Homemade Soup Stock

Did you know that Bone broth is known as a super food? The cooking process breaks down bones and connective tissues – including proteins, minerals and fat – that heal the body in various ways.

When you ingest bone broth, it feeds the body with collagen, which is the building block of cells to bones, ligaments, cartilage and the brain. Gelatin, a form of collagen used in food, is used (among other benefits) to help digestion because the liquid gets absorbed into the body quickly and without much effort.

There are other virtues of bone broth. Bone marrow helps the immune system by carrying oxygen to cells in the body. Minerals such as calcium and phosphorus are essential for maintaining healthy bones and generating energy.

Without a doubt, making your own stock is far healthier and more cost effective than buying the canned or boxed alternative. If you are pressed for time then use filtered water with herbs and spices for a quick stock.

Most store bought cubes and liquid broths have added ingredients that are not for the health conscious individual. For example a store bought beef broth can include: Salt, monosodium glutamate, sugar, partially hydrogenated palm oil, cornstarch, less than 2% dehydrated beef, caramel color, natural flavor, disodium inosinate, TBHQ as a preservative and can be made on equipment that has also processed wheat, milk, eggs, soy, fish and shellfish.

These ingredients can be hazardous to those with allergies to any one of them.

There are no hard and fast rules when making stock; however, here are a few tips that may make the process easier and more efficient, healthier and more flavorful.

  • Use a stockpot that is tall and narrow to help slow water loss from evaporation.
  • Use cold water for the stock; this promotes the extraction of collagen which may be sealed if using hot water.
  • Stocks are simmered gently, with bubbles just breaking the surface, and not boiled. If a stock is boiled, it will be cloudy.
  • Add salt at the end of cooking, as the stock may become too salty. Always test taste prior to serving.
  • Meat stocks benefit from long, slow cooking. Vegetable stocks do not. Quick vegetable stocks should take 25 to 30 minutes; basic vegetable stocks, 45 minutes to one hour.
  • Some vegetables should be avoided for making stock such as the cabbage family turnips, rutabagas, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower as they can overpower the flavor.

Asparagus can also be a strong flavoring. Tomatoes can be overwhelming to the flavor of stock, so unless you want a strong tomato flavor, keep it to a minimum. The following fresh vegetables are great for stock: onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots, celery, mushrooms, green beans, bell pepper, green onion, scallions, and green peas, also, fruit scraps such as apples, pears and pineapple. Once cooked, cool the mixture and strain it to remove any pieces of vegetables, fruit or scraps.

Bouquet garni (or bag of herbs) consisting of parsley, bay leaves, a sprig of thyme, and possibly other herbs, is common. This is often placed in a sachet to make it easier to remove once the stock is cooked.

Fresh meat should be added to a stock before vegetables, and the "scum" that rises to the surface is skimmed off before further ingredients are added. If you want to remove the fat, after the stock is finished, allow to cool completely. Once it is cooled the fat separates and solidifies into globs and rises to the top, which can be removed easily.

Stocks can be frozen and kept indefinitely, fresh is always best. Make sure to cool thoroughly before refrigerating or freezing the stock.

Homemade stock provides a background to soup. Choose ingredients that are complimentary, not overwhelming. Today’s fresh or even last week's vegetables are fine, as long as they're still healthy.

The refrigerator shelf life of a stock is three to four days, but the stock can be boiled at the end of this period and the life extended another three to four days. Stock can be kept for extended periods in this manner. This is good to know.

Leftover cooked meat, such as that remaining on poultry carcasses, is often used along with the bones of the bird or joint.

Fresh meat makes a superior stock and cuts rich in connective tissue such as shin or shoulder of beef are commonly recommended, either alone or added in lower proportions to the remains of cooked poultry to provide a richer and fresher-tasting stock. Quantities recommended are in the ratio of 1 part fresh meat to 2 parts water.

There are four main types of stock: vegetable, chicken, meat and fish. It’s best to stick with the stock that goes with what you're cooking for example, if you're making a chicken dish, use chicken stock instead of beef, though vegetable stock may also add a nice layer of flavor to certain recipes.

  • Vegetable stock is made only of vegetables and simmered for one hour only.
  • Chicken stock bones should be cooked for 3–4 hours.
  • Ham stock, bones should be cooked for 4 hours.
  • Lamb stock bones should be cooked for 5 hours.
  • Fish stock is made with fish bones and finely chopped vegetables. Fish stock should be cooked for 20-25 minutes—cooking any longer spoils the flavor.
  • Shellfish stock is made from boiling shells from seafood, about one hour.

Stock made from bones needs to be simmered for longer than stock made from fresh meat.

What is a Master Stock?

The defining characteristic of a master stock from other stocks is that after initial use, it is not discarded or turned into a soup or sauce. Instead, the broth is stored and reused in the future as a stock for more poaching. With each use, the poached meats and other ingredients absorb the stock's flavor while imparting their own back into the stock. In this way, over time, flavor accumulates in the stock, making it richer and more complex with each poaching, while subsequent poached meats absorb this flavor and likewise become more flavorful.

In theory, a master stock could be sustained indefinitely if due care is taken to ensure it does not spoil. There are claims of master stocks in China that are hundreds of years old, passed down through generations of cooks in this way. I found this very interesting.

I hope that with these tips I’ve shared will entice you to start making your own soup stocks.

Photo by Markus Winkler from Burst

Bon Appetite!