This is the first in an occasional series covering really excellent ways to make simple core ingredients. This week: vegetable stock.
As most people who have cooked for vegetarians can attest, store-bought vegetable stocks vary widely in taste, and only a few are palatable to me. In some cases, like strongly flavored soups, the precise taste isn’t so important, but dishes like risotto, the taste of the broth can really dominate the dish.
Which brings us to the much-vaunted solution: make your own!
I have two pieces of good news about this. The first is that making stock is as easy as throwing some stuff in a pot with a lot of water, bringing it to a boil, and waiting. The second is that pretty much anything you make is going to be better than store-bought stock, so experimenting is pretty painless.
What to use:
The usual suspects: These include carrots, celery, potatoes, and onions. Onions need the papery skin peeled off, and I usually trim parts I wouldn’t use in cooking off the vegetables, although some people report great results with leftovers like peels. (If you try this, let me know!)
Other veggies: Mushrooms, parsnips (they’ll make the broth cloudy, but who cares?), sweet potatoes or winter squash, peas, corn
Aromatics: Peeled garlic cloves are a great addition, and a bay leaf is practically mandatory. Parsley is common, as are whole peppercorns and thyme.
Salt: You need some! You can use anything you have on hand, or try soy sauce.
Extras: White wine is perhaps the most common addition to vegetable stock. You can also use a splash of fruit juice (try apple cider!) for a slightly sweet stock that would be good in squash soup.
Look out for: Brassica vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower) often taste overwhelmingly strong. Use tomatoes in moderation, as they have a strong flavor too. Beets will make your stock pink. Using herbs with a particular flavor palette is fine, but remember to label your stock with this so you don’t use something heavy on Italian herbs to make a Japanese soup!
Roughly chop the vegetables: quartering them is fine!
Aim for roughly equal volumes of vegetables and water. If eyeballing is not your strength (it isn’t mine!), throw the vegetables into a big liquid measuring cup as you chop. Throw it all in a stock pot. [Note: do as I say, not as I do, here. The photo below doesn’t have nearly as many vegetables in it as you should use!]
Heat it to a boil, then lower the heat until it’s simmering. Leave the top off. Simmer for about an hour.
You can strain the stock at this point with a colander and store it in the fridge or freezer, or you can continue to simmer it until it reduces significantly — I usually aim for about an eighth of the original volume — and then cool it and freeze it in ice cube trays. Once it’s fully frozen, you can pop it out and throw the cubes into bags for later use. Note how concentrated it is so you know how much water to add when you use it!
Stock will keep a few days in the fridge; if you need it to keep longer, pour it out into a pot, boil it for 10 minutes, and then put it back in the fridge. It will keep forever in the freezer, but will taste best in the first two or three months.