The foundation to any good soup or stew is a rippin’ tasty stock or broth. Whether it’s meat or vegetable-based, it is absolutely possible to make a delicious stock from essentially the cast-offs of your meal prepping, so it’s like a free flavour-boost.
Of course the higher quality your ingredients are, the better your stock will be, but this is the wrong blog post to be encouraging you to use, for example, prime beef cuts in your beef stock, or sacrificing a whole chicken just to make chicken stock. That’s just crazy and offensive to my frugal little heart. And on the other side of the coin, the boxes of pre-made stock or bouillon cubes are a fine alternative when you don’t have the time or access to offcuts to make stock; I often use them myself when I’m in a time crunch. However, most pre-made broths, stocks and bouillons are chock full of sodium and other preservatives, which can be a no-no for your dietary needs. So, with a little preparation and forethought, you should be able to have some homemade stock for any purpose you deem worthy.
Meal Prepping/Batch Cooking
Ok, you’ve made your list of what meals you’re going to make for the week or for your freezer for the long haul, and you’ve purchased or otherwise located your ingredients. As you’re prepping your various recipes, have three or four freezer-ready containers or Ziploc bags on your workspace; one for veggie offcuts, one for beef and/or veal, one for pork, and one for poultry. As you work, toss your peelings and tops, gristly bits, bones, and skin/fat into their various containers. When you’re done, lid and label, and pop them into the freezer until you’re ready to make some stock or broth.
This also works for simply making dinner that evening; bring out the container/s that contain the ingredients you’ll be prepping, and add to them as necessary.
This is similar to meal prepping, but different in that this involves prepping vegetables and meats that we aren’t necessarily using in a meal prepping scenario. Cutting your veggies down and breaking bulk of any large packs of meat for freezing or otherwise readying for their ultimate destiny, is something that should be done as soon as you bring your groceries home from the store.
I confess, this is something I need to get better at. Lately since the lockdown in my region, I’ve been enjoying grocery delivery, and since I work from home I can have it delivered any time of the ding dang day I want, so I’m not always ready to deal with my groceries the second they arrive. However, if you’re like me (laaazy), we all need to commit to taking an hour, clearing our schedules for that time, and prepping our groceries as they are intended to be used. This is a great tip for encouraging the family to snack on healthier options; eg. if you have your celery, carrots, and cucumbers precut and in their own containers ready for snatching a handful whenever, they’re more likely to be eaten than prepackaged chips and crackers. As above, add those peelings and offcuts to your various stock prep freezer containers.
This is an easy one; we should be going through our refrigerators weekly to clear out any past-prime produce (ooh, nice alliteration!); however, before binning them, check them over and see if any can make a second career in your stock containers. Those carrots are limp and too unappetizing to eat raw? In the stock bin! Same with any other vegetables that you you didn’t get around to eating while they were in their prime, but would be perfectly fine chopped up and popped into your stock.
Note: I would *not* recommend this for any forgotten meats that are past their best before dates; if you don’t like the look or smell of them, those would be safest in the garbage, not in your stock container.
Cooking with Leftovers
Did you roast a whole chicken or a turkey? Save that carcass and those giblets and unappetizing gristly looking bits for some amazing roasted chicken stock. The same can be said for beef and pork roasts, or a spiral cut ham; pork stock is a huge winner in many Asian recipes, and a boiled hambone makes great stock for split pea soup. Are you making a shrimp or seafood dish, or did you have a whole grilled fish for dinner? If you save the heads and bones, or the shells and other parts of the crustaceans, they can make a delicious seafood-based broth that is amazing used in French bouillabaisse (fish stew) or a fresh lobster bisque made with stock from the shells.
Stock Versus Broth
A lot of people confuse the terms “stock” and “broth”, and tend to use them interchangeably. While they share a lot of similarities, they are actually separate entities and have differing steps and ingredients to make them quite distinct from one another.
In order to tell them apart more easily, these are the three important factors that differentiate “stock” and “broth”: ingredients, cook time, and the presence or absence of seasoning.
What Is Stock?
Some notes on stock:
- Meat stock is made by simmering a combination of animal bones (which typically contain some scraps of meat on them), onion, celery and carrots (known as mirepoix), and aromatics (garlic, herbs, etc.) in water.
- The best richness of flavour and colour of a meat stock comes from when the bones are roasted first, though this step is not essential. The same is true for a vegetable stock; roasting the veggies in advance makes for a richer flavour and colour, but is not required.
- A good rule of thumb is to have a maximum of 20-25% cruciferous vegetables (in the brassica family: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, turnips, etc.) in a veggie stock, due to their pungent flavour and odour often overwhelming the delicate flavours and aromas of the other vegetables. In addition, it’s best to avoid starchy vegetables such as peas, corn, and potatoes, as they tend to make the resulting stock cloudy. Lastly, do not add onion skins to your vegetable stocks, as they will cause the stock to darken and impart an unappetizing, bitter flavour.
- Stock is cooked for anywhere from two to six hours on the stovetop, or a much shorter time in a pressure cooker (between 30-50 minutes); this cooking duration means stock doesn’t usually become thick or gelatinous, which means it’s less likely to gel when chilled.
- Stock does not contain salt, nor are other seasonings added.
- Stock is typically used as a base for sauces, gravies, braises, stews, and soups.
What is Broth?
Some notes on broth:
- Broth is technically any liquid that has had meat cooked in it.; It is made by simmering meat and sometimes bones as well, mirepoix, and aromatics in water for around two to four hours.
- As above, it’s best to have no more than 20-25% brassica vegetables in your vegetable broth, and avoid adding onion skins or starchy vegetables, which will break down into cloudy mush long before the end of cooking.
- Unlike stock, broth is typically seasoned with spices; this results in a thin, tinted, flavourful liquid that doesn’t gel when chilled, the same as its unseasoned stock brethren, and is used in all the same ways you’d use stock, including soups, sauces, and braises.
- As it is usually fully seasoned, it can be consumed as-is (known as bouillon).
What is Consommé?
Some notes on consommé:
- Consommé is also considered a broth but with some major differences: the simmering broth is clarified using a mixture of stiff-beaten egg whites, known as a “raft”, and is usually made from ground meat (chicken, beef, pork or fish) and mirepoix, though it can be made meatless for a vegetable consommé.
- The beaten egg white “cooks” on top of the broth, drawing in any of the impurities that make it cloudy, and the combination of ground meat and mirepoix amplifies the existing flavors of aromatics in the original broth; when the liquid has been fully clarified, the raft is discarded.
- The result is a highly flavorful, clean-finishing, crystal-clear liquid, and is often used to showcase the ingredients within it without hiding anything within a cloudy or thick broth; you can see right down to the bottom of the bowl.
- To that end, even vegetable consommé by its nature is not vegan due to the egg whites used in its creation.
What is Bone Broth?
Some notes on bone broth:
- Bone broth is defined by its thickness and exceptionally long cooking time; this thickness comes from the gelatin that leaches out of the bones over a very long, slow cooking time.
- On average, a chicken bone broth should take approximately 6 hours of cooking to get the results you want, and and a beef or lamb bone broth should take anywhere between 16 and 18 hours(!).
- Luckily, bone broth can’t really be overcooked, because the intention in the low, slow cooking process is to break down all of the cartilage in the bones to achieve loads of collagen-rich gelatin.
- This collagen (which makes bone broth cool into a Jell-O-like consistency when its refrigerated) is a protein that’s apparently a source of beneficial amino acids, good for digestion and gut health, and may support immune function, weight loss, anti-aging, and joint health.
Beef bone broth is best made with raw bones that are roasted separately, as is pork bone broth. Roasted chicken bone broth is made a little differently due to the size of the bones; they can’t handle simmering as long as the thicker, sturdier pork and beef bones can, and may dissolve over time. An excellent article from Bon Appetit HERE discusses common bone broth prep mistakes; a good read if you’re interested in living the Bone Broth Lyfe.
All in all, making your own broth is economical, near zero-waste, and healthful; there’s no reason to not give it a try! And if you have an Instant Pot or other type of pressure cooker, you can speed up the process by 50-75%; the only issue is in the size of your vessel.
Happy “brothing”, everyone, and enjoy the fruits of your labour!
With thanks to the following sources: