Long, brutal winters like this one inspire a hibernating lifestyle, one centered around the home and hearth. And the best remedy for a cold day is a hot homemade soup or stew. This year I’ve been expanding my culinary horizons with a variety of stews, including Irish Lamb stew, Rabbit and Apple Cider stew, Beef Goulash and Beef Bourguignon. These recipes are easy to find and there are thousands of variations, but in my experience they all share one essential ingredient: a good stock.
Making a decent soup stock at home can be a chore, sometimes entailing as much work as the soup itself. But with the adoption of two simple tricks, I have learned how to make an easy, versatile stock that lends terrific flavor to many recipes, with no time or money wasted.
Trick #1: Save your scraps.
Many stock recipes advise you to make your stock with carrots, celery, onions and other vegetables, as well as herbs and garlic. Those vegetables will cook for minutes or hours and then get thrown away. This seemed wasteful and expensive. So now as we cook throughout the week we save our vegetable trimmings and keep them in a gallon bag in our freezer.
We use celery bunch bases and leaves, carrot peelings, onion tops and root bottoms, garlic tips, herb stems and tomato seeds, but you can use whatever vegetables you like. I would only advise you to avoid starchy vegetables, like corn, potatoes and squash, if you prefer a clear broth, as they can cloud it. Whenever you trim a vegetable for a salad, snack or meal, save the trimmings in your broth bag. Keep trimmings in the freezer until your broth bag is full.
According to America’s Test Kitchen host Chris Kimball “It turns out the seed in [the tomato] jelly has three times more flavor compounds (called glutamates) than the flesh, so when you seed the tomato… you’re actually throwing out most of the flavor.” But you may not want those seeds in your salad or dinner recipe, so you should definitely save them for your broth.
After a week or more, you should have a bag that’s bursting with vegetable scraps that would have otherwise gone to waste.
Trick #2: Use your slow cooker.
When you’re broth bag is full, pour those veggies in you slow cooker. This saves so much time and effort. With regular stock methods, you need to boil or simmer your vegetables on the stove. You have to keep an eye to make sure the pot doesn’t boil over or boil dry. In other words, you’re chained to the house and the stove. But with the slow cooker, you can let your stock simmer over night or while you’re out. It saves so much hassle.
After you add your frozen veggies, add some dried herbs, some minced garlic if you want, or the remnants of that old tomato sauce jar hiding in the back of the fridge. You’ve got a lot of freedom here. But just like any stock, don’t add any salt until you’re cooking your final recipe (in many recipes for sauces and soups the stock is reduced, so adding salt to stock may result in too much salt in the end product once the water has been reduced out).
Fill the slow cooker with water, cover, turn on high and walk away.
It should cook for 6-10 hours on high, but not longer. I’ve left it in for more than 10 hours and it loses the delicious flavor and becomes too acrid and dark colored.
You’ll need to strain the stock twice. The first time, use a large colander to stain out the big soggy vegetable pieces.
The second time use a regular colander lined with paper towel or cheese cloth to catch the dregs and sediment.
Finally, pour the clear veggie broth into freezer safe containers and put them in the freezer (don’t forget to label and date them). Now you’ll have low sodium, flavorful stock ready whenever you want to make a hearty, home cooked meal.