Free and Easy Home Made Chicken Bouillon Cubes

It is a truth well-known that commercial chicken bouillon cubes are useless for making bouillon – or anything else you might want to eventually eat. But the concept itself is great: put a cube in a cup, add boiling water and presto! chicken broth, curer of colds, foundation of soups – I’m thinking good thoughts about egg drop at the moment – and sauces too numerous to contemplate.

That’s why our freezer is always stocked with the homemade version. They aren’t as tiny as the salt bombs but they do squeeze a gallon of broth into a pile of little squares about the size of a yogurt tub (which is a very convenient thing to keep them in.)

The chunk in front is about 1 1/2 cubes' worth. I cut it big to show off what it looks like ( admittedly not much; but that's more or less the whole point). The one in the cup is bulked up by the wrapper.

HOMEMADE CHICKEN BOUILLON CUBES

One of those recipes that’s infinitely elastic and scarcely a recipe; the cubes are just heavily reduced broth. But since nobody I know seems to make them, even though a lot of those people are the sort of people you’d think would make them… (The easy part will be obvious. The free part is because I make ours using leftovers. No law against starting from scratch if you want.)

1. Each time you make (or eat, come to think of it) roast chicken, put the bones and picked over carcass in a heavy-duty freezer bag, label with the date and freeze. We include the bones from plates; knowing they will be extremely thoroughly cooked again, but this is certainly not essential. Other chicken parts and bones, cooked or uncooked, can also go in the bag as they appear. Only thing to avoid is strong non-chicken flavors. I once made a batch that had some bones from curry in it, and although the cubes were tasty their uses were limited.

2. When you have accumulated enough material to fill a stockpot (or large kettle) or within 3 months, whichever comes first, put the frozen stuff in the pot and cover it generously with cold water. If you’re feeling ambitious, add some chunks of carrot and celery – not much or the broth gets vegetal. Bring just to a boil, then lower heat to a bare simmer and cook for 1.5 to 2 hours. Or longer, if you’re busy and get distracted. Timing isn’t critical but if you let it cook forever the finished product will taste of bones in a not-good way.

3. Strain the broth into a bowl or bowls that will fit in the refrigerator. The finer the strainer the clearer the cubes but we’re not in France making perfect stock here and there will be two more chances to remove clouding particles. Let cool, cover and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 or 3 days.

4. Remove as much fat as possible from the top, mopping with paper towel at the end. Save fat or not ( see note). Spoon the semi-congealed broth into a wide kettle, leaving behind the particles in the bottom of the bowl. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and let it bubble away until it’s almost syrup – aka glace de poulet – but not quite that thick. Once more, plenty of wiggle room, but keep an eye on it near the end. If you cook it down too far it gets caramelized and that taste takes over from the chicken. Still useful as-is in sauces but less tasty reconstituted to broth.

5. Pour the reduced broth into a shallow pan that will hold it in a layer about 1 inch deep. Let cool, refrigerate until solid, then cut in roughly 1 x 1.5 inch cubes, wrap individually and freeze. They keep indefinitely. This is the second shot at particle removal. More will be in a layer on the bottom again so you can cut it off  if you want; at this point the stuff is extremely firm. The layer is usually very thin and I usually don’t bother.

Note: The fat skimmed from the top of broth or stew or whatever is always watery and laced with impurities. It’s fine for things like flavoring mashed potatoes, roasting vegetables or greasing casseroles that will contain mac and cheese, but it’s no good for baking or frying.

ABOUT SALT : Even though none has been added, there’s still quite a bit in there because of the natural salts and whatever added seasoning is clinging to the chicken. My experience is limited, but I have a feeling grab and go roast chickens have very salty skins, so I don’t know what would happen if they were the primary source of chickenismo.

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16 Comments »

  • Julia Said,

    This is brilliant. It will open a big chunk of valuable real estate in the freezer!

  • Anne Said,

    I sometimes use the quick ready-cooked chickens in case I need to make a quick dinner; although I much prefer (and usually buy) roasting a fresh chicken. The convenience ones are saltier, but I just don’t add any more salt to the stock when I use them. I add water to cover the carcass; a bay leaf or two, an onion, a carrot, a celery stalk, and some thyme or sage if I have it, along with a sprig or two of parsley. Bring to a boil and simmer for about two hours, and then proceed as you suggest although I have never reduced it further and then put it in trays. This is a great idea and I will try this as well as keeping some stock frozen in quart bags. It will certainly make much more room in my small freezer.

    Thanks for reminding us, Anne,

    Those ready-cooked chickens DO come in handy for quick meals, and there’s no reason that wouldn’t be true for stock as well – as long as the stock cubes were being reconstituted. Using the cubes as-is for seasoning might make the dish too salty even if they WERE the only source of salt, but the only way to know is to try. Ready-roasted chickens vary a great deal and if you have access to decent ones there might well be no problem.

  • Connie Said,

    Hi! I am extremely thankful for your “How to” on making my own chicken bouillon. I Don not like that the stores add MSG to there’s, and not to mention the cost. I am excited I found your website. I can’t wait to look around!
    Connie

  • entangled Said,

    Great idea! I made chicken stock yesterday and found I had no spare containers to freeze it in. Wish I had read this before I made that emergency trip to the store for more containers. ;-)

  • susie Said,

    Hi! Just a question. You said you to “spoon the semi-congealed broth into a wide kettle.” But what exactly is a wide kettle?? I am curious to try this out as we use chicken stock all the time. i actually like the Knorr brand, but noticed they are selling “chicken flavored” cubes now and it sounds fishy to me, no pun intended. PS I am going to check out the rest of your blog, i just found you through google! susie..

    • Leslie Said,

      Welcome, Susie

      and I hope you enjoy your explorations! Nothing exact about the wide kettle — idea is simply to use a pan with a large surface area so the broth can reduce speedily; you could use a huge saute pan if it weren’t so awkward to pour liquid from. My favorite pan for this is a vintage enamel item that’s both capacious and quite strongly tapered. much wider at the top than the bottom; but I so seldom see this shape on cookware shelves I didn’t want to specify it and make people think it was needed. As for the bouillon cubes, “chicken flavored” does sound a bit suspect, but to me the real problem isn’t the ingredients in them so much as the sort-of-commercial taste they impose on whatever they’re used in.

  • Bethany Said,

    Just a question but when you take one of your broth cubes out of the freezer and use it do you add water? If so what is the cube to water ration. This is a wonderful idea and am glad I found it. Thank you!

    • Leslie Said,

      Welcome Bethany -

      Answer is it all depends. I try to get it so 1 cube dissolved in 6-7 ounces of boiling water = 1 cup of broth, but the stock (and the extent it gets cooked down) vary a lot from batch to batch. So I keep each batch separate and go slight on the water with the first cube, just so I know, then take it from there. But I don’t really use the cubes to make broth that way very often. More commonly, I’ll make a soup with water and then add a few cubes to intensify it, or even more commonly, I’ll be making pan sauce; deglazing a roasting or frying pan with some combo of wine and water, then adding a cube to turn the result into gravy made with broth. Also of course the cubes are useful as seasoning agents with no dilution at all – in stir-fries for instance, along with a scrape of ginger, splashes of sherry and soy and some garlic and… well, you get the idea.

  • Iman Said,

    Hi,
    What a great idea!!! I knew this was possible!!! 1 quick question… do you think we can pour the finished stock in ice cub trays (silicone maybe???) instead of 1 big tray to cool??? that way we can just pop them out and freeze them all in a BIG zip-lock bag (I do this with baby food…lol!!!) and not have to worry about cutting and wrapping individually??? Thanx again for recipe!!!

    • Leslie Said,

      Welcome Iman,

      Smart idea about the baby food! No problem using ice cube trays; in fact I don’t see why you couldn’t freeze the broth right in them. That would help minimize their bonding when stored together without individual wrapping. (One of the things I like about the wrap is that it lets me take out a cube and just put it on the counter when I’m assembling ingredients before starting to cook, but it certainly isn’t essential.) The one thing to look out for is cube size to liquid measurement; with cubes as small as these it’ll be extra important.

  • Tarah Said,

    About how many cubes does this make? Do you know if a recipe calls for 1 bouillon cube, how many “homemade cubes” is that equivalent to?

    Hi there Tarah, and welcome!

    Mea culpa for not being clearer that this is one of those “recipes” that’s really a process, not a formula. My response to Bethany’s comment is about the best I can do for equivalencies: ideally, one homemade equals one commercial ( if you don’t count the salt), but how many cubes you’ll get depends entirely on the size of the original batch and how strongly flavored it is. If you use all bones and leftovers, you don’t get as many cubes per gallon of starter-stock as you do if you add extra flavor with raw (or roasted) chicken parts.

  • jay Said,

    I found you after a quick Google search the night before I “process ” 50 chickens . I intend on parting half of them up leaving me with a mess of uncooked carcasses. I have a Turkey fryer set up next to me and I will be trying your directions on a large scale! Ill let you know how I did. Thanks for sharing this. Jay

    Welcome, Jay
    That sounds like quite a project! Very clever to think of the turkey fryer as a stockpot. I’ve never used one – the fryer, that is – and even in the now distant restaurant days was never dealing with 25 carcasses at a time. I’m sure the initial stock will come out great! A little less confident about the boiling down, which might take so long in a tall narrow pot that it affected flavor. You might want to divide the strained broth and not try to do it all at once.
    Or you might not. Either way, I can’t wait to hear how it comes out and I’m sure I’m not alone. Good luck!

  • Michael Said,

    If you pour the reduced broth into an Ice Tray and freeze them then crack the cubes out of the trays into a freezer bag you won’t have to do all the cutting and wrapping. You can also take the bones and stuff you strained out and re-simmer it a second time; this time freeze the broth and use it for dog treats on hot summer days that your dog will love.

    Welcome, Michael,

    And thanks for the great suggestion. Dogs all over the country will be very grateful !!

  • Allison Said,

    I use the fat from chicken broth cooled in the fridge all the time for stir fried rice. It really makes a difference in the taste (delicious) and is free!

    Great idea, Allison, I couldn’t agree more! The flavorful fat from the top of meat broth is delicious for cooking just about anything that will be lightly fried – or heavily roasted; if you haven’t tried coating thick cut potatoes with it for “oven fries,” you have a treat waiting. Only thing it’s NOT good for is baking; too many impurities and too much water. (Baking with chicken or duck fat is both possible and, in the case of things like gingerbread, very tasty, but you have to render the raw fat especially for the purpose.)

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