Stewing hens can provide deliciously tender, fall apart meat if cooked properly but you must know how to treat these birds for the best result.

Learn how to cook a stewing hen using either an Instant Pot or slow cooker with this easy method and enjoy incredibly rich homemade chicken broth as an added bonus!

Stewing hen in a glass bowl with carrots, celery, onion, thyme, bay leaf, garlic, peppercorns and apple cider vinegar on a cutting board.
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When one of my favorite vendors (Black Willow Pond Farm) at the farmer’s market said they’d be selling their stewing hens while they lasted, I jumped on the opportunity.

Who wouldn’t want pastured organic chicken at a fraction of the normal price?

Why are stewing hens cheaper? Well, it all comes down to understanding what stewing hens actually are.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A STEWING HEN & CHICKEN?

Stewing hens are birds that lived a life as laying hens (aka the birds producing eggs). Inevitably, with the passage of time, their production as egg layers diminishes to the point where they’re no longer cost effective to keep. At this point they’re typically butchered and sold as a “stewing hen”.

HOW OLD ARE STEWING HENS?

Chickens sold and eaten from the store or market are much younger when butchered than stewing hens who can range anywhere from 1-3 years old at the time of slaughter. Because of their age, the meat is a lot tougher than the tender, moist chicken we’re all used to eating.

That’s not to say stewing hen meat can’t be cooked and enjoyed too but you need to know how to cook it for the best results. Try to roast a stewing hen like a regular whole chicken and you’ll be in a for unenjoyable meal of tough dry meat.

Stewing hen in the insert of an Instant Pot with vegetables.

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO COOK A STEWING HEN?

Low and slow is the name of the game when it comes to these older birds.

This can be accomplished in a variety of ways from stove-top simmering to a slow cooker or, the quickest method of using a pressure cooker like the Instant Pot.

The trick is to treat the tougher stewing hen meat like you would any tougher muscle meat like beef brisket or veal brisket.

While this chicken isn’t one you can roast up in an hour, when cooked properly, it still results in tender meat that should be falling off the bone.

There’s also the added bonus of the liquid gold chicken broth that results from this type of cooking method.

In fact, I might argue that the broth is even better than the meat. It’s somewhere in between a rich stock and bone broth in taste and makes a wonderful base for any tasty soup you want to create after.

I love using it for making spicy chicken lime soup this time of year. Nothing will open up your sinuses from a winter cold like that soup!

Shredded stewing hen chicken meat in a bowl with a fork.

INGREDIENTS TO MAKE A STEWING HEN IN THE INSTANT POT OR SLOW CLOOKER

  • 3-4 pound pastured stewing hen
  • yellow onion
  • carrots
  • celery
  • garlic
  • fresh thyme and/or rosemary
  • bay leaf
  • peppercorns
  • apple cider vinegar (this helps break down the collagen in the bones so it ends up in the broth!)
  • sea salt
  • filtered water

Looking at this list, you might not be able to decipher whether we’re cooking a chicken for meat or making bone broth and that’s because the ingredients are basically the same. The only difference being using a carcass for broth vs. using the entire bird with the meat on in this case.

Much like making bone broth, feel free to add any other aromatics or ingredients to flavor the broth. Things like beets, fennel and other fresh herbs are great if you have them on hand.

HOW TO COOK A STEWING CHICKEN

PRESSURE COOKER

If using a pressure cooker, place the stewing chicken in the metal insert and scatter the remaining ingredients around it.

Pour the filtered water into the pot filling to just under the max fill line.

Place the lid on, turn the valve to the sealing position and cook on the manual high pressure setting for 100 minutes.

Once the timer goes off, let the pressure naturally release for 10 minutes then switch the valve to the “venting” position and release the remaining pressure.

Remove the lid, remove the chicken to a cutting board using tongs. The meat should be literally falling off the bones.

Strain the broth discarding the vegetables and aromatics (although I save the carrots and eat those!) and transfer to a separate bowl or container to cool.

Once the chicken is cooled enough to touch, remove the skin and pick apart the meat from the bones.

Tip: save the hen carcass and use it once more for making bone broth!

The hen meat can be used for other recipes like a turmeric chicken salad for lunch or a chicken cheddar quinoa bake for dinner. It’s also great as an easy protein for stew. Swap it out for the turkey in this turkey stew recipe for a cozy winter meal.

SLOW COOKER

If you prefer to cook the stewing hen in the slow cooker, add everything to the pot of the slow cooker, affix the lid and cook on the low setting for 10-12 hours.

Follow the same steps as the pressure cooking method for removing the chicken and straining the broth.

This method is great if you want to cook during a full day out of the house.

I personally prefer the pressure cooker as I think the resulting broth is richer tasting but the slow cooker method is also great for a more hands off approach.

Stewing hen meat cooked in an Instant Pot shredded in a glass bowl.

ARE STEWING HENS GOOD TO EAT?

When treated correctly, stew hens are great to eat.

Unlike the chickens raised for meat like broilers who are butchered at a young age for their tender meat, stewing hens have the chance to grow, develop strong bones and lean muscles.

If these birds have led healthy lives (like those that are pastured), all that nutrition gets passed along to you when you eat them and the resulting cooking broth.

These are not birds that should be grilled, fried, roasted or baked. For quicker cooking chicken recipes like those, try these Cornish game hens in the air fryer or make this sheet pan peri-peri chicken.

But with a slow cooking approach, they can be just as delicious as any other chicken recipe.

Chicken broth in a ladle from cooking a stewing hen in the Instant Pot.

USE THIS STEWING HEN RECIPE TO THEN MAKE THESE:

Chicken Stuffed Poblano Peppers
Chopped Crispy Citrus Chicken Salad
Buffalo Hummus Chicken Waffle Bites
Butternut Squash Lasagna Roll-ups

And enjoy the golden broth in soups like sopa de lima and Instant Pot bean soup where the broth has the opportunity to shine.

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4.50 from 6 votes

How To Cook A Stewing Hen

Servings: 4 servings
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 1 hour 40 minutes
Total: 1 hour 50 minutes
How to cook a stewing hen in the Instant Pot.
Learn how to cook a stewing hen in the Instant Pot for easy, tender fall apart meat perfect for a variety of uses. As a bonus, enjoy delicious homemade chicken broth too! Slow cooker and Instant Pot directions included.

Ingredients 

  • 4 pound stewing hen
  • 3 carrots, chopped in half
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped in half
  • 1 medium yellow onion or 1/2 a large onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • handful fresh thyme and/or rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • generous pinch of sea salt
  • 10 cups of filtered water

Instructions 

  • Place the stewing hen in the insert of the Instant Pot and drop in the remaining ingredients around the chicken.
  • Pour in the filtered water filling the pot to just below the max fill line.
  • Pressure cook on manual high pressure for 100 minutes.
  • Once done cooking, let the Instant Pot naturally release pressure for 10 minutes then switch the valve to venting and quick release the remaining pressure.
  • Remove the lid and transfer the stewing hen to a cutting board with tongs.
  • Strain the broth into a large glass bowl or jars and let cool to room temperature. Discard the veggies the hen cooked with (I usually save the carrots though and eat those!).
  • Once cool enough to touch, remove the skin from the chicken and pick apart the meat transferring to a bowl or container.
  • Use as desired.

Notes

*SLOW COOKER DIRECTIONS – place all the ingredients in the slow cooker, cover and cook on low for 12 hours.

Nutrition

Serving: 1SERVINGCalories: 504kcalCarbohydrates: 8gProtein: 41gFat: 33gSaturated Fat: 9gPolyunsaturated Fat: 7gMonounsaturated Fat: 14gTrans Fat: 0.2gCholesterol: 163mgSodium: 188mgPotassium: 625mgFiber: 2gSugar: 3gVitamin A: 7967IUVitamin C: 9mgCalcium: 54mgIron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Main Dishes
Cuisine: American
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Founder and Writer at Running to the Kitchen | About

Gina Matsoukas is an AP syndicated writer. She is the founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.

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9 Comments

  1. Very interesting and informative! I never knew that older hens can be stewed! And the broth is such a great added bonus!

  2. This was such a helpful guide to cooking a stewing hen perfectly (something I’ve never done before!) Mine turned out great!

  3. 5 stars
    This was such a helpful guide to cooking a stewing hen perfectly (something I’ve never done before!) Mine turned out great!

  4. 5 stars
    Stewing hens are great! I feel like you get a lot more for a lot less, and they make an amazing chicken noodle soup! Great article!