Hands up if you love a bowl of homemade soup! Few things evoke the emotions of satisfaction and nostalgia quite like a pot of simmering, homemade soup. Or the solace and comfort of a cup of broth when you’re under the weather.
For truly outstanding flavor in your soups, homemade stock is a must. Not that there’s anything wrong with pre-packaged – it’s handy and convenient, and I always have some in the cupboard.
But as many a chef will tell you, their secret flavor ingredient in successful soups, sauces and other dishes is a stock created in their own kitchen.
A well-crafted sock has body, a slightly savory flavor, and clarity. They’re essential for soups, slow cooker recipes, casseroles and sauces.
Simple and easy to make, they also freeze well for two to three months. Freeze in ice cube trays to pre-portion the smaller amounts needed in sauces, and in quart containers for soups.
So let’s cover the basics of making stock – and then you can try them out in a couple of soup recipes below, and taste the difference for yourself. You’ll need a stock pot, preferably a few in different sizes. Other large pans may also work.
What’s the Difference Between Broth and Stock?
Although opinions and definitions vary, broths are generally made from the more meaty parts while stock is mainly derived from bones, scraps, and all of the other bits and pieces that are edible but that aren’t real appetizing. Pretty much “everything but the squeal.”
Stock is very nutritious, and contains more collagen and trace minerals from the bones and marrow than does broth.
Some folks will say the difference between the two is that broth is seasoned while stock is unseasoned, but that is not the definition used by most credible cooking schools and other culinary authorities.
For the purpose of this article (and most others on Foodal) the words (and the recipes) are interchangeable. Both work equally well for making delicious dishes and sauces.
Soup Stock Basics
The larger the bones used, the longer the liquid needs to simmer – so the vegetables should be cut proportionate to the cooking time.
Remove the paper skins from onions, but leave the tops on both onions and carrots. Wash carrots and celery, and scrub carrots with a brush.
Herbs should be whole, not ground, and preferably fresh. They can be bundled up in a small cheesecloth sack, tied into a bouquet garni (herbs tied with a strand of leek or kitchen string) or added loose.
The cheesecloth and bouquet garni are meant for easy removal, but everything gets strained at the end, so loose herbs work fine – you might as well keep it simple! Alternatively, you can use an herb or tea diffuser.
Salt doesn’t need to be added to the liquid, as it can be added in your soup recipe instead, and this will keep the sodium content low.
For vegetable stock, you can add more than just the basic veggies if you keep a few points in mind:
- Don’t use starchy vegetables such as potatoes, as they’ll turn the juice murky.
- Liquid will take on color, according to the veggies used (i.e. it’ll turn red, if you add beets).
- If you add garlic, it will retain a garlicky flavor, so bear that in mind when using your stock to make sauces, etc.
Broth (and Stock) vs. Bouillon: Are they the same?
The simple answer: yes and no.
Although a lot of folks are confused about this, in the common vernacular of the USA, bouillon is not the same as stock or broth. Bouillon is a combination of salt (the primary ingredient), MSG, spices, and dehydrated broth – it’s not the most healthy thing to put into your body.
That being said, in many French speaking countries, bouillon is the same as a meat stock, and the name also implies that some spices have been added.
If you want a premade product that offers the best of both worlds, why not try Better Than Bouillon Organic Chicken Base.(reduced sodium version) It’s also available in beef, vegetable, and mushroom, in organic and conventional variations. Plus, it contains no MSG. See all of the flavors now.
The most common soup stocks are made from chicken, beef, fish and vegetables. The essential ingredients are:
- Soup bones (with the exception of vegetable-based products)
- Vegetables – onion, celery and carrots
- Herbs and spices – bay leaves, parsley, thyme, savory, peppercorns
- A large stock pot to cook it all in
The primary flavor source of the meat and fish based stocks comes from the bones. Beef, chicken and fish are all made in the same manner, and the more bones used, the more gelatinous the liquid will be. And, as mentioned above, the larger the bones are, the longer they need to cook.
Use fresh, cold water for all extractions.
Foodal recommends James Peterson’s “Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making”
You can pick up beef and chicken bones from your grocer or butcher, but you’ll probably need to go to the fish market for fish frames, or the bony skeletons.
We love our recipe for beef bone broth, a recipe that is bursting with all the nutrient-dense offerings the bones provide.
If you want to make a thick, gelatinous stock for chowders, add some fish heads to the pot. Remove the gills and rinse well. For super stock, use the whole fish.
After your liquid has finished simmering, you can use it right away. If you’re not using it immediately, allow it to chill thoroughly, for 2-3 hours.
Types of Stock
Use this liquid in hearty stews, vegetable soups, Vietnamese pho, and Chinese lo meins, or condense a little further using a Windsor or splayed pan to make a tasty brown sauce. It can also be use as au jus served over roast beef, or clarified and turned into consommé.
What is Consommé and How Do You Make It?
Consommé is beef or chicken stock that has been clarified. It’s used when you want a nice clean soup without all of the floaty tidbits. This clarified liquid can be served in piping hot soups, or in cold dishes dishes such as the French aspic.
Making it is not hard. The traditional method involved adding lightly whipped egg whites to the broth, which swirls around and collects all of the bits and pieces. This egg white concoction is called a “raft.” The raft is removed (and eaten with a bit of salt and pepper when no one is looking) and your clarified stock remains in the pot.
You can achieve nearly the same effect by refrigerating the broth overnight, and skimming the congealed fat off the top. Most of the small chunks and pieces float to the top and get stuck in the flat layer. This is not true consommé, but for many dishes it may serve the same purpose.
The third option is to use a pot that has a spigot at the bottom, such as those designed for cooking clams, crab, and lobster, to allow you to drain most of the liquid out and leave the uppermost layer where the bits and pieces normally float. Again this will not produce a consommé that’s quite as clean as what you’ll get using the traditional approach.
Used in various soups, stews, and one-pan dishes such as:
- Chicken Piccata
- Italian Gnocchi Chicken Soup
- Chicken Soup With Dill
- Chicken Posole
- Italian Wedding Soup
- Pumpkin Soup
Used in various French Provincial stews, Italian stufatos, Korean Jjigae, Japanese nabemono, and in countless other culinary creations deriving from cultures that reside close to the ocean.
The recipe below is a western version, and it uses fish bones, fish heads, or whole gutted fish as the foundation.
Sempio Dried Anchovies (for stock) available on Amazon
Most Asian recipes use dried anchovies (of various sizes and species) to make their fish stock, although fresh and semi-dried fish are also used. You can pick up dried anchovies at your local Asian market or you find them on Amazon.
We also have a homemade seafood stock, using any variety of shells, like shrimp, crab, and lobster.
Although it’s a vegan and vegetarian staple, omnivores also make use of vegetable stock in many dishes. Try boiling some with a little quinoa and see if you like it. I bet you will!
Now that you have your soup stock ready, it’s time to try it out. Granddad’s Beef Barley Soup is a hearty dish that makes a complete meal if served with a salad, some country bread, and a slab of tangy cheese. For something a little spicier, try your hand at this Mulligatawny Soup – rich and flavorful, it’s sure to please.
Please note that this post was updated on June 3rd, 2015 per concerns about terms of reference by our readers – specifically the definition of bouillon.
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.