When it comes to brothmaking, not all chickens are alike. Julia Child made that clear back in 1962 when she introduced the “Chicken Sisters” Miss Broiler, Miss Fryer, Miss Roaster, Miss Caponette (a rooster who had either gone “on the pill” or under the knife), Miss Stewer and Old Madam Hen. She highly recommended putting the last two — whom she described as “senior citizens” — into the stockpot to make delicious and nourishing soups and broths.
Although we can make broth or soup from any chicken — and frugal people will use the bones from roasted, broiled and even barbecued chickens as well — nothing serves broth making better than an old stewing hen. Jennifer McGruther of Nourished Kitchen highly recommends them in her inspiring new cookbook Broth and Stock from the Nourished Kitchen. It’s not always easy to find stewing hens today, but in this excerpt from her new book, McGruther gives us some very good reasons why we will want to find a reliable source.
“The chickens sold as fryers, broilers, or roasting birds at farmer’s markets and in grocery stores are young birds, culled at an early age of about six to eight weeks. These young birds give tender meat. As animals age, two things happen to their meat: It grows richer in flavor and it toughens.
Laying hens, by contrast, are culled at an older age. Unlike frying and roasting birds, these chickens are bred lean and hearty and for egg production. As these birds age, they lay eggs with less frequency until they stop laying eggs altogether at around eight years old.
These hens are perfect for the soup pot. Their meat is tougher and more flavorful than that of chickens bred for meat production, and they also accumulate a fair amount of rich yellow fat. As you simmer the hen, that fat renders, and will rise to the surface of any broth. Spoon this fat off and use it as a cooking fat; it has a delicious flavor and lovely texture owing to its high content of monounsaturated fat.
Stewing hens are not only perfect for making stocks and long-simmered bone broths like Whole Chicken Broth (page 28), but are also excellent in dishes that make their own broth like Cream of Chicken Soup with Parsley and Chives (page 78) and Yucatan-Style Lime Soup (page 81).
You can usually find stewing hens at farmers markets and farm stands, or ask your egg provider to save you a hen the next time she culls her flock. It’s well worth it.
While any whole chicken will do in making broth, a stewing hen will give you superb results.”