Stock Up on Homemade Stocks

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Whoever invented store-bought stock is a genius! Talk about product markup. A box, can or bottle of stock can cost three times as much as the homemade version, and in many cases, stocks can be made with food that you would ordinarily throw away. It's a frugal cook's dream! Even better, you can control the salt. In most of my stocks, I don't even add any salt. (If my final dish needs it, I add it later.)

Stocks are not something you make on a busy weekday night, but the hour or two you spend making them on a slow Saturday afternoon will make your rush-hour meals that much more flavorful.

Another funny thing about stocks: You should never taste one and go "Oh my gosh, that's the best thing I've ever tasted!" You also shouldn't want to spit it out. It should be flavorful without overpowering the other ingredients in a dish. Use it instead of water when cooking grains, steaming vegetables, and thinning sauces.

Some people have a few bags or containers in the freezer for stock supplies. I do, too. I store shrimp shells, chicken bones, mushroom stems, and extra bits of chopped onions, carrots, and celery when I've chopped too much for dinner. You can also save parsley stems. However, I do not recommend saving any part of a vegetable you wouldn't normally eat. That is, save carrot tops, peelings, onion skins, and garlic paper for your compost bin, not your stock pot.

Here are a few basic stock recipes to help you boost flavor with almost zero fat!

Vegetable Stock

Making homemade stock is so easy! Try reducing the stock and freezing it in ice cube trays; once frozen, pop out and keep in the freezer until you need homemade stock.

This entire recipe costs $1.90--three times the stock for less than what one box of supermarket stock costs.

Robust Vegetable Stock

This veggie stock has a stronger, richer flavor than most. I saute the vegetables for an extra layer of flavor, and I added extra veggies to the mix.

Get those knives ready! This recipe is a great chance to practice chopping. The smaller your veggies are chopped, the more flavor you can extract from them.

I love to use fennel and tomatoes in my stock, but feel free to switch it up with mushrooms, turnips, leeks, or asparagus. Stay away from Brussels sprouts, beets, or spinach. They will give your stock strong flavors or wild colors. Also, avoid adding potatoes since they are starchy and will make your stock cloudy.

Chicken Stock

After you've roasted a chicken or turkey (check out my recipes here), don't throw away the bones. They can be used to make homemade, low-sodium stocks, which can add flavor to your healthy, home-cooked meals.

Seafood Stock

Chicken and beef stocks are easy to find on store shelves, and many of them taste almost as good as homemade. It's a bit trickier to find seafood stock, and I've never found one that I really like. Thankfully, making your own is fairly easy.

Buy shrimp with the shells on them. Peel off the shells, use the shrimp in your favorite recipe, and freeze the shells until you're ready to make stock.

Mushroom Stock

If you want a stock packed with flavor, this is the one to make. I love it in both Italian and Asian meals. Add ginger for Asian-style stock and garlic if you're using it in Italian dishes.

Mushroom stems are tough and often woody, but who wants to waste expensive produce? Save them for use in stocks!

Stock vs. broth: Stock and broth are both flavorful liquids that we use as the foundation of soups and stews. Meat stocks contain bones, vegetables, herbs and seasonings; vegetable stocks contain only the latter three. Broth is made with the same ingredients, plus meat left on the bones.

A tip on storage: I like to reduce my stock in volume by half to concentrate the flavors. I pour the cooled broth into ice-cube trays, then freeze. The broth cubes go into a zip-top bag so I can pull out as little or as much as I need. I also freeze some in one-quart plastic containers.

Will you make your own stock? Which kind? How do you use stock?