Nothing beats the convenience of having homemade broth and stock on hand in your kitchen. Homemade broths and stocks taste better than canned broths, bouillon cubes and pastes, and even expensive boxed broths. In addition, you’ll reduce your kitchen waste if you extract the flavor that remains in bones and vegetable peelings after the other parts are consumed.
But what do you call the simmering mixture in your pot? Is it broth, or is it stock? The two terms are often used interchangeably, and definitions do vary, so it depends on who you ask. But, in a nutshell, stock is the gelatinous result of cooking vegetables and bones in unseasoned water for several hours to extract flavor, while broth is made out of vegetables and meat simmered in a seasoned liquid for a shorter period of time. Either one can serve as a foundation for other dishes, but because broth is typically seasoned, it’s often consumed on its own, while stock is the perfect rich-tasting base onto which you can layer other flavors.
The two basic types of stock are white and brown. White stocks are made with aromatic vegetables and bones (usually raw or roasted poultry or fish bones) that are simmered for hours. Brown stocks are made by roasting vegetables and bones first, and then boiling them with aromatic vegetables. This technique most often includes beef and pork bones, but poultry bones can be turned into brown stock too. Lamb and goat bones can also be used, but not everyone appreciates the resulting flavor.
To make your own stock, select a mixture of jointed bones and meaty bones. The jointed bones add collagen for mouthfeel, and the meaty bones add flavor. If you’re making a poultry stock, nothing beats chicken feet for adding richness — and you can’t make much else with them. I generally roast my poultry by spatchcocking or butterflying, meaning cutting out the backbone and then flattening the breast. This significantly reduces the roasting time and provides me the backbones for making stock; backbones are almost as good as feet for making a flavorful stock.
You’ll need a large stockpot or saucepan for making stock. If you’re making a brown stock, you’ll also need a couple of large rimmed sheet pans or roasting pans. The vegetables are a suggestion only; use what you have on hand, but avoid brassicas (such as broccoli and cabbages), which add an unpleasant flavor when cooked at length. I save onion peels, parsley stems, and leek greens in the freezer for this purpose. You can also save up mushroom stems and gills.
Skim the fat off the top of the meat and poultry stocks, and save it to cook with later. It’s a great cooking medium that adds flavor and excellent browning qualities to any dish. The fat is perishable, though, so use it within a week or freeze it.
Stock can be the base of any quick soup or stew. Chicken stock, kale, and sausage with white beans is one of my family’s favorite dishes. Stocks can also be used as braising liquid for stews and vegetables, as well as cooking liquid for grain dishes, risottos, and pilafs. Stocks can also extend gravies and sauces, and will punch up the flavor rather than dilute it.
Once you have a supply of stock on hand, your weeknight dinners will be quicker and easier to make, and more enjoyable to eat.
Andrea Chesman cooks, writes, and teaches in Vermont, where she lives on a 1-acre homestead with a large garden. She’s the author of Serving Up the Harvest, The Pickled Pantry, and The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How.