February 28, 2021

A Stock that Pays Dividends Pt. 1

Learn about homemade vegetable stock.

Don’t worry I’m not going to try and get you to buy shares of GameStop! We already missed the opportunity on that one. 😞 Let’s talk about a different kind of stock. One that is a liquid asset. And while it’s an upfront investment, it gives you a steady yield. You could say I’m quite bullish on it. 🐂

But of course, in this two-part series, I’m talking about cooking stock. It’s not reserved for fancy French restaurants and grandmothers curing sickness with soup. Making homemade stock is not as daunting as it seems. It’s a mostly passive cooking activity that will yield dividends. 💸

But first semantics…

Broth vs Stock

While the difference between stock and broth could be the subject of a Congressional hearing (minus the cat), it comes down to this. Stock is made by simmering animal bones—which may have some scraps of meat on them. Broth is made by simmering meat—which may have some bones attached. The way I think about it is that stocks are thicker. They have more body and viscosity to them (more on why next week). Broths are thinner.

But at the end of the day, most people use the two terms interchangeably. There are a lot of similarities. For example, they both take advantage of a mirepoix—which is a French term describing a base of aromatic veggies and herbs that you remove after you’ve extracted all their flavor. So don’t sweat (unless we’re talking about onions 😉) whether it’s a broth or stock.

Vegetable Stock

Since it lacks bones and meat, it might technically be neither a stock nor a broth. But hey who cares. 🤷‍♂️

I love vegetable broth. It’s simple and easy to make. So it is the perfect starting point for this two-part series.

How to make vegetable broth: Grab roughly chopped aromatic vegetables and herbs. You can use onions (or any other allium), carrots, celery, tomatoes, parsley (stems and all), bay leaves, thyme, or whatever else you’re feeling. Then simmer those vegetables for 30 to 60 minutes in filtered water. It’s literally that simple.

  • How do you know when to stop? If it tastes good and has a nice vegetable flavor, it’s done. It will intensify in flavor the longer it cooks. But be careful. Cook it too long, and it can turn overly sweet.
  • But how many vegetables and how much water? Folks say to use equal parts of vegetables and water because it will give a more intense vegetable flavor. And that’s true. But I try to push the water to about 1.5x the volume of vegetables. I like a light and delicate broth for everyday use. But let’s be real. Y’all know me. I don’t measure anything. So I just put my vegetables in a pot and make sure they’re covered by about 2 inches of water.
  • Do you add salt? You can! I typically don’t because I know I can add salt later on to whatever dish I’m cooking with the broth. It gives me more control. However, if you’re used to cooking with salted, store-bought broth, I’d add salt. Then your broth is similar to what you know.

Want to go green? Do what thrifty chefs do, even the Michelin starred ones, and save your vegetable scraps! Don’t throw away onion skins and root ends. Nor carrot tops and peels. Or even celery leaves and the white ends. And especially not parsley stems. Instead, put them in a bag in your freezer. You’ll slowly accumulate enough of these scraps that you can turn them into a broth. Simply simmer them in water the same exact way.

This just-throw-in-a-pot vegetable broth is easy enough to make the day you need it. It brings an aromatic quality to your food. I love using it for risotto. The flavor of the broth isn’t overpowering and lets the other flavors in the risotto shine. It’s also great for cooking rice. Or used as your liquid for cooking dried beans.

But sometimes we don’t want a broth that is delicate like a flower. 🌸 We want a vegetable broth that is delicate like a bomb! 💣 A flavor bomb that is.

Boosting Veggie Broth’s Flavor

Whether it’s for ramen, pasta in brodo, or a standout soup, sometimes you want a bolder broth! One that is darker in color and has a depth of flavor. In that case, we can’t throw everything in a pot, cover it in water, and call it good. Here’s how to get vegetable broth with more depth of flavor:

  1. Brown your veggies: Browning equals flavor. By first making your vegetables more flavorful, they will impart that flavor to the water. I like to roast the vegetables in the oven until they start to brown. That’s because browning them all at once in a large stock pan won’t happen because of all that steam.  
  2. Burn an onion: This goes beyond browning. I learned this from Thomas Keller. Start by halving an onion. Then place those onion halves flat side down into your pot. And burn them. Let them sit undisturbed until they are black on the bottom.. Then use them in the broth. You’ll get burnt circles on the bottom of your pan, but it will come up easy as the water cooks. This will help give your broth a beautiful color too.
  3. Dehydrate the vegetables: This one I learned from Massimo Bottura. Especially good to do if you’re using scraps, try dehydrating your veggies in an oven to concentrate their flavor. How do you dehydrate them? Place the veggies on a sheet pan in a 150°F (65°C) oven for about 8 hours. Then turn up the heat to 350°F (180°C) and brown them for 30 minutes for even more flavor.
  4. Use potato peels: This one is simple. Save your potato peels and add them to your broth. The starch in the peels will give the broth more body and viscosity. It’s a similar effect to the way pasta water can make a sauce creamy.
  5. Add umami: Last but definitely not least, use miso, tomato paste, dried mushrooms, and/or kombu (sea kelp). These flavor bombs will give your broth umami and richness!
Where I learned this: Thomas Keller and Massimo Bottura’s MasterClasses and this article about how to make great vegan soups by J. Kenji López-Alt.

And make sure to check out part 2 on collagen-rich, meat bases stocks.