Soup Stock 101
With the change in temperature, my thoughts have turned to the warm comforting feeling of soup. Went to make some and realized that our stock stash has depleted. What’s a gal to do? Make more I say!
I always thought making stock was not worth the effort and had dismissed it as something I would never do. Some years ago I ended up making some with a friend. I found that home-cooked broth was not only easy but that it could be rich & flavorful. The bonus is that you control the ingredients, spices and amount of sodium, and omit any other undesirable ingredients that are in store-bought broth or bouillon cubes.
If you’ve never made stock, it’s not difficult at all. Some choose to complicate things, but essentially everything goes in a pot, you let it simmer for a long time, and then take the stuff out of the pot and drain. Homemade stock often tastes richer, with no tinny flavour, as much or little sodium as you want, you can pronounce all the ingredients and there is satisfaction in knowing that the entire dish was made from scratch.
This year I thought, instead of just doing our usual marathon burst of stock making, I thought why not do something different this time and make it social? After all, once things are prepped, there is a great deal of wait time while things simmer. Why not play games and hang out?
We’re going to try out a stock and games afternoon, and if things work well it will launch a series of these events as an excuse to get together, spend time, catch up and play some games. I challenge you to do the same! (Please let us all know how it worked out and give tips for next time.)
As with all things foodie and more specifically comfort food, people are passionate about soups. Everyone seems to have their own take on stock. There are all sorts of books and internet resources that give recipes, but for this one I say don’t overcomplicate things. Just play with it and try it out. I will, however, give you a basic method and some tips and hints.
Suggested basic ingredients include: Onions, carrots, celery, peppercorns, bay leaves and some chicken bones preferably with a bit of meat on them. Normally we save and collect bones (raw or roasted) and place them into plastic bags in the freezer. If you have no time or space to save up, trimmings and bones can often be purchased at the butcher shop.
Some tips and hints:
- If you cook/roast your bones before adding them into the pot with water you’ll get a stronger flavour.
- If you sweat your vegetables (low to medium heat) in the pot before adding the water you’ll coax more flavour out of your ingredients. Add a small bit of water first and rub around to deglaze the pan, as the colour at the bottom is flavor you want dispersed. (Note: If you burn the vegetables, start over as you’ll just waste time and effort for a burned flavoured liquid.)
- Bring the water to a boil and then back down to a simmer. You only want to see see one or two bubbles coming up at a time. Cook under this gentle heat uncovered. The amount of time will vary greatly depending on your ingredients, and personal tastes.
- Once the vegetables are soft, or after an hour and a half, taste it and if the flavour is not strong enough let it simmer longer for a more concentrated flavour.
- Skimming off the foam/scum that begins to form will leave you with a much clearer broth but if you skip doing it, it isn’t the end of the world.
- Avoid using turnips, rutabagas, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower. Anything from the cabbage family does not do well in stock, nor do most powdered herbs, artichoke trimmings, or too many greens. Use whole peppercorns and bay leaves, as these are easy to strain out.
After simmering, tasting and deciding that you’re done:
- Place a fine mesh sieve or a colander lined with a cheese cloth over a large bowl or pot. (Note: If using a bowl have a second on hand just in case you find there is more liquid than you originally thought.)
- Using a spoon or tongs, lift the solids out of the stock and place them in the sieve.
- Now pour the rest of the stock through the sieve and allow some time for it to drain. Gently press down on them with the back of a ladle or large spoon to release the rich juices from the solids. You may have to do this a few times.
- Then discard the solids that are in the sieve.
- Return the liquid to the stove and boil off some of the water to condense it and concentrate the flavour. (If you’re low on freezer space, this is a great way to have less to put away!)
- Immerse the container that the stock is in, into a sink with very cold water in it. You want to cool the stock down as fast as possible before you put it in the refrigerator. In the winter (when we are in negative double digit weather and there are wind chill warnings and such), I put it out on the balcony with a board under it (so that it doesn’t stick to something that can’t be moved).
- You can remove the fat after it has chilled. If you’re using it before it has time to cool and solidify, then a gravy strainer can help reduce the fat content.
- After it’s cooled you can either pour your stock into a large closable container and keep it in the fridge up to five days, or freeze it up to 3 months. When freezing, leave room at the top for expansion.