Stock is the foundation of classic cooking and the workhorse of the kitchen. Almost daily in my classes and personal cooking I reach for rich chicken or vegetable stock to flavor and enhance not only soups, but main dishes, sides and sauces. It is one of the easiest items to make, yet most of us resort to the prepared versions in cans, cartons and even cubes found on the supermarket shelves. These products are usually high in sodium, low in nutrition, and may contain ingredients such as wheat and soy. Homemade chicken and vegetable stocks are healthier, fresher and better tasting, and they utilize many items that are normally discarded in the kitchen, leading to less waste and more cost savings.
Stock isn’t difficult to make. The three main components are meat bones (in the case of chicken and beef varieties), vegetables and seasonings. The bones are what distinguish stock from broth. Stock is made with bones while broth is made from meat and/or vegetables only. The bones add body and richness and as they simmer they release collagen, which is converted into gelatin. Gelatin provides body and depth. The best chicken stock is made from leftover cooked chicken bones or carcasses saved and stored in the freezer until ready to use. (Toss those rotisserie carcasses in a zip-top bag and freeze until you get 3 or 4.) Fresh, roasted chicken wings and bone-in legs and thighs also work great and are found inexpensively at the supermarket.
The vegetable component comes in the form of Mirepoix (mihr-PWAH), a French term for a mixture of 50 percent onions, 25 percent carrots and 25 percent celery by weight. These components are coarsely chopped prior to adding bones and water to stockpot. Depending on your intended use and flavor preferences, practically any variety of vegetables including fennel bulbs, leeks, turnips, garlic and mushrooms can be added when preparing vegetable stock. (You can use peels and ends from your vegetables. Just toss your scraps in a zip-top bag as you cook. Store the bag in the freezer until you are ready to make your stock.)
The seasonings included in stock are referred to as a bouquet garni. The standard mix is peppercorns, bay leaves, fresh thyme and parsley. These seasoning are added whole and infuse their flavor into the stock throughout the cooking process. (SAVE your parsley and thyme stems and use those! Just put them in your “stock bag” in the freezer.)
Since stock is the foundation of other dishes and not the finished product, salt is not added. I stress to my students the importance of salting the FINAL dish and not the components. This allows for a better flavor profile, more depth and a lower overall sodium level.
Your finished stock can be used to prepare broth-based vegetable soups such as minestrone, hearty legume varieties such as lentil or pureed varieties such as potato, broccoli or squash.
- Use a tall, narrow 6-8-quart stockpot
- Add cold water to cover pot contents by about 2 inches — adding too much water will lead to flavorless stock
- For bone broth, double amount of bones used, add 2 tablespoons natural apple cider vinegar to the pot, and simmer 6-8 hours to achieve bone broth
- Add additional water as evaporation occurs and bones and vegetables become exposed
- Simmer, don’t boil (boiling causes cloudy stock)
- Refrain from stirring during cooking process, just press the contents down so they stay submerged in the liquid
- Strain finished product through a strainer or fine mesh sieve, discarding solids
- Cool in refrigerator and discard the layer of fat that rises to the surface
- Refrigerate up to 5 days, or freeze up to 6 months
Ready to give it a try? Click here for basic chicken stock and vegetable broth recipes.