By Daniel Lucas
If there was just a single piece of advice I could give to someone on how to be a better cook, it would be to always make your own broths and stocks from scratch. Or, at the very least, purchase high-quality stock made from fresh ingredients. If you aren’t already doing this, it will change your life.
In the earlier days of my cooking journey, I would often find myself with more than a handful of boxed stocks and broths in my pantry and would routinely use them without a second thought in a soup or risotto. And to be honest, it seemed acceptable at the time. Though eventually I ventured into the realm of making my broths from scratch and I’ve never looked back. After tasting the real deal, I am now highly skeptical of what they put in those boxes. Besides, it tastes so much better when they are made from fresh ingredients, why would you want to use anything else?! I’ve come far enough that, if I don’t have homemade stock or broth on hand, I’ll gladly use water over boxed broth any day.
I’m sure I could write a whole book on this subject, but fortunately for me, I think this book has been written already, and quite well, I might add. Jennifer McGruther’s broth & stock perfectly captures everything I could possibly want to say about broths and stocks, and I’m not here to reinvent the wheel. I highly encourage you to give it a read.
It’s worth checking out Jennifer’s site, The Nourished Kitchen, if you haven’t before. It’s really well done!
With that recommendation aside, the following guide is the minimum amount of information I feel is needed to get started making great soup and risotto right away.
For the life of me, I can never seem to remember which is which—broth, stock, or bone-broth? I’ve had this conversation well over a dozen times. Let’s have it just once more.
Broth: Broths are the cooking liquid that remains after you’ve cooked meat, vegetables, or beans. They are thinner in body, and lighter and flavor, but still make an excellent base.
Stock: The base of stocks are generally bones, which are usually roasted in advance. Stocks are cooked longer than broths—chicken stock can be cooked for 4 hours, while pork, lamb, and beef stocks can be cooked for 6-8 hours. When I refer to broths or stocks in recipes, this is what I’m referring to most of the time, except when explicitly stated otherwise.
Bone Broth: From a culinary perspective, bone broths are the same as stocks but are cooked much longer—up to two days—which allows maximum nutrients and flavor to be extracted from the bone.
The stock setup should be pretty minimal:
I don’t like to use a crock-pot in my kitchen, but if you choose to do so, using it to make stocks is 100% acceptable. I’m just too stubborn to do so. Though—I would still saute vegetables in a bit of olive oil where it calls for it, then transfer that mixture of par-cooked vegetables to the crock-pot. From there you can cover it with boiling water and cook on medium-high (depending on your pot) for the recommended time listed below.
Below are the 3 basic recipes that I use to make all of my broths and stocks. Occasionally, I will make bone-broths for myself because they are nutritious and amazing, but most of the time a stock will do just fine, especially in a culinary sense. Though, if you desire to do so, you can long-cook either one of my stock recipes for a bone-broth, but if you really want to learn more about bone broth and it’s nutritional qualities, I recommend Jennifer’s broth & stock.
Scrap broth is a collection of select vegetable and meat scraps I keep in my freezer that, once enough is gathered, I defrost it and turn it into what I call scrap broth. Depending on which meat bone is selected, scrap broths can be substituted for either of the below stocks. Or if no meat is used, you can use it as vegetable broth. With scrap broth, the goal here is to use up as many scraps as you possibly can while still maintaining a reasonable flavor. There are a couple approaches to this. The first and most straightforward is to just add all your scraps, mixed in a single freezer bag and make stock when it’s full. This is the easiest and fastest approach, but you have the least amount of control of the final product, which can be fun if you don’t have a particular usage in mind for the broth. The approach I take is to have 2-3 bags going at once, so I can divvy up my scraps in a way that will create more balanced broth.
As a side note, you can also use the same recipe applied below to make “premium” vegetable broth, using whole, fresh vegetables instead of various scraps.
What to collect:
I usually like to top off my scrap broth with some mystery liquids. Brines will add acidity and salt, bean broths and starchy pasta water add body and meat juices will add flavor.
What to avoid:
This is the unanimous choice of stock for chicken soup, and usually the stock I go to for most of my wild-foraged mushroom dishes. You cook a whole chicken in the process, so you will have cooked meat to eat as a result of making this stock.
I follow more-or-less the same procedure for all of my red-meat stocks, which I use in my red-meat soups, risottos, stews and braises. I’ll let you explore your own meat-vegetable combinations. Or, if you rather, just omit the vegetables all together and make a pure meat stock.