When I first discovered stewing hens I felt very intimidated. I am always a little nervous when cooking something for the first time, but I’d also read that stewing hens are not at all tasty when cooked incorrectly. Now that I’ve been buying stewing hens for more than a year, however, I’ve developed a good system. I even enjoy these chickens so much that I prefer to get most of my soup meat from stewing hens.
You may be wondering what stewing hens are. Stewing hens are laying hens that are no longer productive egg producers. Stewing hens can be an excellent part of your real food supply because they can often be purchased more inexpensively than other pastured chickens, as they are not as sought after as broilers and roasters. Like beef roasts, stewing hens need to be cooked at a low heat for several hours before they will become tender. When cooked correctly, however, stewing hens yield delicious meat and rich, flavorful chicken stock.
Here is my method: Add two frozen stewing hens to a large stock pot then fill the pot up with enough filtered water to cover the stewing hens. Turn your burner on high and allow the water to come to a boil. (This usually takes a while.) Skim off the scum that forms on the top of the water. When you’ve removed all of the scum, turn the heat down so that the pot is at a low simmer. Put the lid on.
How long you cook the hens depends on how tough they are. This can vary from source to source. When cooked enough, the meat should be tender and the bodies of the hens should be starting to fall apart. I like to either cook the hens overnight, about 10 hours, or from morning to late afternoon, about seven or eight hours. You’ll have to experiment to see what works best for your hens. Cooking a few hours too long isn’t bad, but it can make it a bit trickier to remove all of the bones from the meat because the chicken will be completely falling apart.
When you’ve determined that your hens are done, use tongs to remove the chickens from the pot. Allow to cool, then pick the meat off the bones. I like to then dice the meat and freeze it to use for soup.
You will now use the bones and the liquid in the pot to make chicken stock. Return the bones to the pot and return the pot to a low simmer. Cook for as long as you desire, up to a total of 24 hours including the time you spent cooking the meat. Strain out the bones and store your finished broth in the fridge or freezer.
There you have it! I’m so glad I’ve conquered my stewing hen fear. Now if I could just get over liver….
Do you cook with stewing hens? What are your favorite cooking methods?
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