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For the longest time, I've been keeping my eyes open for a stewing hen. I make very good Chicken and Dumplings, and I've always heard that I could make it really great if I could just get my hands on a stewing hen.

See: Where do all the tough old birds go?

When I finally saw stewing hens in our local "if you can't find it elsewhere, look here" store, they were not at all what I had imagined.

Scrawny, frozen for God knows how long, no dates on the package, poorly wrapped, iceberg things.

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I bought two.

Now what??

Surely the meat from this thing can't be worth anything...or can it?

My standard way to make special chicken broth is here: Why does the fat on my chicken broth sometimes solidify, sometimes not? Should I do anything differently with this thing? Can I expect the meat to be worth anything, or should I just simmer it to death to flavor the broth? Any other advice?

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I'm from the company you got your hens from.

Water cooking is the traditional method, the size of this bird is representative of the breed, which is leghorn fowl. This is the breed used both in commercial and backyard egg layers.

The stock made from the stewing hen is far more flavorful then any other chicken you will find anywhere. The meat is also rich in flavor, however as the age of these hens is significantly older than that of a broiler, (8-10 weeks vs 90-130 weeks for a stewer), the meat is tougher.

Our inventory is very current, in fact none of our inventory is beyond 15-30 days at this time, and our distributors are also working with very current inventory.

The color of the skin returns immediately, even running a little tap water over it will bring the white/yellow color back. The skin tends to be fairly lean, leaner than a meat chicken, so once frozen it becomes almost translucent.

Thank you for trying our product, and I hope your chicken soup was as delicious as we have come to know in our own kitchens over the past 70 years.

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  • Thank you very much for answering. It means a lot that you took the time. – Jolenealaska Apr 28 '15 at 23:13
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I so love that you asked this question. A baking/stewing hen is the ticket to the best chicken and dumplings you will ever have. That said, finding a good stewing hen today is not as easy as it was years ago.

Let me give you a little info on this. I've referred to my mother many times in my questions and answers. She was born in 1913 and would be 101 years old if she were here today. She would never consider making chicken and dumplings except with a stewing hen. So, that was the taste I grew up with.

Back years ago chickens were not bred like they are today. You could tell a baking or stewing hen by its weight which correlated to it being an older chicken. You would always look for a chicken that was 5 pounds or more. (Back then fryers weighed in a 2-1/2 to 3 pound max.)

Nowadays chickens that are sold to consumers like you and me are bred and raised to grow at a faster rate so they are much larger at a younger age. (Less time, less cost.) So, it's not uncommon to find a fryer that weighs over 4 pounds. (Note that foodservice still seems to distribute the smaller birds. Think about the prepared rotisserie chickens sold in grocery stores. They are usually barely over two pounds!)

Another thing to consider is chicken parts. Back years ago, chicken thighs weighed approximately 3 ounces each. Today, what you buy typically averages 6 to 8 ounces per piece. Let's upsize! They are capitalizing on the number of pieces rather than the weight. It's not that hard to figure out.

As I grew older I thought that a larger chicken related to a good result. Not so. The results from a large, quickly raised fryer will not give you the same taste as an older chicken.

If you really have a baking/stewing hen, regardless of the weight, you will have a lot of grease cooking out. Ladle it off. The flavor is definitely worth it. I don't think the weight matters as much today as it used to because of how it is raised to be sold to us. I have still found good frozen baking/stewing hens in the 5-6 pound range.

I can't speak to the specific birds you have, but definitely give them a go. If you really have baking/stewing hens you will be pleasantly delighted.

Just a note - My husband didn't think it made a lot of difference until I actually found a stewing chicken and made chicken and dumplings with it. He's definitely a believer now!

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  • You've got me excited :) Should I stew it longer than I would a fryer? Look at the second link in the question, would that same approach be the way to handle these birds? – Jolenealaska Sep 6 '14 at 23:44
  • I don't see why the same approach wouldn't work. That said, I have used a very similar approach with fryers when making different dishes, but I haven't ever tried it when making chicken and dumplings. I'm probably missing out on extra flavor! – Cindy Sep 7 '14 at 13:36
  • By the way, I looked at your pics again and that bird does look pretty scrawny. Doesn't mean it still can't taste good, though. Hope it turns out great! – Cindy Sep 7 '14 at 13:40
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Pressure cook or slow cook. Don't pressure cook too long or the meat you get will become dry and stringy. I prefer very slow cooking, often in the oven at about 190-220° for HOURS!!! Brining helps. I made one recently, cooked in a soy-based sauce. Cooked for about 7 hours. When finished, best to take the meat off the bone as soon as it's cool enough to handle. I always save the bones to make stock. Serve the pulled hen meat with the braising sauce on top of hot rice, garnished with green onion, cilantro, etc. Btw, the bird I used weighed about 1.5 lbs. Very scrawny but tasty! Hope this is helpful! If making a more traditional soup, simmer slow in the oven like above with water and aromatics. No need for chicken stock since the hen will provide the flavor! After removing meat, return bones to liquid and simmer more. You can roast the bones before adding back to liquid. This will give you a nice stock rich in collagen. Afterwards, strain and proceed with your recipe.

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