Stone Soup and odds and ends: making homemade stock
I was always destined to be a foodie. My favorite short stories, or favorite parts of longer tales, were always about what food everyone was eating. So naturally, I loved the story of Stone Soup. The story of the old man who started with a rock and some water, and ended up with a mouthwatering stew was entirely enchanting to my child self. I could always taste the savory broth on my tongue and smell the strong aroma by the end of the story.
My mom has instilled in me a desire to never waste food – she’s always repurposing and disguising leftovers into something new and often more delicious. So, I follow my mom’s lead and the moral (or, I should say, the cooking-related moral) of Stone Soup when I make homemade broths. In the same way that the old man made a rich meal from odds and ends that the rich villagers condescended to give him, I make an “Odds and Ends” stock that fills my house with savory fragrance and keeps me well souped and stewed for months.
Every time I make a salad, steam vegetables for dinner, chop an onion for the base of a chili – or at any time use vegetables for any reason, I save the root ends that get lopped off and out of the meal. Instead of throwing them away, I put them into a big ziplock bag and store them in the freezer. In the same way, every time I debone a roasted chicken, or cut the neck out of a bird (who eats that part, really?), I throw the carcass and bones into a separate freezer bag.
Once the vegetable and chicken bags are full, it’s time to make stock!
There are three main benefits I see to this method. First, I never waste the odds and ends of vegetables. Second, the variety of (cleaned) vegetable ends I end up with enriches and adds depth of flavor to the final broth. Third, I rarely have to buy extra vegetables or full chicken parts to make stock. Bones from roasted (or, ohmigosh grilled) chicken make for a deeper broth than raw chicken meat, anyway. Usually, the only “fresh” things I have to add are one onion and one head of garlic.
Odds and Ends Stock
What vegetable scraps end up in my broth? Pretty much anything!
– Tips and bottom ends of carrots, celery, zucchini, turnips.
– Broccoli stalks.
– Mushroom stems (portobella, cremeni, button – whatever).
– The blossom ends of onions, and that first greenish-white layer you take off, but not the peel of the whole onion. The same for shallots.
– The green outer/top parts of scallions and leeks that are too tough or slightly too wilted to cut up and cook, and the sprout/bottoms, too.
– Butternut squash peels and blossom ends.
– The tiny little garlic cloves that you don’t want to try to peel.
– Stems from a bunch of parsley or cilantro.
My rules are relatively simple: I make sure that everything is clean (I do not want dirt in my stock). I don’t add too much of one thing (not 3 whole broccoli stalks, not all onion peels, etc.)
The method is comfortingly easy. A few hours on a weekend afternoon are all you need.
Put everything – poultry bones and vegetables – into a huge pot. I use only one kind of poultry at a time (turkey stock and chicken stock get made separately) but use bones from any method of cooking (roasting, grilling, tandoori spices, whatever). It’s okay if everything is frozen. I usually add one fresh onion, cut into chunks, and one big head of garlic, cut into half so that the cloves are exposed. No other “fresh” materials are needed.
Throw in some whole spices (cumin, black peppercorns, coriander seeds). I put just a little salt sometimes, not too much since everything will concentrate after a long simmer.
Cover the whole thing with water. If everything is really frozen, I start with a bit of tap-hot water to give it a head start, and then add cold or lukewarm water to cover.
Bring everything to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer this for as long as you possibly can – think of it like steeping a tea bag. The longer you do leave it in the hot water, the stronger it gets.
For the first hour of simmering, skim the gunk from the top about every 20 minutes. Just use a slotted spoon or a mini sieve to get remove foam or oil that starts forming at the top. After that, just let it go for three or four hours, coming back to stir every thirty minutes or so.
After about four hours, I remove all the solid materials. I pour the broth through a colander into a large bowl. At this point, it is still a little weak-tasting. I wash the pot, then the broth back into the pot and bring it back up to a boil. Then, I let it simmer again for another hour or two, tasting every half hour. This final step helps concentrate the flavors (and this is also why you do not need salt).
After an hour, I start tasting the broth until it is as strong as I want it to be. I’ve even boiled it down to be quite concentrated, so I could just thin it out with water to get to the level of flavor I wanted for a soup later.
I pour the broth into a bowl with a big surface area, so it can cool quickly. Now there are two options.
Option 1: measure out the broth by cups and put it into labeled ziplock bags. Lay this flat in your freezer till the bags freeze in a single layer, then stack them and use as you need.
Option 2 (what I usually do): once the broth comes to room temperature, stick it in the fridge. The next day, a bunch of the fat will have solidified at the top. I remove and throw away this. Sometimes, if I’ve concentrated the broth a lot, the rest of the stuff is now kind of gelatinous and jiggly. It’s okay! When it heats up, it’ll be brothy again. If you don’t want it to get to this stage, just boil it less. Now, after I’ve removed the fat, I pack it into ziploc bags like Option 1 directs.
And guess what! You’ve got a rich, golden brown, dangerously savory base for an infinite number of dishes. Once you’ve got the basic concept down, you can shake up the flavors. Make an Asian chicken broth with lime zest, ginger, cilantro, lemongrass, and dried chilis. Swap the chicken for fish bones and shrimp shells and you’ve got a seafood broth. OR forget the meat all together, and put in three or four full freezer bags of vegetables for a luscious vegetable stock.
The possibilities. They are endless.