Quarantine Cooking – Vegetable Stock

Do you ever cook with fresh vegetables? Do you have freezer space for one gallon-size bag? If you answered yes to both of these questions, then you could be making your own stock.

Ever since I went to the culinary certificate program, I am vehemently opposed to store-bought stocks. The reason being is salt. They are too salty! Everything you cook with store-bought stocks end up being so salty. Plus, the quality of these stocks are not great. I was so spoiled in class having access to all these homemade stocks, even getting to work with less common stocks like lobster stock and rabbit stock. I pretty much stopped cooking with store-bought stocks. The last time I bought any stock or broth, it was one of those “bone broths” from Whole Foods, which cost a lot more than your standard store-bought broth, but are supposedly higher quality. However, it was also high in sodium, resulting in my dish being so salty. So, today I am going to give some tips on making homemade stock, because I think everyone’s cooking would taste better if you used homemade instead of the salty stuff in the store.

So, my first stock tip is do not add ANY salt. Stocks and broths should not be seasoned. Because the liquid reduces during the stock-making process, the salt will be super concentrated. Then, when you cook with the stock, the salt will concentrate even further, resulting in your food being too salty. Instead, don’t season your stock and just season your food when you cook.

I’d recommend starting with homemade vegetable stock, since it is the cheapest and easiest to make. You could go to the store and buy a bunch of vegetables for your stock, but I highly recommend making scrap stock. If you make stock entirely from scraps, it won’t cost you an extra dime. Even if you don’t use only scraps, your cost will still be cut by using scraps.

If you are wondering if scraps will make good stock, let me reassure you. Sure, you could follow the recipe using diced mirepoix, bay leaves, and fresh thyme, adding a precise quantity of water. However, I’ve seen chefs in the Culinary Arts program just throw in a bunch of vegetable scraps into stock because they had them, including a pile of carrot peels. Ultimately, you are not eating the vegetables, just discarding them. It is okay to keep carrots unpeeled, because you aren’t going to eat them. So, why not use vegetable scraps, because you would be throwing them away otherwise? This will save you money and reduce food waste!

I just made a batch of vegetable stock today, so I am going to walk you through the process. Let’s first talk about what vegetables to include in your stock. The best vegetables for stock are the mirepoix vegetables: onions, celery, and carrots. Traditional mirepoix is one part carrot, one part celery, and two parts onion. These are vegetables that people often use in their regular cooking routine. Most people throw out the ends of onions, carrots shavings, etc. Instead of throwing these away, stick them in a gall-size zip lock bag and store them in the freezer. When the bag is full, it is time to make stock.

Other ideas to include in your stock: leeks, celeriac, garlic, mushrooms, parsnips, and shallots. You can include a small amount of bell peppers, but I wouldn’t add very much, or the taste will take over the stock. Vegetables I would absolutely avoid include: cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, asparagus etc. Basically, avoid members of the Brassica family. They will result in a pungent and bitter stock.

So, what do you do once you have your bag of vegetable scraps? If you have one bag, you can get about 1-2 quarts of stock. If you have two bags, you can have 2-4 quarts. I really only have room for one bag, but I chose to supplement my bag of scraps with some mirepoix.

What was in my bag: onion butts, shallot butts, half a head of garlic, mushroom stems, carrot and parsnip shavings and ends, the green ends of leeks, and a small amount of orange bell pepper trimmings. I added three yellow onions, three carrots, and six celery stalks. I chopped up the whole vegetables and included everything but the outer dry onion skin.

I added everything to a large pot and covered the vegetables with cold water. I did not think to grab some fresh herbs when I was last at the store, but I had some dried thyme and bay leaves. I also threw in some black peppercorns.

Next, I brought the pot to a boil and then reduced to a simmer. I say to let the vegetables simmer for 45 minutes to one hour to extract the flavor. I then drained the stock and discarded the cooked scraps. Safely cool the stock and store in airtight containers. The stock can be stored in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for quite some time.

Please make sure not to put your hot stock in the fridge or freezer right away. This will take down the temperature in the fridge/freezer and potentially make the other food in there being held at an unsafe temperature. If you put the stock in small enough containers, it should cool fairly quickly. However, you can also make an ice bath, and put the containers in the ice water to cool more quickly.

I now have two and a half quarts of vegetable stock. This is high quality stock that tastes much better than whatever I could find at the store. Plus, nonperishable goods are in short supply at the stores right now, so having your own stock on hand might not be a bad idea. For now, I am going to store my stock in the freezer, but I can write an update on what I do with my stock.