Stock-making 101 — How to make soup stocks

All about stock

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Making your own homemade stock is a great way to use up leftover food while imbuing your foods with fresh, seasonal flavor. While it does take some serious stovetop time, it's actually not as hard as you think. Check out these tips and recipes.

Having soup stock on hand is an easy way to add a little punch of flavor to a multitude of dishes (even those that normally use water). Stock makes use of scraps and leftovers that you'd have to throw out otherwise, so it's not only frugal, it's eco-friendly. So skip the powdered stuff and make your own homemade stock to use in your next recipe.

If it seems like you're making a lot of stock in each batch, keep in mind your stock can be frozen so it's ready at a moment's notice. In fact, if you tend to cook for one or two people at a time, you can use a teaspoon or tablespoon measure to portion the stock evenly into ice cube trays so you always have perfectly measured and easily accessible stock for cooking. When they're frozen, just transfer the cubes to a plastic freezer bag for easy storage.

Preparing to make your own stock

There are four main types of stock: vegetable, chicken, meat and fish. While you can usually substitute them for one another with no real affect, it's usually best to stick with the stock that goes with what you're cooking. If you're making a chicken dish, use chicken stock instead of beef (though vegetable stock may also add a nice layer of flavor to certain recipes).

Since stocks are made using leftovers or scraps (parts that might otherwise be thrown away), keep plastic bags in the fridge to collect vegetable scraps and meat bones. You can start making your stock once you've collected enough scraps. You can also make combination stocks in which you create a stock made from more than type of ingredient, like vegetable scraps and beef bones.

Making vegetable stock

With the exception of cabbages (including broccoli and cauliflower), which can overpower the flavor of vegetable stock, you can use any type of vegetable scraps (carrot peels, etc.). The flavor of your stock will vary slightly, depending on the combination you use.

Tomatoes can be overwhelming to the flavor of stock, so unless you want a strong tomato flavor, keep it to a minimum. Some people also feel asparagus can be a bit overwhelming, while others think it adds depth and richness. You'll have to experiment to decide what you like.

Start saving well-washed peels and trimmings while you cook instead of throwing them out. Since your stock will be strained before you use it, the way those peels and leftovers look don't matter. Of course, you can also use veggies you need to get out of the fridge before they go bad. The following are some great vegetables to use in stock.

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Squash
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Mushrooms
  • Peas
  • Corn or corn cobs
  • Green beans
  • Beets
  • Bell peppers
  • Scallions
  • Green onions
  • Shallots
  • Parsley, basil and other herbs
  • Fruit scraps like apples, pears and pineapple

A good rule of thumb is to have about one part solid ingredients to one part water. It's a good idea to throw in a tablespoon or so of whole black peppercorns and a bay leaf or two for added flavor. Cover your ingredients with the water, bring to a boil and let it simmer for about an hour. Cool the mixture and strain it to remove any pieces of vegetables, fruit or scraps.

Poultry stock

You can buy inexpensive chicken or turkey parts (like backs and necks) to make stock, or use the bones that are leftover when you debone poultry. You can also use a leftover cooked chicken or turkey carcass instead of fresh raw meat to make stock.

You'll probably want to use vegetables in your protein stocks for extra richness. Use the same veggies we used in the vegetable stock, just fewer of them. If you want a darker, richer stock, roast your poultry, poultry bones and vegetables in a 450 degree F oven for about 40 minutes before adding them to your stock pot.

You'll need about 4 or 5 pounds of poultry parts, about half as many pounds of vegetables, six to eight cloves of garlic and about a tablespoon of peppercorns. Cover them with water, bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for about two hours. Periodically skim off the foam as it rises to the top of your pot. When you're done cooking, strain the broth and refrigerate it for a few hours. Any fat in the broth will congeal at the top and can be easily strained off. Your stock is now ready for use or for the freezer.

Meat stock

With meat stock, you'll want a dark, rich stock, so roast your meat, bones and vegetables for about 45 minutes in a 450 degree F oven before adding them to your stockpot and adding water. You can skip this step, but it will have a lighter color and less rich flavor.

You'll want 5 to 7 pounds of meat and bones, which can include beef, veal, lamb, pork, ham (for a distinctly smoky flavor) or venison. Add about half as much vegetables, using the same veggies as recommended for the vegetable stock. As with all the stocks, you can use either whole vegetables or scraps. You'll also want to add four bay leaves, a tablespoon of black peppercorns, about half a cup of chopped fresh parsley and any other seasonings you want (about a tablespoon of each of things like oregano, basil and thyme). You'll need enough water to cover the ingredients.

Add your ingredients to your stockpot, bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about four hours. Add more water if necessary to keep the ingredients covered. Strain out the solid ingredients and refrigerate the stock for a few hours. The fat layer can easily be skimmed off the chilled stock, making it ready for use or the freezer.

Seafood Stock

Seafood stock comes in handy for many recipes. You can use any inexpensive white fish scraps, bones and trimmings (your seafood market or grocery store probably sells fish packaged for just this purpose). You can also use crab, shrimp and lobster shells to add flavor. Be careful what vegetables you use. You won't want as many, as they may overpower the fish. In fact, it's best to stick with onions and a few flavorings and herbs. We recommend using just a couple large onions and a celery stalk sauted in butter with four or five garlic cloves. Toss in the fish parts, some dry white wine, peppercorns, lemon juice and light herbs (like parsley) and cover the whole thing with water.

Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for about an hour. Periodically skim off any foam at the top of the pot. Cool it and strain out the solid ingredients. Your stock is now ready for use or for the freezer.

Recipes using stock

Dining in with homestyle stock
3 Quick & easy beef recipes using stock
3 Quick & easy chicken recipes using stock