Stock – essentially a long-cooked infusion of bones, meat scraps, or vegetables – embodies several of my favorite qualities: thrifty, healthy, old-fashioned, and delicious.
Thrifty: Stock is made with leftovers and scraps. Most of us in America have gotten used to throwing away bones, onion ends, and carrot peelings, but these have an important second life.
Have picked-over roast chicken bones? Or slimy raw bones and skin after cutting up thighs for a stir-fry? Save them all in a plastic bag in the freezer. Peeling carrots or cutting up celery for your kids’ lunches? Save the scraps, and put them in another plastic bag in the freezer.
Make stock when you have time and enough scraps saved. Then freeze it until you need it. I freeze mine in old quart yogurt containers – it’s the right amount for a batch of soup.
Healthy: Stock is touted for its health benefits since the slow cooking of bones extracts nutrients from the connective tissue and bone marrow. When it’s cool, stock should be somewhat gelatinous.
Called “Jewish penicillin” by some, the comforting and healing properties of chicken soup – and indeed any soup made with bones – are recognized around the world. Once a barista in San Francisco recommended his native Iran’s home remedy for my torn knee meniscus: a stock from chicken feet (for maximum gelatin and connective tissue). I still make that from time to time, and I make regular chicken stock and other meat stock to heal colds and flu.
Old-fashioned: My Jewish grandmother made chicken soup full of matzo balls, giblets, and lots of yellow chicken fat on top. My Scandinavian/German grandmother made all sorts of amazing soup from chicken, pork, or beef bones. No matter where you’re from, you likely know older folks who make soup this way. Use the knowledge of the ancestors.
Delicious: Stock can be used for the base of a soup broth or for various sauces. It makes things rich and tasty. Use it if you can, and you’ll notice a subtle but real difference. Chicken soup made with long-cooked roasted bones and plenty of onion is perfect food.
Use cooked or raw bones, or a combination. Skin is good too. Raw bones will make lighter stock with a more delicate flavor. Cooked – particularly roasted – bones will make a darker richer stock. There are all kinds of subtleties, rules, and small steps that you can take to make a restaurant-worthy stock, but we’re just at home and making normal people stock.
- By weight (roughly) combine one part bone, skin, and meat scraps and two parts cold water in a stockpot.
- Put the pot on very low heat, and cook uncovered for hours. Overnight is good if you feel comfortable doing that. Otherwise 4-6 hours is fine. Add more water anytime if needed.
- Ideally, the heat should be low enough that the stock only bubbles every couple of seconds. Higher heat is okay but your stock will be cloudy.
- If you’re adding vegetables, do so only during the last 20-30 minutes of cooking. They will lose their flavor if cooked longer than that.
- Skim off foam as it’s cooking.
- When it’s done, strain, cool, and skim off the fat (you can save this for cooking).
- By weight (roughly) combine one part vegetable scraps and two parts cold water.
- Simmer uncovered for 30-60 minutes, then strain, cool, and you’re done!
It’s important to choose your vegetables wisely. I said scraps, but don’t use rotting or moldy pieces. Use the bits that are just too tough to chew or are less pretty – like the tough outer layer of a peeled onion.
Vegetables to add to stock/broth for delicious flavor:
– onion and garlic scraps
– carrot ends and peels
– celery leaves and tough outer stalks
– fennel scraps, stems, and fronds
– corn cobs
– mushroom stems
– leek and scallion scraps
– parsley stems
Things NOT to add unless you specifically want these attributes:
– beets – weird color and flavor
– cabbage, kale, broccoli, etc. – yuck, cabbage tea!
– strongly flavored herbs
– people say you can add onion skins to stock. I tried it for the photo here, and it gives a nice dark color, but I found it made the stock bitter.
By Bethany Fleishman
Photo credit: Julia A. Reed