Frugal kitchen: Make your own broth

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.

Ingredients

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
  • Water

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.

**UPDATED** – click here to see a brief spreadsheet explaining the nitty gritty of my cost calculations.

8 thoughts on “Frugal kitchen: Make your own broth

  1. CT says:

    I always make “stock” in my crockpot. I wait until I have some especially good-looking bones, and then I toss in whatever veggies or remnants I have in the freezer. After straining, you can leave the liquid to cool in the fridge, and then just scoop off the congealed fat.

    If you are using meat or bones, don’t keep it in the fridge for long — boiling WILL NOT kill all the nasties, like staph, that can make you violently sick (I speak as someone who has both studied foodborne illness and made herself violently ill). I try not to keep my stock in the fridge for more than a day, just because I know that whatever I cook with it will hang around in the fridge for additional time.

    Anyway, it’s great in soup, recipes that call for a cup of broth, whatever. My husband is always especially impressed when I make him a single serving of chicken noodle soup just by assembling funny little containers from the freezer.

  2. Cheap Like Me says:

    CT, great reminder about scooping off the fat … it will rise to the top and solidify after the stock is cooled.

    And nothing spruces up rice like cooking it with broth instead of water!

  3. L'an says:

    I was religious about making broth for a while… and then time got tight, and the tetra paks seemed so convenient… but I’ve noticed more and more often that the *flavor* of canned/packaged broth and bullion cubes/powder just can’t compare. So I’m back to making broth again–sometimes even a “quick broth” with the skinnings of whatever I’m making for the soup. (Basically, you start with your onion, celery, garlic, and carrot, then toss in the peels of the things you would be using in the evening’s soup anyway; if you start this first, and let it simmer while you’re prepping the ingredients for your actual meal, it’s surprisingly “no big deal” and yields a great depth of flavor you wouldn’t get just from making soup with water–which seems funny considering that it’s often all the same ingredients!)

    An option for the “rich” broth that I find works pretty well is to saute the onion and garlic in some olive oil until fairly well-browned before adding the other veg and water…

  4. Nikol says:

    Yay, stock! I have some stock tips to add:

    Freezing in mason jars: It’s best not to use jars with a shoulder in the freezer to be safe. If the liquid can’t move straight up as it freezes, the jar can crack. (I think wide-mouth pints are the biggest standard size w/o shoulders). Or at least leave a good two inches before the shoulders of a big jar. An inch and a half is not enough, alas, for I have felt the heartbreak of a half gallon of kickass chicken tortilla soup spoiled by broken glass.

    I reduce my stock by half or more and freeze the concentrated version to conserve freezer space. You can reduce it before or after straining, but it’s a prettier, clearer product if you strain/cool/remove fat first, so the ingredients don’t completely cook apart and drift right through your strainer.

    Well-strained fat skimmed from meat stocks is delicious for frying potatoes, making gravy or using as the fat in cornbread or other savory breads. You can chill it until solid, form it into rolls or sticks (like butter) & then freeze it and just cut off what you need.

    I just saw a tip somewhere about freezing stock in muffin tins & then popping them into ziplocks for handy portions that melt faster in soups & sauces (like the ice cube tray trick, but a more practical size). If you did it right with concentrated stock, you could math it out so a stock muffin + water = 1 cup or pint or what-have-you.

    I like the richer stock, too. I brown all my veggies first, like L’an.

  5. eric bjorlin says:

    As a math person (and cheap-ie, too), I’m curious how you calculated your cost — did you count only the parts of the veggies and other foot-stuffs you used, or did you also account for the water (likely not much of a cost) and the gas or electric used (which for an hour would be of some consequence)? Just trying to think of all possible things that go into it. Otherwise, especially now that it’s winter, sounds like a great and easy technique!

  6. Cheap Like Me says:

    @Nikol & L’An – I always brown the veggies first if I’m making soup, but not so much stock … but I like it milder.

    @eric – I use a spreadsheet to calculate costs. I will edit the post above to include a link to a PDF with my numbers. But to answer your questions … I did NOT add the cost of any peels I threw in, as I would have otherwise composted them. I used actual costs for veggies bought at great prices at Costco (what I actually used), although I estimated parsley, which came with our CSA box. I did account for the water (it adds nothing … our water cost comes out to .00186 cents per gallon!), and for the gas. I accounted for the medium burner on our stove to burn for half an hour, and that is 44% of the cost. If the burner ran for 1 whole hour, it would increase the cost per quart to $0.35 (total cost for 5 quarts would go from $1.62 to $1.76). I hope that helps … and I will offer the caveat that my math COULD be wrong, so let me know if you see an egregious error! :)

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