Store-bought is fine — except when it comes to chicken stock

As this week’s ‘Top Chef’ winner showed us, homemade stock doesn’t have to take all day and is worth the effort

By Michael La Corte

Deputy Food Editor

Published March 22, 2024 1:46PM (EDT)

Pot of Chicken Soup (Getty Images/Igor Golovnov)
Pot of Chicken Soup (Getty Images/Igor Golovnov)

"Top Chef" is back! And with its return comes a new host, a new batch of contestants and, of course, new challenges. This week, in the first Elimination round, the chefs each drew a knife bearing the name of a judge, who gave their groups instructions. Longtime judge Tom Colicchio asked his group to roast a whole chicken and compose a dish with both white and dark meat. Gail Simmons, who now also serves as the show's executive producer as well as judge, instructed her chefs to make a stuffed pasta. 

Meanwhile, "Top Chef" winner-and-alum-turned-host Kristen Kish asked her group to make a soup with rich, fully-developed flavor. Of course, all of these culinary tasks are difficult to executive under a time-crunch, which is why it was noteworthy when (spoiler alert) the week's first overall victor, Manuel "Manny" Barella, decided to bypass any shortcuts. “I’m not doing store-bought chicken stock," he said. "Especially not for the soup challenge.”

His decision paid off. Manny — an early favorite of mine who was born in Mexico and currently resides in Denver — captured the judge's attention with his comforting, enriching green pozole with chicken and charred salsa verde.

At judges' table, Gail herself notes that Manny's pozole is "packed full of comfort but [he] made it so elegant." 

Making homemade chicken stock sometimes tends to be thought of as being either precious or a project. There are numerous articles and online debates about whether the time and effort are worth the end result, especially on a consistent basis. But if you're a soup-lover, I'd argue that you really owe it to yourself to give it a try. As this week’s ‘Top Chef’ winner showed us, homemade stock doesn’t have to take all day and is worth the effort

Manny made his from-scratch stock in a pressure cooker  but you don't need to do that, of course (unless you have an instant pot and would like to!)

Homemade stock is excellent: Gelatinous, with a richer mouthfeel, deeper flavor and more concentration that you would anticipate. If you were to sneak a peek at the chicken stock at practically any restaurant, you'd see that it is jiggly and viscous, packed with gelatin  very unlike the loose, liquid-y "stock" in cartons lining your grocery store shelves. As Noah Galuten as Eater puts it, stock is "that golden, translucent, endlessly versatile nectar with tiny circles of fat shimmering on its surface."

Want more great food writing and recipes? Subscribe to Salon Food's newsletter, The Bite.

This, of course, also has an impact on the final dish: As J. Kenji López-Alt told Galuten, "A homemade stock will thicken and intensify as it reduces, while a store-bought stock will remain thin and watery until it completely boils away.”

This also, obviously, impacts not only the consistency of the final result — but also the flavor. López-Alt said, “mainly because the amount of actual meat, connective tissue, and bones used to make store-bought stock is much lower than one would typically use for homemade stock.”

So, knowing all of this, why not make it at home? 

I'm a fan of Better Than Bouillon but legitimate, homemade stock is genuinely insurmountable. Furthermore, you can always make a ton and then freeze some of it off. 

To further contextualize, though, let's get into the distinction. At Epicurious, Zoe Denenberg differentiates between broth, stock and bone broth. Broth is "made by simmering water with vegetables, aromatics and sometimes animal meat and/or bones for a short period," while stock is "made by simmering water with vegetables, aromatics, and animal bones (sometimes roasted and sometimes with meat still attached) for a slightly longer time, usually 4 to 6 hours." Lastly, bone broth is a "hybrid" of the two, sometimes cooked for as long as 24 hours. It's also good to note that stock is typically made from just bones  either as-is or even roasted off in the oven  while a broth is basically chicken soup, simmering a whole chicken in some water, aromatics and vegetables and lightly flavoring the liquid. 

We need your help to stay independent

This is really more of a process or technique than it is a recipe, so I'd rather present it that way. 

What you need

  • Chicken bones: These can be leftover from a roasted chicken, entirely raw, or preferably roasted off raw bones. You can also use just chicken backs and wings.
  • A slew of aromatics and fresh produce: Anything from your typical mirepoix ingredients like carrot, celery and onion to garlic, leeks, herbs (thyme, parsley, bay leaves), peppercorns, and the like)
  • A ton of water
  • Gelatin: Totally optional, but if you're only using chicken breasts or don't have any bones on hand — feel free to add some unflavored, unsweetened gelatin to really bulk up the consistency of your stock, making it more akin to the traditional stock.


In the largest pot you have, you want to cook the bones and water only at first (simply cover the bones entirely with the water), cook for an hour or two, then once the scum is is skimmed off as the impurities rise to the top, add your vegetables and aromatics. You can then cook for however long you want, of course, but aim for a minimum of two to three hours or so. 

Use whatever strainer you have: Perhaps a fine-mesh, a collander set over another pot or — if you happen to inexplicably have access to a restaurant — a tamis or a chinois.

It's a perfect recipe to have simmering in the background while working from home or having a weekend in. Your final result should have a rich mouthfeel, deeper flavor, should make a super-rich demi-glace once reduced and not just aimlessly cook off into nothingness. Be sure to cool stock completely before pouring into jars, quart containers or other storage. This should last for months in the freezer and a good week in the fridge.

If this is all still to much for you, feel free to go "semi-homemade" ala Sandra Lee with a box or two of store-bought stock, some Better than Bouillon, bouillon cubes or powders, vegetables, aromatics and maybe a chicken breast or two. This will make an enriched stock that beats out store-bought but doesn't require some of the more involved components of a full, from-scratch stock making process.

As far as how to use this? Soups, stews, fortifying rich pan sauces, cooking grains or beans, reducing into demi-glaces, to braise or poach proteins or vegetables, in risotto, to glaze produce, in stuffings or fillings — the list truly goes on and on. 

Episode Takeaways

  • I appreciated David's energy, his candor, his oddly anachronistic lingo (why did he feel like he was straight out of 2012?). He felt like a personality we would've seen in one of the early seasons of "Top Chef" and I think that that's one of the things I feel "Top Chef" is currently missing, to be frank. 
  • I also enjoyed seeing Kristen coming into her own — though I am partial to Padma's hosting and mellifluous voice guiding both us and the cheftestants through the show (but to be fair, Kristen has hosted for one hour of "Top Chef" while Padma hosted for 19 seasons, so I'm sure she'll grow into it). I'm also thrilled that "Pack your knives and go" remains a part of the lore! I would've been bummed had that been cut.
  • Beyond Manny, I also loved Michelle's energy. I liked Danny, Kaleena and Kevin, too, though Savannah is my dark horse for no reason other than the fact that I always tend to root for under-edited female competitors on reality shows and because she made an avoglemono sauce. We barely saw Charly, Laura, or Alisha and Rasika and Valentine didn't make too much of an impression. I was intrigued that Amanda got such great praise in a random scene, but that didn't seem to translate during the elimination challenge. Dan was the customary "hometown guy" and Kenny seemed earnest and good-natured.
  • I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the Quick Fire and immunity rule change? I'm also interested to see if Last Chance Kitchen comes back around. We'll see.

By Michael La Corte

Michael is a food writer, recipe editor and educator based in his beloved New Jersey. After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, he worked in restaurants, catering and supper clubs before pivoting to food journalism and recipe development. He also holds a BA in psychology and literature from Pace University.

MORE FROM Michael La Corte

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bravo Chicken Stock Commentary Homemade Technique Top Chef