As anyone who has ever cooked vegetable stock from scratch will tell you, homemade is best. Yes, those cartons of stock at the grocery store are convenient, but they lack the simmered-in umami and depth that homemade versions offer.
If you’ve never made stock before, the process might seem intimidating. But nothing could be further from the truth. Making stock at home doesn’t have to be complicated or cost a lot of money. Some of the most flavorful stocks come from little more than kitchen scraps.
All good vegetable stocks begin with three key ingredients: onion, celery, and carrot. These vegetables serve as the flavor base. From there, the vegetable combinations are nearly without limits.
Are there some vegetable combinations that work better than others? Almost any vegetable will do—each imparts a different, yet complex, umami flavor to the stock—but there are some vegetables may want to avoid.
Cruciferous vegetables in the Brassica family such as cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, or cauliflower can add an overwhelming bitter flavor to broths. So will turnips, rutabagas, and artichokes.
Beetroots will turn your broth red, and onion skins transform stock into a lovely dark color. Starchy vegetables like potatoes can be used in stocks but will turn stocks or broths cloudy.
Don’t worry; you don’t have to remember all of this. I made a handy cheat sheet for you.
Herbs and spices are essential in any flavorful broth. Use fresh herbs like thyme, parsley, cilantro, basil, ginger, or garlic. Dried herbs like bay leaves and black peppercorns are also useful additions.
Avoid adding salt to your broth. Doing so will cut down on salt in dishes where you use the stock.
Keep in mind, too many herbs used at the same time may have undesired, disastrous results. Try different combinations of herbs and adjust each batch of broth-based on your personal preference.
The real pure beauty of homemade stock is that it truly embraces the “waste nothing” kitchen philosophy. Rather than purchasing fresh vegetables for the stock, you can save money and use ones that are slightly past their prime.
One of my favorite stock-making tricks is to save the stalks, leaves, ends, and peelings from the food prep of other meals in large, one-gallon sized freezer storage bags. I add to it over time, and when it’s full, I have enough scraps for a batch of stock. To make two quarts of flavorful stock, you’ll need about four to six cups of vegetables or scraps.
How to Make the Perfect Homemade Stock
Ready to make stock? Here are the steps for making the perfect homemade stock:
1. Cut vegetables into smaller, equal-sized pieces before adding them to the stockpot. Doing so helps extract greater flavor from vegetables.
2. Brown aromatics. Sweating aromatic vegetables such as onions, celery, carrots, leeks, garlic, or shallots help to develop a deep, sweet flavor that adds a layer of complexity to stocks.
3. Use a 1:1 ratio. Generally speaking, a one to one ratio of vegetables to water will yield stock with a nice amount of flavor.
4. Begin cooking stock with cold water. Different vegetables have varying degrees of water solubility and at different temperatures. Staring with cold water and slowing increasing the heat ensures that all of the flavors have an opportunity to be extracted, and at just the right temperatures.
5. Simmer stock, don’t boil. The cooking temperature of a stock is important. Too high a heat and the delicate flavors will boil off, while too low heat won’t fully extract all of the flavors from the vegetables. To coax the maximum amount of flavor, gently simmer the stock for about an hour.
6. Strain the stock. Straining after cooking helps remove left-over cooked bits from the stock.
What about you? Have you ever made homemade vegetable stock? Are you a scrap saver or do you favor whole vegetables? Or maybe you prefer a combination of scraps and entire vegetables? Tell me your stock secrets in the comments!