I’ll be the first to admit that, ever since the late 1990s, when commercial stocks made the quantum leap from those wicked, dessicated cubes to liquid packed in cartons, I have kept my pantry shelves filled with them. These newfangled “stock-boxes” might not have been as flavorful or rich as my homemade stocks, but they certainly were good enough to use in even my most delicate recipes, not to mention incredibly convenient.
What freedom! The monthly task of making four quarts of stock, with all the prepping, simmering and straining, was fortunately no longer a necessity — the more so since the appearance of those gourmet stocks on the market shelves happened to coincide with a move to New York City and the inevitable shrinking of my living quarters. (There was no room in my tiny freezer for my monthly stock production: if I wanted fresh stock, I had to make it every single time I cooked.)
So I succumbed; and even after I’d moved into a roomier kitchen, I still reached for that convenient carton every time I needed to cook with a stock.
Then one day, out of the blue, I got an incredible craving to make those four quarts of stock again. It was a deep yearning to smell the rich broth simmering on the stove and filling the house with its comforting aroma.
So I got my giant stockpot out of the pantry.
What a revelation! How could I have been so easily fooled by those fancy cartons? The flavor of my homemade stock was so deep, so rich, so nuanced… It simply could not compare to the boxed kind.
Needless to say I’m back to making my own stocks again, and feel a twinge of guilt at having abandoned my practice over those last few years. I can’t say that I’ll never buy stock in cartons again (after all, it’s hard to give up the convenience). But at least, I can confidently say that once a month the house will be filled with the earthy smells of simmering stock.
makes 4 quarts (16 cups)
active time: 30 min
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large Vidalia, Spanish or red onion – skinned and cut in 1/2″ cubes
- 4 large garlic cloves – skinned and halved
- 4 medium carrots – peeled and cut in 1/2″ slices
- 2 celery ribs – trimmed and cut in 1/2″ slices
- 1 leek (including green parts) – trimmed, halved lengthwise, thoroughly washed and cut in 1” slices
- 2 plum tomatoes – cut in 1″ pieces
- 1 medium white potato – peeled and cut in 1/2″ cubes
- 4 cups vegetable scraps cut in 1″ pieces (stems of mushrooms, asparagus, chard, kale, broccoli or artichokes; corn cobs, fennel tops, etc… )
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 bunch fresh Italian parsley
- 6 thyme sprigs
- 2 teaspoons sea salt or to taste
- 2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
- 5 quarts (20 cups) spring or filtered water
- Step 1: Heat a large heavy-bottomed soup pot at medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and onions and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes until pale-golden. Add the garlic sauté and for an additional 1 minute. Add the balance of the ingredients including the water. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium to medium-low, partially cover and simmer for 45 minutes.
- Step 2: Strain stock through a fine sieve. Discard the vegetables and cool stock to room temperature. Refrigerate up to 2 days or freeze up to 1 month.
- The vegetables should be cut in small pieces (1/2″ to 1″ pieces) so that they render their flavor more easily.
- The stock should not simmer for more than 45 minutes. In that time the vegetables have given all their flavor to the water. Simmering them longer will only turn the vegetables into mush.
- Whenever you cook, remember to save the stems of flavorful vegetables like mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli, artichokes, etc… Cut the vegetables scraps in 1″ pieces and freeze them until you are ready to make stock. There’s no need to thaw them before using them.