This the time of year that turning on my oven and cooking over a stove is far less painful. The air is crisp and some folksy tendency to “hunker down” for the winter seems to fill my bones. Last week I made vegetable stock that will hopefully last until the holidays. I freeze my stock and find that my freezer only tends to hold 3 month batches.
I wish I could tell you the secret to vegetable stock. I wish there were a simple recipe. I know that most everyone gets worried when they are in the kitchen without a map with a clearly marked trail and a giant X marking the spot. First, I am going to list my “must haves” for stock-making and then I am going to give you some basic tips I have developed over time.
Must Have Ingredients
Fresh and dried herbs Carrots
Tracy’s Helpful Hints
1. Save your scraps-when you have leftovers from dinner that are about to go bad (or maybe because you couldn’t eat everything from your CSA share this week), throw them in the freezer. This applies to meat too, if you want to make a stock out of chicken, beef, etc. Remember, with stock you will only be eating the liquid. Feel free to throw in less appetizing bits and pieces of vegetables. If I peel a carrot for my lunch, I save the peel and throw it in a container labeled “for stock”. Don’t be afraid of leftovers that have been seasoned. I have been known to freeze leftover sauteed mushrooms with a white wine and garlic butter sauce and use in my stock. All the seasonings will only enhance your stock. Further, this is a great use for the scraps you family may be less inclined to eat. Think of those beet greens or carrot tops.
2. Buy stuff on sale-you know how the grocery often sells vegetables that are nearly bad at a huge discount (I often find this with mushrooms). Buy these and throw them in the freezer. This is a great way to get various vegetables over time at a great price.
3. Roast some of your vegetables first-I personally like to roast my tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and about half of my garlic before I begin. I throw these in pans and set the oven at 450. Drizzle the mushrooms, onions and garlic with olive oil. Allow them to caramelize (or in the case of the tomatoes and mushrooms, concentrate their flavors) and add to the stock pot. When I am done roasting, I add a splash of cheap white wine to the pan to deglaze all those wonderful veggie bits. That wine gets thrown in the pot too.
4. Save liquids-when I boil vegetables, I freeze the water in another container marked “for stock”. This is true of blanching greens, liquid off random sauteed vegetables, etc. Basically, if there’s a chance that vegetable flavors are in it, I am saving it. Then, to start my stock, I melt these and add vegetables. I still had to add water this last time, but not much. I like to think of it as a head start!
I fill two large stock pots with water and begin adding ingredients. I don’t know exactly what I add, because it is slightly different each time. Last week I used about one pound of both celery and carrots. I added a ton of onions (about one 13×9 inch pan filled). I open four quarts of canned tomatoes (I really like a tomato-y stock). I added 2 heads of garlic, one roasted and one raw. I threw in multiple packages of mushrooms (probably about 4 total). I also added about 2-3 green peppers per pot, various scraps from the freezer, a handful of whole peppercorns and cloves, 2-3 bay leaves per pot, and I split a good handful of fresh parsley per pot. I don’t add salt. I wait until I cook with the stock to season with salt and ground pepper.
I generally bring the pots to a boil, slowly adding the ingredients I am roasting in the oven to the mix. I simmer the stock, covered for about an hour, so the flavors of the vegetables begin to soften and the water begins to look like the base for a hearty soup. I simmer uncovered until the stock tastes good. How long is that? I don’t know! It seems to vary each time. I usually end up working on stock for a good part of the day. The benefit though is that once things are in the pot, you only have to remember to stir.
When I am done, I strain the liquid and measure 2 cups into containers to freeze. I find that 2c is a common measurement I use for most recipes. Risotto often calls for 2c stock for each 1c rice. Soups are pretty variable, but I find it helpful to have a basic idea of how much liquid I am adding.
Why should you make your own stock? I recently read here that vegetable stocks from the store tend to fare badly on taste tests. Especially the organic brands that only include vegetables and water. Well, I make organic homemade stock and it has never taste like “musky socks”. I would like to suggest to you, dear readers, that once you try homemade stock, you will find that the price and taste make it impossible to purchase the “weak V8” and “brackish celery water” for sale at your local grocery store. Not into the vegetarian thing? There is no reason not to use celery, garlic, onions and carrots as a base for a chicken, beef or seafood stock. Again, save scraps and boil away. That’s really all there is to it!