Broth and Stock: Truly Making Something From Nothing
If you have a moldering turkey carcass in your fridge, this is the article for you.
One of the easiest meals to make is a big pot of soup. But most of the commercial broths, stocks, bouillons, and soup bases on the market are far removed from the original foods that went into them and as such are sorely lacking in deliciousness, not to mention nutrition. Homemade stock is the heart of a good soup, and using your own broth really adds a special something to soups and stews. It’s also a great way to use up parts of the vegetable and leftover meat bones that you would normally throw away!! And while it sounds like a lot of work, it’s really very easy and is a great and painless way to up the nutrient content of your meals while cutting back on wasted food.
Collecting your broth ingredients:
The vegetables: The most important vegetables for any broth are carrots, celery, onions and/or garlic. (We’ll call these CCOG from here on in.) These 3 or 4 (because you can make do with just garlic or onion, even though the broth will be best if you include both) are mandatory…your broth will just not taste like it should without them. Using the skins and trimmings from these vegetables – leafy tops of celery, tops and bottoms of onions, carrot tops and peels – is not only allowed, but is a great way to make something from nothing. Even the papery brown skins of onions are fine to throw into the pot – saves you the work of peeling them off and they add a nice color to the finished soup. When I make soup, I often pre-chop my carrot, celery, and onion family plants and toss them into a Ziploc for later, while I use the trimmings to make my broth.
If you’re following suit and are pre-chopping your vegetables now to use the trimmings in your stockpot, please consider cutting your veg into small pieces – about the size of a TicTac. You’ll hear a lot less complaining from the veggiephobes at your dinner table and they cook faster too.
Optional additions include the trimmings from parsley, apple or pear cores, turnip, bell pepper tops, parsnips, leeks, green beans, snow pea pods, winter and summer squash, thyme, bay leaf, ginger root (has strong flavor you may or may not want) and peppercorns. Of these options, since the vegetables you use in the stock are just going to be thrown away anyway, I think it’s best to just stick to the cheapest, most flavorful ones such as the CCOG, but if you have trimmings from the fancier veggies, why not toss them in? I usually make my stocks from CCOG plus parsley stalks when I have them, with a bay leaf and some peppercorns. Follow your bliss!
If you’re making an ethnic soup you will probably want to stick to the kinds of veggies that “go” with that meal. If you’re cooking Chinese you’d not want a parsnip, and if you’re making Italian Wedding soup you should probably avoid ginger root. Strongly flavored vegetables like asparagus, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, fennel, and tomato, and strong herbs like tarragon, ginger root, oregano, and cilantro, should only be included in broths where the final soup you make from it is going to be based around or at least include these vegetables. Starchy vegetables like corn, potatoes, and beans/peas, disintegrate and make the stock cloudy and thick – save these for your finished soup, not your broth! And with delicate vegetables like spinach, sprouts, and mushroom and milder herbs like chervil, basil, and marjoram, the flavor will cook away to nothing if you add them too soon, so save them to add to your meal just prior to serving.
I save up things like onion skins and tops/bottoms, carrot peels, apple cores, celery trimmings, and pepper tops, plus assorted vegetables that are past their prime but not moldy, in a bag in my freezer until I have enough scraps to make broth. Since we’re after the flavor and not the texture, it doesn’t matter if they get mushy upon freezing.
If you’re making vegetarian or vegan broth, the more veg in your stockpot, the better.
The bones/meats – If you are a vegetarian/vegan or are poor like me, you can make some pretty tasty broth just from the above ingredients and later on adding some butter, sour cream, or olive oil for body. But most of us will probably want to include some animal products in our broth.
If you use bones, they should have a little bit of meat on them just for flavor. You can either buy bones at the butcher/meat department (they’re usually very cheap and you can sometimes even get them for free) or else save up bones from your meals in a bag in the freezer – usually the bones have enough meat clinging to them to add the needed flavor. Or, you can save up trimmings and skin to add to the bones. This sounds strange but once you get in the habit of it, you’ll always have bones on hand for soup – one of the best stocks I made was after a dinner of Kentucky Fried Chicken; I just saved the bones and leftover skin (with the breading still on it) and tossed it all in a pot with my CCOG!!!
It’s soup, there is no wrong way.
It is perfectly fine to mix and match bones, so if you have some pork chop bones and some from roast chicken breasts but not really enough of either, toss them both in. If your bones don’t have much meat, then add a pat of butter or a couple strips of bacon to the cooking liquid to add some flavor. Also, a tablespoon of vinegar will not alter the taste of the soup but will help release calcium, gelatin, and collagen that some believe to be very healthy.
You can make a pretty tasty seafood broth by saving shrimp peels, fish bones, lobster shells, etc. Or, you can ask your butcher for fish heads and bones (and you might be able to get them for free!!) You’ll probably want to add butter to seafood broths because they are so low in fat that they don’t have as much body.
Other options for soups include ham bones or a whole turkey carcass left over from your holiday dinner. Since we’re in the post-Thanksgiving letdown phase, that’s what I’m using! #teamcarcass You’ll want to pull off the meat to use in other applications (shove this in a Ziploc and store in your fridge alongside the Ziploc that already has your CCOG in it); there will be plenty of flavor left in the bones and skin. If you have any drippings left in the bottom of the pan, toss em into the pot along with everything else.
Broth: truly making something from nothing.
If the bones are from the butcher and are raw (this is only true of beef, pork, and lamb bones – if you have chicken or fish bones that are raw, like if you trimmed your own chicken breasts or something, they don’t need to be roasted) you will want to roast them before making the stock. Put the bones into a roasting pan and roast them at 450 for about an hour, before putting them into the pot with your CCOG and water (along with those delicious drippings!)
On salt: As Marge Simpson will attest, the secret to delicious home cooking is salt.
The most important ingredient in any broth is SALT. As anyone who has ever eaten canned soup will attest, soup is meant to be salty. While eventually you can add as much salt as you can bear (the amount will depend on how big your pot is and how many ingredients are in said pot) you should start off the brothing process with less than you think you’ll need. You can always add more to taste. If you slip up and add too much, keep in mind that the saltiness will be somewhat diluted by the ingredients added to the broth later on.
If you’re planning to cook potatoes or dry beans in your stock, wait till they are cooked to add your salt, or pre-cook them in plain water before adding them to your broth. Salt can sometimes prevent them from cooking – especially dry beans. While this is a matter of great debate, it’s been true for me often enough that I will warn you from it even though others claim otherwise. (You should really be precooking your beans before you put them into your soup anyway!)
Butter, bacon or bacon grease, olive oil – These add flavor and fat which will help release fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A from your vegetables. If you’re making a vegetable broth you’ll want to add some fat before cooking the broth to help that process along. If you’re making a meat-based broth, the fat in the meat will suffice and you can always add more at the end when you’re making the soup itself. Adding butter: it’s never bad.
Vinegar – A tablespoon of vinegar will not alter the flavor of a broth, but it does help release calcium, gelatin, and collagen from your soup bones.
Gelatin – If making a vegetarian or vegan broth, you can smuggle in some vegan, seaweed based gelatin into your soup to improve the mouth feel. (My, that sounded appetizing.) Add it AFTER the broth has been strained.
Amino acids – Bragg’s Liquid Amino Acids are a vegan source of amino acids – the building blocks of protein. Plus they add a good taste and nice color to foods. Sometimes vegan broths are a bit thin in taste and color.
Soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, citrus juice, wine – depending on your finished product, these can be welcome additions or ruin everything. Proceed with caution.
Tomato – canned or paste: I strongly recommend waiting to add these ingredients till after your broth has been made. Not only does it really limit your options for your finished broth, acidic components may make potatoes and dry beans take longer to cook so you would want to have those cooked through before adding anything too acidic.
Cooking your broth:
Cooking your broth is a little time-consuming, but SO easy!!! It requires nothing on your part other than a small amount of electricity. Just put your ingredients into a pan (you’ll want your biggest pan), cover with water (don’t fill the pan all the way to the top because you’ll need room for the liquid to bubble), add salt if desired, and simmer. You don’t need to stir it, although I usually do a couple times just to make sure everything remained submerged. I’ve often strained my stock and used it after only an hour, but it’s fine to leave it for longer if you’re busy. It may add a bit more flavor to let it simmer longer. For a smaller batch, you can always put ingredients into a slow cooker and let it simmer all day so you’ll be ready for a hot supper when you get home.
After having performed the above steps, some of you are looking into your pot right now and despairing because it looks more like a witches’ brew than a delectable dinner. But don’t worry, we’re going to strain out all that gross looking stuff since we’ve boiled the flavor out of it.
You can strain your broth while it’s hot or cool. Drain the broth through a colander into another pan. This will remove all the big chunks of ingredients, although some small tidbits may come through the colander into the broth. If you strain a cooled broth, the fat will have hardened on top and so straining will also take out some of the fat – which you may not want. If you want to preserve the fat content, then strain the soup while it’s still warm.
When I make soup, I usually cool my stock in the fridge overnight just so I don’t have to do all the work in one day, but this has a downside. Cooled broth will kind of congeal into a Jello-like consistency due to the gelatin released from the bones. This consistency can make it harder to strain, so if I have a problem getting the gooey broth to flow through the colander into the pan below, I put the pan that it’s draining into onto the stove and heat it just a little bit so the gelatin melts and the broth drips through the colander as it warms up.
If you want a very clear stock, once the big pieces are removed you can strain it a second time through cheesecloth or coffee filters, but I hardly ever do this. It’s good enough for my brood after the first straining and I avoid work whenever I can.
Storing your stock:
If you plan on using this stock for cooking, you can now add additional salt to taste (unless you’re cooking potatoes or dry beans with it – in that case wait to add the salt till they’re cooked!) and proceed with your recipe. If you find that the taste of the stock is too salty as it is, you can dilute it with water or milk for cream soups until it tastes right.
If you’re not going to use it immediately you can pour it into freezer bags or clean glass bottles (I find that the jars from natural peanut butter like Adams brand are perfect, but unfortunately you have to actually eat natural peanut butter to get them) and freeze it to use at a later date. Most recipes that call for stock as an ingredient, such as rice pilaf, require about 2 cups of broth.
Once you have broth, your options are wide open, but since it’s the week after Thanksgiving I’m going to operate under the assumption we’re wanting turkey soup.
You can use your homemade stock for any soup-ish recipe but today we’re going with Turkey and Dumplings.
Turkey Soup with Dumplings
I’m hoping you have diligently prepared a Ziploc baggie full of pre-chopped CCOG tidbits and another Ziploc bag full of turkey (but chicken will work too if your turkey has already flown the proverbial coop). If you haven’t, chop some veggies and shred some meat since putting a soup together is a fairly quick process and you don’t want to have to stop in the middle to cube yourself up some carrots.
Before you do anything with your Ziploc-ed ingredients, heat a pot of broth on your stove to simmering, peel and chop some potatoes, and drop them in. Remember, excess salt and acid can sometimes make it take longer for potatoes (and dry beans) to cook so if you’re doing a potato-based soup, you’ll want to wait to salt fully till after them taters are well on their way to Mushville. The bigger the chunk of potato, the longer it takes to cook, so chop accordingly.
How many potatoes, you ask? Why, that depends upon you, gentle readers. Making soup is not unlike playing that old video game Zork – you get to choose your own path, so by all means feel free to continue adding potatoes until you are eaten by a grue.
If you prefer a thin brothy soup, don’t do anything except add some potatoes…as they cook they’ll thicken up your soup a little. If you want a thicker soup or want to get wild and crazy and make yourself a stew, as your potatoes cook make a paste from ¼ cup soft butter and ¼ cup flour (or more, depending on your desired thickness, keeping your flour to butter ratio intact – 1:1). Take a bit of broth from your pan and let it cool – or reserve some cold before you heat it to simmering – and thin out the paste a bit. Once it’s liquefied, whisk this slurry into your hot broth to thicken it. DO NOT just dump a bunch of flour onto your hot soup unless you like lumps. Since we’re making turkey soup with dumplings here, you may want to go lighter on the thickener since the dumplings will thicken the soup up as well.
Now, you may be saying, “I don’t like potatoes, can I use noodles or barley or rice or tortellini instead of or alongside potatoes” and of course you can. This is America, dammit. Just use your good sense about how long to cook them. Brown rice and barley take a while to cook, so as with potatoes, you want to pre-cook them before adding your meat and CCOG. Noodles and tortellini cook fast, and if you cook them too long they’ll get overly soft before your vegetables are done. Add them at the same time as your vegetables. White rice is somewhere in between these two extremes. So save the quick cooking ingredients to add at the same time you add your meat and veg. Add your slow cooking ingredients sooner and cook them longer. And while I probably don’t need to explain this to you clever people, if you’re going with dumplings, I would stick with potatoes only and not noodles/rice as that starts to get incredibly starchy. I was too dumb to connect those dots, and once I made barley soup with dumplings and it was like eating cotton balls atop hot salted glue.
At this point in time you should have either a pot of cooked potatoes in broth, possibly thickened, or a pot of hot broth with nothing else in it, also possibly thickened. I generally recommend thickening before adding the next set of ingredients (unless you’re using very large pieces of vegetables, see below). Now we toss in the meat you stripped from your turkey carcass and those teeny tiny TicTacs of vegetable goodness we cut up earlier. If you’d like, this is also a great time to add some frozen peas, or sliced mushrooms, or corn, or a can of tomatoes or a spoon of tomato paste (a little tomato paste goes a long way) or parsley whatever you like. I prefer turkey soup with just carrot, celery, onion, garlic, and peas, but it’s soup, your options are wide open here. Don’t let my fear of the unknown hold you back. Since your potatoes are cooked, you can also salt, pepper, and any other seasonings to taste.
These additions will chill out your soup a little bit. You’ll want it to come back to a gentle boil, but don’t rush it. Keep the heat on “simmer” and then make your dumplings while it returns to its previous temperature. Important note – if you’re thickening your soup or stew, do it before you add your dumplings! Otherwise your soup will be buried beneath a blanket of dumplings beyond the reach of your tender ministrations.
Another Important Note – while TicTac sized vegetables will cook in the time allotted in thickened soup, you will want any large vegetables, including your potatoes, to be fully cooked before you thicken and add your dumplings. I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking “well surely these massive hunks of kohlrabi I threw in there over Kristin’s strenuous objections will be cooked through by the time these dumplings are done!” But I assure you, my friends, they will not be. Let my harsh experience with massive hunks of uncooked kohlrabi be your guide.
I love this recipe because it’s super easy, super good, super cheap, super fast, and takes barely any ingredients. Like soup, it’s something you can throw together even when the cupboard is pretty bare. You can halve, double, or triple this recipe easily – I generally triple it for my crew of 5 people since I like to have leftovers for lunch the next day.
⅔ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup milk
2 Tablespoons cooking oil
1 generous pinch salt
Stir flour, salt, baking powder together with a fork and then add the milk and oil. Mix until just moistened, then drop spoonfuls into your simmering soup or stew. Put the lid on your pot and wait 10 before peeking – if you can poke a dumpling with a toothpick and it comes out clean they’re ready.
Serve by breaking the dumplings up and floating them on top of a bowl of turkey soup.
If you still have turkey left over after making your soup, please check out my American Sandwich Project articles:
Photo by jordanmit09