Whether they’re based on meat, poultry, or just vegetables, boxed and canned stocks can really add to your food bill, particularly if you’re fond of soups and stews. But if you use your freezer wisely, you can make your own stocks for free!
Last year, when we were working through a big weekly box of produce from our local C.S.A., we noticed how quickly our kitchen compost pail was filling up with beautiful, organic scraps. Although this was great for our compost bin, it seemed very wasteful, especially as a quart of veggie stock cost more than $4 at our neighborhood market.
So we changed our ways. Now we save almost all of our vegetable trimmings in a large Ziploc bag we keep stashed in the freezer. Aside from the Big Three flavor basics (onion, celery, carrot), the bag may contain, at any given moment, the trimmings of asparagus, eggplant, leeks, shallots, garlic, mushrooms, parsley, potatoes, red bell peppers, spinach, squash, tomatoes . . . . actually, it’s easier just to list what shouldn’t be added to your veggie bag, because of their strong flavors or color: beets, broccoli, cilantro, ginger, green pepper (if you’re planning on making borscht or broccoli soup or something Asian, however, some of these would work fine.)
Once you’ve filled your Ziploc—or, if you’ve been slacking off or cooking a lot of veggies, two Ziplocs—dump the frozen trimmings into a stockpot along with whatever Death Row items are in your crisper: wilted lettuce leaves, withered carrots, yellowing celery. If you have leftover cooked vegetables that probably won’t get eaten, they can be tossed in.
Next, add enough water to not quite cover. Beware of putting too much water in your stock; you can always add more liquid later if need be. If the mix is light on carrots or onions or greens or garlic, feel free to chop some up and throw them in. (Really, though, we’ve found that no matter what’s in the mix, the stock always comes out fine.) Simmer it for about 30 minutes, until everything is cooked and mushy. Strain it into a large bowl. Because we're real cheapskates, we use a potato masher to extract every bit of flavor.
We generally end up with between 6 and 8 cups of stock. Usually, we leave the container in the refrigerator, and dip into it as we need it, but if we’ve made an extra-big batch, we’ll freeze some.
This recipe is for vegetable stock, but the same can be done with the cooked or uncooked bones of chicken, fish, or meat. Nigella Lawson boasts of turning her freezer into “Golgotha” and carting home bones from other people’s dinner parties (now that’s what we call thriftiness!).
As long as you save your vegetable scraps, you’ll always have the base for an economical batch of soup or stew. And you may never have to buy prepared stock again.