At restaurants around the world, no leftover “scrap” of food is ever carelessly tossed in the trash. Chefs know chicken bones, mushroom stems and fennel fronds can be used to make delicious stock. The process is simple, and the result is a flavorful cooking liquid that can enhance any soup, stew or sauce.
Stock and broth call for similar ingredients and are prepared using comparable methods, making them easy to confuse. The difference? Fish and meat stocks are always cooked with meaty bones, whereas broths are generally made using only meat — no bones. Ideal bones for stock have a fair amount of meat attached, which infuses the liquid with meaty flavor. The bones are important to stock because they contain collagen, which, once cooked, converts into gelatin and gives stock its characteristic depth and body.
As a nutritional bonus, stocks contain vitamins, minerals and other compounds that may support good health. Stocks have a higher ratio of bones and vegetables to water than broths do, giving them a richer, more full-bodied flavor.
The more noticeable difference between the two is seasoning. Broths are meant to shine on their own and typically include salt and pepper. Stocks, on the other hand, are meant to be a base to enhance other foods and, therefore, are not typically seasoned in the same fashion.
This is a nutritional benefit, as some store-bought broths can contain as much as 950 milligrams of sodium per one-cup serving. Making stock is an easy way to get the most out of foods in the kitchen. Save (even freeze) leftover roasted chicken bones for a future pot of stock. Add a few aromatics — such as celery, carrots, onion and herbs — cover with water and a delicious stock is ready in fewer than two hours. Making vegetable stock is just as straightforward. Simply combine non-starchy vegetables with herbs and water in a large pot and cook for about an hour. Strain and use as a base for vegetarian soups and sauces.
Practical Tips for Making Stock
- Trim visible fat when preparing meat stock. This helps keep stock clear and light, without the greasiness.
- Skim stock to remove some of the impurities and fat. One method is to run a large metal spoon gently across the surface of the stock. The spoon gathers foam and scum, which can be discarded.
- Freeze any stock that’s not used immediately. Use ice cube trays or silicone freezer trays to preserve it in small portions.
- Always include a sachet of herbs. These are important ingredients that add incredible flavor to stock.
- Keep vegetable “scraps,” since most parts can be used in stock. Give them a good scrub (using a produce scrubbing brush if necessary) and avoid using root or stem ends where dirt could be hiding.
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DIY Kitchen: Stock Step-by-Step
Step 1: Make a “Sachet d’Epices“
Cut a large square of cheesecloth and place parsley stems, black peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme sprig and garlic in the center. Bring corners together and tie securely with twine to make a pouch.
Step 2: Fill Stockpot
Place “sachet d’espices,” vegetables, bones (if using) and water in pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer. Skim surface if necessary.
Step 3: Strain
Strain stock using a mesh sieve or colander covered with a large piece of cheesecloth. Discard vegetables and sachet.
Step 4: Use or Freeze
Use stock immediately or chill over an ice bath to expedite cooling, then cover and refrigerate or freeze.
Contributing editor Sara Haas, RDN, LDN, is a Chicago-based dietitian and chef.