Making Your Own Stock

Soup stock is the foundation for many of the tastiest soups, and it’s a flavor enhancer for many a dish too. But canned and packaged stocks are generally high in sodium and may include artificial ingredients, like monosodium glutamate (MSG). You can find healthier and organic varieties at your co-op, but if you use stock frequently in your cooking, it can get expensive. Despite what you may think, making your own stock requires minimal effort, costs little money, and will keep you, well, stocked for months.

There are a million and one uses for a good homemade stock, including:

  • Making your own soups and stews
  • Adding depth to homemade pasta sauces
  • Using in place of water or butter to infuse rice, couscous, or other grains with flavor
  • Braising greens and other vegetables
  • Deglazing pans to make gravy
  • Substituting for wine in any recipe

The most versatile stocks are chicken and vegetable stock, but the possibilities don’t stop there. Beef stock, fish stock, chili stock, ginger stock—the list is limited only by your imagination. For the sake of simplicity, file away this basic how-to for chicken or vegetable stock and improvise from there.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 pound chicken bones (if making chicken stock); either buy them from your co-op’s meat counter or farmers’ market meat stand, or reserve the bones every time you roast a local, pastured chicken and freeze in a plastic bag until you’re ready to make stock
  • 1 pound assorted vegetables: carrots, celery, onions, garlic, or other root vegetables, washed and chopped into large pieces
  • 1-2 dried bay leaves
  • A few handfuls of fresh herbs: thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, or whatever else you have on hand, washed and added to the pot, stems and all
  • 2-3 tablespoons whole spices: black peppercorns, coriander, caraway, fennel, etc.

In a large soup or stockpot, add all the ingredients and cover with 12-16 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 3-4 hours. The liquid should reduce slowly; if it seems to be drying out quickly, add more water and turn down the heat.

After 3-4 hours, strain the stock, discarding all solids (it’s okay if a few whole spices escape the strainer). You should be left with 8-10 cups of stock. Season to taste with salt or just wait to salt until you use it in a recipe. Divide stock into one-cup portions in small plastic bags or containers and freeze (this way, you can thaw just as much as you need).

Just one Sunday afternoon spent making a batch of stock can save you $20-25 on the store-bought variety over the course of a few months. And you’ll have a healthier, more flavorful ingredient to use in your kitchen—no bones about it.