Soup stocks and broths are pantry essentials, and they are very easy to make and preserve at home. You'll save money by making your own and have control over what goes into them.
Basic ingredients for any kind of stock are celery, onion, and carrot. Additional ingredients can include meat, poultry, or fish bones and aromatics such as bay leaf, thyme, cloves (use these sparingly!) and black peppercorns.
Although you can start your stock with whole vegetables and fresh meat, chicken, or fish, by far the thriftiest way is the something-for-nothing approach. There are many vegetable and herb scraps that you may have been composting or tossing out that make excellent soup bases. You can even make stock from corn cobs.
The bones leftover from cooking poultry, meat and fish are perfect to be made into stock. This is absolutely what happens to my Thanksgiving turkey after all the day-after turkey sandwiches.
Technically, the stock must include bones, so there's no such thing as vegetable stock. But it's increasingly common to use the word stock interchangeably for both vegetarian and bone-based recipes.
Many home cooks stockpile (pun intended) these bones and scraps in the freezer until there's enough to make stock. The bones go into separate freezer bags labeled chicken, fish, etc. The veggies and herbs go into their own bag to be added to the bones as needed or used on their own to make vegetable stock.
Vegetable and Herb Scraps for Stock
- Celery leaves
- Carrot leaves and ends
- Parsley stems
- The green parts of leeks
- Onion ends and skins
- Tomato ends (adding tomato scraps dramatically changes the flavor of the stock. Be sure to clearly label stocks that include them, and use them only in recipes where a tomato-based flavor is welcome)
- Thyme and oregano stems left after you've stripped the leaves (avoid strong herbs such as rosemary, sage, and cilantro, which can overpower the flavor of the other ingredients)
- Be sure all the scraps are clean before putting them in the freezer.
Bones for making stock can be leftover from a meal, or fresh (if, for example, you've just cut up a whole chicken and have the back and other bones leftover).
When making bone-based stocks, add a splash of vinegar to the water. You won't taste the vinegar in the final product. It helps to release the calcium from the bones resulting in a more nutritious stock.
Making Stock: Stovetop Method
Put the vegetables, herbs, and bones (if using) into a large pot. It is not necessary to defrost them first if they were frozen. Add aromatics such as a bay leaf, 5 or 6 black peppercorns, and 1 or 2 whole cloves. Cover with water.
Bring to a simmer. Do not let bone stocks boil or they will be cloudy. Reduce heat so that there are just a few bubbles appearing on the surface of the stock as it cooks.
Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Blot the top of bone stocks with a clean paper or cloth towel to remove excess fat, or refrigerate and remove the layer of fat that will congeal on top of the chilled stock.
Making Stock: Slow Cooker Method
Place the vegetables, herbs, aromatics, and bones (if using) into the slow cooker. Cover with water. Cook, covered, on high for 1/2 hour. Change the setting to low and cook, still covered, 1 - 2 hours longer for vegetable and fish stocks, 6 - 8 hours for bone-based stocks. Strain and de-fat as for stovetop stocks.
Stocks can be refrigerated for up to one week. For longer storage, freeze or can your stock.
Let the stock cool slightly (no longer than 1/2 hour) before transferring to freezer containers.
A good space-saving method is to pour your stock into plastic freezer bags and lay these flat in the freezer. If you want to avoid plastic, try these plastic-free food storage containers.
If using upright freezer containers, be sure to leave 1 inch of headspace since the stock will expand as it freezes.
Stocks will keep in the freezer for four months. They are still safe to eat after that but may develop an "off" taste.
For long-term storage at room temperature, you need to pressure can your soup stocks.
Pressure can pint jars of soup stock at 10 lbs. pressure for 20 minutes. Adjust the pressure if you live at a high altitude.