Stock Your Own Stock

StockIf ever there were a perfect, shining example of all the benefits of going homemade, it would be stock.

What is stock, you ask? It is, simply, water that’s been boiled (and, hence, flavored) with something—chicken, beef, and vegetable are the kinds you’ll find most often at the store. Fish stock and mushroom stock are also common.

Stock is usually used as the base for a soup, but you can use it as the cooking liquid in any number of things—gravy, rice, chili, sauce—anything that calls for broth or water. Using it in place of water lends your dish a richer, deeper flavor, and using homemade stock in place of store-bought stock allows you free-reign on flavor and resourcefulness.

Let me tell you, it’s well worth it. The flavor you can distill from your own stock is just light years beyond what you’ll get at the store, and you can make it totally sodium-free (or anything-free, for that matter), if that’s how you roll.

Perhaps the greatest thing about making stock is that it can be a by-product of something else you’re already whipping up, made with scraps you’d otherwise throw away rather than requiring anything extra. That makes it potentially zero-cost.

Next time you’re trimming a turkey, or working with a whole chicken or fish, or wondering what to do with your hambone, consider making stock. You can stick it in the fridge or freeze it for later, rather than dropping cash on a can or carton at the store.

Here’s how to start rockin’ and stockin’:

  1. Save your scraps! Rather than ditching skin, innards, and bones, set them aside as you work or throw them straight into a stock pot. This also applies to the butts, peels, and odds and ends of veggies and herbs. As you clean your ingredients, hold on to those pieces you’d usually toss.
  2. Some types of bones and bits will need a little preparation. Kalyn’s Kitchen offers this tutorial on beef stock, which explains the importance of roasting beef scraps before making your stock, as well as detailed step-by-step instructions. Poultry or fish bones need a quick rinse, while beef or veal bones should ideally be roasted or blanched first.
  3. Combine said scraps with whichever herbs, whole spices, or aromatics you’d like to use in a stockpot. You can skip this step and go super simple if you like—the great thing about stock is that it works as a base, so you can always add more flavors later as you prepare your final dish. I’d often throw my fish heads and bones into a simple, no-fuss stock while in Mexico, without even so much as a dash of salt, just to get them out of the way.
  4. Cover with water and bring just to a boil. Turn your heat down low and simmer for at least one hour and up to eight or more. The longer you let it cook down, the more flavor you’ll cull. Skim any fat or scum that might surface off the top as it cooks using a slotted spoon or wok strainer.
  5. Strain your stock and remove any remaining bits of debris. If you were using meaty bones, be sure to pull the meat away before throwing them out. You’d be amazed how much meat comes off of a fish head, for example. Save this separately, or if you know you’ll want to use it with the stock, throw it back in.
  6. Use immediately, store in a tub in your fridge for near-future-usage, or freeze in a Tupperware or ice cube tray for someday-usage.