By Leia Kedem
So many recipes call for chicken broth, whether it's soup, stuffing, risotto, mashed potatoes, gravy or more. There's no doubt that broth adds flavor, but unfortunately, it can be sky-high in sodium. Reduced-sodium options are certainly an improvement, but can still pack around 600 milligrams of sodium in just one cup.
Whenever possible, it's best to go for unsalted broth or stock, but you can do it better at home.
A full-bodied broth starts with vegetables like carrots, celery and onion, which add flavor without salt. I like to add a few bay leaves for seasoning, but you can also try adding parsley, thyme, rosemary or spices for unique tastes.
One of the benefits of making your own broth, apart from having better control of the sodium, is that it can be cheaper than store-bought. Buying bone-in meat is usually cheaper than boneless skinless meat and can give a meatier flavor to the broth.
To save even more money, purchase a whole chicken and butcher yourself. If that's too intimidating, do as I do and get the whole cut-up chicken.
To be as healthy as possible, it can be tempting to use only chicken breasts, but it's crucial to include the dark meat for a richer broth. Although we use the higher fat pieces, there are still ways to keep the broth light. Simply remove the skin before cooking. Otherwise, chill the broth in the refrigerator and scrape off the visible fat layer.
Another cost-saving aspect of making broth at home is that you can reserve the meat for other purposes. Shred up the lower-fat breast meat and use in soups, quesadillas, casseroles, salads or any other recipe calling for cooked chicken. If you don't think you'll use it all within a day or two, freeze the meat in airtight containers or freezer bags.
The broth can also be frozen for later use. I like to measure out amounts that I know are called for in my favorite recipes and freeze in containers. These can easily be microwaved to defrost quickly for cooking. Broth can also be frozen in ice cube trays for use in pan sauces, gravies or recipes that call for small amounts.
Try these step-by-step instructions from Iowa State Extension to make your own broth. Before you know it, your kitchen will be filled with the heady, comforting scent of home cooking and you'll have plenty of broth for all of your favorite cold-weather recipes.
1. Buy chicken leg quarters or a whole chicken.
2. Remove and discard skin and visible fat if you have time.
3. Place as many chicken pieces as will comfortably fit in your slow cooker or largest cooking pan.
4. Add cut-up onion, celery, carrot or other vegetables.
These add flavor without adding sodium. Use about 2 cups in a 5- or 6-quart slow cooker and more or less in a larger or smaller cooking pot.
5. Add 1 tablespoon mixed seasoning (parsley, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns).
6. Add cold water to cover chicken.
7. Cook until meat is done enough to slip off bones.
If using a slow cooker, cover and cook on low heat for 6 to 8 hours or on high heat for about 4 hours.
If cooking on a burner, heat to boiling, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 1 hour. Simmering allows the meat and broth to absorb more flavor.
8. Lift meat and bones out of the broth and place in a covered container.
Refrigerate until cool enough to handle. Remove meat and place in 1- or 2-cup containers or freezer-weight plastic bags. Discard bones.
9. Pour broth and vegetables into a colander or strainer set over a large bowl.
Discard vegetables. Pour strained broth into 1- or 2-cup containers; cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight. Scrape off the fat layer, wrap it in paper towels or newspapers, and discard. You'll have less fat if you removed the skin and visible fat before cooking.
10. Label the meat and broth containers with date and amount.
Store in refrigerator for use within two days or in freezer for use within three months.
Leia Kedem is a nutrition and wellness educator with the University of Illinois Extension, serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties. Contact her at 333-7672 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.