This is a kitchen-oriented addition to the Dealbusters series that checks out whether something that sounds like a good deal — or takes a bit of extra work — will really help your budget. We’ll look at cost and benefit — with everything filtered through individual experience. Please chime in with your take.
How many recipes within your shelf of cookbooks include the ingredient “broth” or “stock”? In my experience, many soups, braised vegetables, and grains call for — or benefit from — the rich flavors of broth.
And yet from cost and environmental perspectives, using all that broth can be a whopper. Bouillon cubes (the fallback of my childhood) can be laced with too much sodium, MSG and other needless ingredients. And packaged broth comes in Tetra-Pak containers that, at least in my area, are not collected by municipal recycling and require a special trip — one that most of us are unlikely to make. To add insult to injury, packaged vegetable broth typically costs about $2 per quart.
What if you make your own?
Making your own stock is no big deal. Things you will need:
- A large pot.
- A stove.
- A colander.
- Quart-size containers for storage in the freezer.
- Vegetables, old or new (see below).
- An hour or two of your time.
Basically, you can put whatever you want in stock. The basic ingredients are:
- Carrots (about 2 large ones)
- Celery (about 4 stalks)
- Onion (a big one, chopped in quarters, skins and all)
- Parsley (a few good stalks)
- Thyme (fresh or dried)
- Black peppercorns
If you have saved carrot peels, potato peels, onion ends or other miscellaneous ingredients in the freezer, adjust your ingredients accordingly.
Some people like to add garlic for spiciness; ginger for an Asian infusion; various vegetables, from potatoes to whatever else you have on hand; or a variety of meats.
Be aware, though, that:
- Garlic can make stock bitter or spicy.
- Brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, greens) usually don’t do a stock any favors — they taste strong and bitter.
- Turnips can put serious peppery spice into your stock.
Adding meat (or meat-like flavor)
The “right” stock tastes great in a recipe, but if you don’t have beef stock on hand and instead you use vegetable stock, the world won’t stop turning. Therefore, we usually make veggie stock to keep on hand for all purposes.
However, if we buy chicken, I buy it on the bone so we can use the bones for stock later. You can freeze the bones (be generous with what meat you leave on the bones … it makes cutting easier, too) in a container — they will keep for months.
Other meat bones — mainly beef — are also good in stock. With any bones, place them in the pot (still-frozen is fine) with the other ingredients.
If you want rich flavor — say, for French onion soup — without the meat, you can roast your vegetables before preparing the stock. Put chopped veggies on a pan, drizzle with oil, and roast in a 400-degree oven for 45 minutes or so, turning and watching that they brown deeply, but don’t burn. The resulting stock will be deeper and richer.
Start your burners …
- Throw everything in a large pot, fill with water, cover and bring to a boil. Then, turn down the heat and let the stock simmer for about an hour. Any longer, and it will start to develop a stronger flavor that you might or might not like.
- Strain the stock into another pot or a large bowl using your colander. Used vegetables can go in the compost pile. Bones should go in the trash.
- Salt the stock lightly to taste, if you wish.
- Allow the stock to cool. Set the pot or bowl in a sink full of cold water. In the winter, we put the lid tightly on the pot and set it out on the back step overnight.
- Pour the stock into quart-sized containers. If you use Mason jars, don’t forget to leave room at the top so they won’t crack. I use plastic, square quart containers because I like that the stock block will slide out into a pan to finish thawing.
- Freeze the stock. (Sometimes I label it with a masking-tape label so I remember which is which.) If you keep it in the refrigerator, boil it every couple of days or it will go bad.
The cost breakdown
For my basic organic veggie stock, the savings over organic Tetra-Pak stock is 84 percent — a cost of $0.32 per quart for homemade stock.