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There is nothing quite like homemade Chicken Vegetable Soup, mmmmm…. Unless it’s Stewing Hen Chicken Vegetable Soup with Kale made from a stewing hen, with homemade chicken broth, and tons of vegies and herbs. Yum, Yum, Yum! Cooking a stewing hen is very different from cooking a regular chicken. This full tutorial will walk you through how to cook a stewing hen, why you want to, and what to do with it when you’re done.
What is a stewing hen?
Before we get ahead of ourselves, what exactly is a stewing hen?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, a Stewing Hen is, “A mature laying hen 10 months to 1 1/2 years. Since the meat is less tender than young chickens, it’s best when used in moist cooking such as stewing.” (source)
Typically, a stewing hen is an egg laying hen who is past her prime. A rooster could also be cooked in the same manner as a stewing hen. Either way, the meat is usually tougher, more stringy/ropey, with lean body fat. Stewing hens require “low and slow” cooking, but are oh so flavorful.
Stewing hens just do not work to cook in your traditional roasting or pan frying methods. Anyone else remember the turkey from Clark Griswold’s Christmas dinner in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? Try to roast a stewing hen and you will end up with something quite reminiscent to that turkey! Yuck!
Why would you want to cook a stewing hen?
Okay, got it: tough, stringy, dry, sinewy chicken. So, why on earth would I want to bother cooking a stewing hen?
Well, there are actually a number of reasons:
- Economical: Pound for pound, stewing hens are typically much cheaper than regular hens. At my local farm stewing hens are $3/pound vs $4.50/pound for regular whole chicken chicken.
- Availability: Currently, the farm we use is out of regular whole chickens, so I am super happy that I am already familiar with working with stewing hens. If we didn’t have the stewing hens, we would be eating TONS of beef!
- Waste not, want not: If you raise chickens, you will likely have your own stewing hens at some point. Why not allow that lovely hen who has been providing you with eggs, to feed your family one last time. Whenever someone gives me food of any kind, I try to figure out a way to use it, even if its not our usual fare. If someone graced me with a stewing hen, I would jump at the chance to make a batch of Stewing Hen Chicken Vegetable Soup with Kale.
- Flavor, flavor, flavor: While stewing hen meat is a little chewier, not as plump and juicy as young chicken, it has SOOOO much more flavor.
Personally, I started using stewing hens to save money. Lets face it, good pasture raised (and soy free) meat is not cheap. With being on one income and lots of medical expenses, every little penny counts. At my local farm, you can get two stewing hens for $16-$18 vs one regular hen for about $20. As you will see below, I make two large 8 quart stock pots (one for each bird) of stewing hens which equates to about 8 quarts of chicken (soup) stock, the chicken meat from each bird, and about 4 quarts of bone broth from these two little stewing hens.
Stewing Hen Ingredients and Options
There are tons of different options of vegies, herbs and spices that you can use when cooking your stewing hen. Thyme, rosemary, parsley, and bay leaves are my go to spices for most soups and stews. Oregano, basil, marjoram, would all work well. Basically, you can season up your stewing hens however you like, but I prefer to keep the flavors rather neutral then jazz up the recipe that I use the resulting meat and broth in. For example, I would make the stewing hens as written in the recipe below, then when I make soup from the meat and broth, I would change up the herbs, spices, and vegetables to suit a Mexican flare or Italian style, etc.
Just like the herbs and spices, you can change up the vegies to suit your tastes and what is in season. My preference is celery, carrots, and parsnips. Pretty much any root vegies would work, like rutabaga, celery root, turnips, etc. If you are not following a Low FODMAP diet, then by all means use some onion and garlic as well. Believe you me, I would if I could. 😉
How to cook a stewing hen
Okay, enough chit chat. Lets get down to business and talk about how to cook a stewing hen. Stewing hens require “low and slow” cooking. You can do this in numerous ways but my favorite is on the stove top in a big stock pot like this one. You could also cook in a slow cooker or a pressure cooker like an Instantpot. As I am currently dreaming and drooling over owning an Instantpot (hint, hint honey), I can’t provide you any tips or tricks for pressure cooking a stewing hen, LOL!
One thing to note, this is not a quick process. When I cook stewing hens, I do the stewing process for the hens, start a batch of bone broth, and then make a batch of soup. Start to finish, it takes me about 7-8 hours to do all of this. However, most of this is hands off time! I like to prep my vegies all at once, at the beginning of cooking, so that all I have to do is stir and drop in additional ingredients as I go. Don’t let the long cook time deter you, I only mention it so you can plan your cooking accordingly. 😉
Blanch the stewing hen
Its not 100% necessary to blanch a stewing hen, but I prefer to do so. Rinse the stewing hen and remove any remaining visible “residue” like little bits of feathers, etc. Place your bird in the stock pot and fill with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to keep at a low boil for about 30 minutes. Once the pot has come to a bubble, you will start to notice foam developing on the surface of the water. Skim off this foam every few minutes. After 30 minutes, strain the chicken and discard the water. I even rinse the sides of the pot to get some of the scum off.
So, why do I prefer to blanch the stewing hen? Well, first you get a much clearer broth when you can remove the scum and grit that rises to the surface of the broth. Secondly, when you cook raw chicken in liquid, there is a very distinctive smell that I really don’t like (Like really, REALLY don’t like!). By blanching the chicken, dumping the water, then starting again with clean water, that smell doesn’t happen. Yay!
I like to use bottled spring water or filtered water for the next step but its not 100 percent necessary. I’m really sensitive to chemicals (and can smell the chlorine and such in our tap water) so I prefer to use filtered/bottled water for the next step.
Prep your vegies and herbs
While your stewing hen is blanching, clean and prep your vegies and herbs. Of course, all the vegies are washed, scrubbed with a brush and then sprayed down with Produce Wash. I like to prep the vegies for the stewing hens, soup, and bone broth all at the same time so I have less work to do later. If adding potatoes to your soup, wait to chop those until closer to cook time, but celery, carrots, parsnips, turnips, etc all do well chopped then refrigerated until ready to use.
Cooking the stewing hen
Now that you have blanched your stewing hen, refill the pot with cold water to within about three inches from the top of the pot and turn back on to bring to a boil. Add in your vegetables, herbs, and seasonings. Once back at a boil, reduce the heat to a low simmer. Remember, stewing hens need low and slow cooking. You do not want to boil the chicken, you want to keep it at a low but steady simmer (bubbles just breaking the surface but not a rolling boil).
Cover the stockpot, but leave the lid cockeyed/cracked to allow some of the steam to escape. Simmer for about hours, until the meat is falling off the bone. Depending on the size of your bird, you may need to adjust the cooking time a little.
If your bird tends to float up out of the water, then make sure to give it a flip a few times throughout, to ensure even cooking. You may need to add additional water during the cooking process.
To make sure the stewing hen is tender enough, wiggle the drumstick and wings with tongs. If the drumsticks move freely and the wings wiggle easily, then your stewing hen is now ready.
Straining the stewing hen
Do not just dump the pot! The water, that your chicken has been stewing in, is now fabulous chicken broth that is wonderful for soups, stews, and sauces.
Using tongs, remove the stewing hen from the pot, then let cool for a little while until you can comfortably handle it. With a slotted spoon, remove the vegies from the pot and discard. Strain the chicken broth through a fine mesh sieve, or colander lined with cheesecloth. Side note: if you want to eat the vegies used in cooking the stewing hens, you certainly can, but most of the nutrition and flavor has already been leached out of the vegies into your broth. Do not reuse these old vegies in your soup! They are already spent and will be really squishy and bland if you try to reuse them. You are not being wasteful, these vegies have already done their job!
Set the broth aside to use for your soup. If you aren’t going to use it right away make sure to refrigerate or freeze your broth promptly. When I make stewing hens, I have two stock pots with a bird in each pot. One pot of broth gets used right away in a batch of soup and the other pot I freeze in quart sized bags to use in future recipes. Typically, I will get about 4 quarts of chicken stock from each stock pot. If you are going to freeze your broth, put it in the fridge to cool for several hours before bagging up the broth. Make sure to leave some head space in the bag as it will expand as it freezes.
Pull stewing hen meat
Now your ready to deal with your cooked stewing hens. This part of the job isn’t the most fun, but not overly difficult either. Personally, I like to use the bones to make bone broth, so I will set up a dish to hold the cooked chicken, a crock-pot for the bones, and bring my trashcan close by for all the skin and any “icky” bits. Use a fork and the best tools god gave us (your hands, Lol!) to remove the meat. I like to take care of the wings and drumsticks first, then work on the body of the chicken. Try to remove and separate as much of the meat as possible. All the bones and bits of cartilage just goes straight into the crock pot.
When I make two stewing hens, I will use the meat from one bird to make a big batch of soup and freeze the rest for a future batch of soup.
Stewing hen meat uses
The meat from cooked stewing hens is a little different than we are used to. I like to use it in stews and soups, like this Low FODMAP Chicken Vegetable Soup or Stewing Hens Chicken Vegetable Soup with Kale. Since I am now off grains as well, I eat soup for breakfast. As you can imagine, I eat a LOT of soup!
The cooked stewing hen meat would be great as filling for tacos or burritos, chicken enchiladas, in casseroles, or shred and add barbecue sauce to make barbecue pulled chicken. Really, any recipe where you would use cooked chicken, would be great.
Enjoy your cooked Stewing Hen!
There you have it folks! You now have beautiful nourishing chicken broth perfect for soups, stews, and sauces, super flavorful cooked chicken, and a slow cooker full of bones to make gut healing, nutrient dense bone broth. Check out the next recipe Stewing Hens Chicken Vegetable Soup with Kale to see how I’m using this batch of Stewing hens, or How to Make Bone Broth for the tutorial on how to use the bones to make bone broth (recipe coming soon).
I hope you like Stewing Hens as much as we do. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. If you try this recipe, please snap a pic and share on Instagram #naturallyliz