stock pot
PHOTOGRAPH BY MAURICE VAN DER VELDEN/GETTY

1 Thing Every Home Cook Should Learn To Make

Preparing your own broth can shave time off weeknight cooking and stews.

September 28, 2015

Homemade stocks are a good cook's secret weapon. They impart a rich flavor to your dishes and allow you to get every last shred of goodness out of bits of foods that would otherwise be discarded or composted, such as bones and vegetable peels. Stocks can be made for the cost of the fuel to cook them, a significant savings over store-bought varities. Making your own also allows you to make custom flavors and to use as little salt as you want (prepared stocks are often very high in salt). And in case you're wondering, the terms "stock" and "broth" mean the same thing in the U.S.—a clear liquid made by cooking foods in water to extract their flavors.

With winter around the corner, spending a few hours on some homemade stock can save you time and liven up all your winter soups and stews.

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Related: Warm Up With 5 Classic, Comforting Winter Soups

Getting Started

I keep a couple of large containers in my freezer, one for bones and the other for veggie trimmings, and add to them as I have things available: a handful of carrot peelings and tops, a lone and wrinkled stalk of celery or a few green beans, pea pods, the papery outer layers of onion and garlic, mushroom stems, apple cores and peels, herb stems—all things that are destined for the compost but still have flavor and nutrition to offer before they go. The only veggie trimmings I don't save are eggplant (as it can lend a bitter flavor), citrus trimmings (ditto the bitter), large quantities of cabbage-type veggies (they have an overwhelming flavor), or more than a few hot pepper trimmings (unless I'm in a spicy mood). Since I'm going to boil the dickens out of the hodge podge, I save items off our dinner plates (chicken leg bones, baked potato skins, corncobs) and store them in the bags in the freezer along with everything else.

Making stock is not an exact science: You can make it from just about any meat or fish leftovers, fruit and veggie trimmings, or any combination of them. Use the recipes that follow as guides, but feel free to use whatever you have at hand in addition to, or instead of, any of the suggested ingredients.

Related: The Architecture Of Soup

Chicken Or Turkey Stock 

makes one quart

 

1 to 2 pounds organic chicken or turkey bones, raw or cooked, fresh or frozen
1 bay leaf (optional)
2 to 4 cups celery, carrot, and onion skins and trimmings, fresh or frozen (optional)
6 cups water

1. Pick any edible tidbits of meat off the bones, and put them aside in the fridge/freezer for later use in soup. Place the bones, your optional ingredients, and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down as low as the burner will go, cover, and simmer for at least an hour or as long as 12 hours, adding a little water now and then to keep the water level over the bones. One hour of cooking time is sufficient to extract most of the flavor; longer simmering helps extract more of the natural gelatin from the joints and minerals from the bones. Such long-cooked stock is sometimes called "bone broth" and is considered very health promoting; the bones are full of minerals and the dissolved cartilage is said to be helpful for folks with joint problems like arthritis.

2. When your stock has cooked as long as you want it to, let it cool slightly and strain it into another large container. Discard the bones and veggie remains (I toss it all into my compost, as the boiled bones don't seem to attract pests and they break down much more quickly than raw bones would). If clear stock is important to you, strain it again through a coffee filter or a couple of layers of cheesecloth, but I usually don't bother with this step.

 

3. As your stock cools, the fat will rise and solidify on the surface, making it easy to remove. If you've used organic chicken or especially pastured chicken, save the fat and use it in place of butter or olive oil for sautéing, (the fat is where the healthy omega-3s are found). If you started with a conventional chicken, discard the solidified fat (it is very low in omega-3s, and nasty persistent pesticides tend to be concentrated in it).

Beef Stock

makes one quart

3 pounds organic beef bones (ask the butcher to break them open or to cut them into 1-inch slices to expose the marrow)
1 sprig thyme and 1 small bunch parley (optional)
2 to 4 cups veggie trimmings, fresh or frozen (optional)
6 cups water

Spread the beef bones in the bottom of an oven-safe pot or Dutch oven and roast uncovered at 450 degrees F, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until well browned. Move the pot to the stovetop and add the remaining ingredients. Bring the stock to a boil, then turn the heat down as low as the burner will go, cover, and simmer for at least an hour or as long as 12 hours, adding a little water now and then to keep the water level over the bones. Once it's finished, cool and strain as you would chicken stock. And, like chicken stock, save the fat if you used pastured, organic beef, as it will be higher in omega-3s, but discard the fat if you used conventional beef bones; it'll be higher in pollutants.

Vegetable Stock

makes one quart

6 to 12 cups veggie trimmings and peels (fresh or frozen), and/or whole veggies scrubbed clean (but not peeled) and cut into 1-inch or smaller chunks
6 cups water

Classic veggie stock is made with onions, celery, and carrots but I make mine with whatever is in season. So it's different every time I make it, tending toward asparagus ends, pea pods, and green onion tops in the early spring; tomato cores, bean ends, and corn cobs in the summer; and winter squash rinds, apple cores, and carrot peels in the fall. Place your veggies/veggie trimmings and water in a large pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Cool and strain.

Variations: For extra flavor, either roast the veggie chunks with a little olive oil in a 450-degree oven, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 45 minutes until they are nice and brown before putting them in the pot or sauté everything in a little olive oil in the bottom of the pot until soft and translucent before adding the water.

Storing

Use your stock right away or store it in glass jars in the fridge and use it within a week. It's good for making soup, in place of water to cook rice or other whole grains, or cooked down (reduced) to make flavorful sauces. If you won't use it all within the week, freeze it for later use. I like to freeze stock in one- and two-cup containers for cooking and as ice cubes for seasoning. Freeze the cubes in a stainless or silicone ice cube tray, and pop them out into a larger container for storage. When you need an extra flavor boost, add one or two cubes to your dish.