Stock Up On Broths

There is only one fridge staple that can clean out your fridge. It can be made from the scraps of meals but is the base of many meals. It is stock or broth. Today, we will explore the differences between stock and broth, discuss some flavor decision points, and run through the easy cooking process.

The difference between stock and broth is small but key. Stock is made with bones while broth includes the meat. Due to this, stock and broth have slightly different flavors (more on that later). However, in most applications, stock and broth can be used interchangeably. Often, stock is utilized to provide flavorful liquid with a little bit of fat but broth can also achieve this.

How do you decide which I will make? Well, first, ask yourself, what’s in the refrigerator? If I just roasted a chicken, I keep the bones to make stock. If I have chicken thighs that are close to their expiration date, I opt for broth.

What type of flavor and texture are you looking for? Stock will have a richer mouth feel and a slightly deeper flavor because the bones will release the gelatin that gives it a fatty finish. Therefore, stock is better as an ingredient to a dish. Broth, on the other hand, will be lighter and more adaptable thus a better star player, like in a chicken noodle soup. If at any point your broth or stock taste too fatty as a soup base, feel free to cut it with water.

There are other questions we need to ask when it comes to flavor. First, what type of meat do we want to use. When it comes to chicken, I like a whole chicken or wings and thighs, which have plenty of fat. For beef, I tend to use bones that contain marrow. Ham bones make for a great pork-based broth. Same goes for fish bones and shrimp peels when seeking a seafood stock.

Next, what are we going to use to enhance the flavor? Nearly every stock should include mire poix, or celery, onion, and carrot. There are other aromatics that are welcome too. Leeks are a great option as is garlic. Lemongrass and ginger give it a nice Asian flare. When making a vegetable stock, I always include mushrooms which provide a meaty undertone. Keeping that in mind, if you want a neutral, all-purpose stock, stick with just the mire poix. As for vegetable prep, I roughly chop them. No need to get fancy here as they will cook for a long time and be discarded after the finished product is strained. I do, however, clean and peel all my vegetables and I never use vegetable scraps. Some people like to add celery hearts and onion skins, but my philosophy is, if I doesn’t taste good before it goes in, it will not taste good after.

I also like to add fresh herbs like parsley, dill or time, thyme, dried herbs, like bay leaves, and spices like whole black peppercorns. One thing I never do is salt my broth. This is for the same reason why I buy unsalted butter. I never know what I am going to add it to and can always salt it later as needed.

Now how do we prepare these ingredients to go into the broth or stock? Again, it comes down to flavor. Do you want a roasted flavor? Well roast your bones and vegetables first and sear off any meat. In a chicken stock, this will produce an almost “chicken nugget” flavor. It will also reduce the fat in the final product, giving it a thinner mouth feel. Want a lighter, straight forward flavor, add your meat and vegetables raw. This will produce a fattier mouth feel as all the fat will render in the broth and form collagen.

Finally, it is time to cook. You can cook it in a pot on the stove, bringing to a boil, then reducing to a bare simmer for several hours. I prefer to use the tallest, narrowest pot as a pot with a smaller surface area of will create less evaporation. One downside of this method is that scum will build up on the top of the pot, which you will need to remove, using a spoon or fine mesh strainer, frequently. My favorite method by far is to use the slow cooker, which will hold the perfect temperature while unattended. I cook by stock for six to eight hours via this method. In a pinch, you can cook it under pressure in your instant pot for about an hour, but I don’t love the flavor that this method produces. Regardless of the method, add enough water to cover all your ingredients by an inch before cooking. If your tap water has funky flavors, try to use filtered or bottled water to give you the best tasting broth.

When your broth is done, carefully strain it with a fine mesh sieve. Discard any vegetables and meat if it is tough (I tend to use leftover chicken for chicken salad). Cool as quickly as possible by either adding ice cubes or ice wands (which you can make by freezing water bottles filled halfway with water). Once cool, place in the fridge for up to a week or freeze for up to six months. Sometimes a layer of fat will form at the top when cooled. You can discard this or save it to cook with. I like to freeze broth in an ice cube mold and take cubes out as needed.