away ..but... can be used as a projectile and sticks very well to the faces of nosey nieghbours.

                              1. I've gotten into the habit of removing all the skin except for what's on the wing area. I still get a robustly flavored stock, with just bit of fat to enrich it the right amount. Only once have I had to skim a tiny bit, after using two whole, skinned chickens, and that took just a moment. I think it's worth the extra couple of minutes to prepare the chickens. Most importantly, the stock still has great flavor.

                                1. Trim as much fat and skin as possible.
                                  start with very cold water and bring it up to a simmer very slowly. I take about 40 minutes to bring 10 quarts to a simmer.
                                  Skim like your life depended on it for the first hour and then as needed afterwards
                                  Simmer the stock as lightly as your heat control will allow, A copper stock pot give you much more control.
                                  never bump the pot or stir.
                                  do not press down on the meat when straining

                                  In my experience even a small rolling boil at the surface or one bump is enough to significantly
                                  alter the greasiness of a finished stock.

                                  I believe that disturbing the stock causes fat to bond with the broth and that is why it doesn't rise when cooled.

                                  Use the stock to make another stock (double stock) rather than reducing to increase flavour. You'll have the same proportion of stock to chicken used without losing the aromatics.

                                  1. stock needs some fat left in it for both flavor and mouthfeel

                                    1. For what it's worth (and I know this thread is old, but someone else may stumble on it via a search engine) when I'm done cooking my stock and remove what solid bits I can, I put a clean, washed-till-threadbare pillowcase in a large container, then pour the stock in. It strains well enough for me, I don't get the clearest stock but I use it for flavor, not looks. It does cut down on the fat, but I still let the stock sit in the bottom of the refrigerator for minimum 12 hours before scrape/slice/scooping the fat off.

                                      1. I recently bought (on Amazon) a square ladle, after seeing Martha Stewart use one in the stockmaking episode of her new PBS series, Martha Stewart's Cooking School. It does a better job of skimming, and of ladling from a near-empty pot, than a round ladle does.

                                        1. I'm in the don't worry about a little fat camp. Taste the broth, is it good? Then no worries. I often use broth that I have just made, that hasn't cooled or been defatted, especially for risotto.

                                          1. one more idea

                                            take a fine mesh strainer and chill in the freezer, line w/cheesecloth and pour your chilled stock through that. you'd be amazed

                                            1. "Skim off fat"? What is this "skimming" you of which you speak?

                                              1. Boiling your stock will emulsify the fat into the liquid. Once that happens you can't remove it.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: C. Hamster

                                                  Exactly. I cook it at a slow simmer and ladle off the top with this wonderful thing: http://www.amazon.com/Amco-Swing-A-Wa...

                                                  I then chill it overnight and remove what little is left solid.

                                                2. After simmering my stock for about four hours, I strain it into a couple of wide mixing bowls and put them in the fridge overnight. In the morning there's a good, solid layer of fat on top (and the fact that I boiled the stock doesn't seem to hinder this at ALL). I slide a spatula (the wide, pancake-turner type) underneath it and lift most of it out in big slabs. If I end up with a few bits of fat left, I don't worry about it--it's not enough to matter.

                                                  I don't worry about cloudiness, either. Nothing I use it for requires a clear stock, so why go to the trouble, and possibly lose some of the flavor?

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: MsMaryMc

                                                    So does anyone else save this fat, say to cook potatoes? It's quite yummy, I've also done risotto starting with chicken fat instead of olive oil or butter..