Just like a home, soup needs a solid foundation. Alright, fine. A liquid foundation…The point is good soups deserve good stock, and they’re easy to make! Soups are a forgiving dish to cook, and stocks are too. Too bitter? Add a pinch of sugar. Too strong? Add more liquid. Although easy, stocks require more time for maximum flavor. On your next pseudo-lazy Sunday, try making some. You can freeze portions when you’re done, and save it for future soups, sauces, and gravies. What follows is by no means the only way to make stock, but a few of the riffs we’ve been playing lately.
All stocks are essentially made the same way; fill a large pot one third of the way with your ingredients, a pinch of salt, and the last two thirds with cold water. Cold water is important, as gradual temperature increase physically draws out flavors in a slow, gentle manner. The water should come just to a simmer, not boiling. If the pot boils, your stock could come out cloudy. So leave your burner on the lowest setting, and go binge your favorite show. You can check on your cauldron between episodes, skimming off any foam or unwanted fat. When enough time has passed and flavor amassed, strain the liquid through a colander or chinois. You can put the liquid back on heat to reduce and make a concentrate.
Spices for a stock should be whole, and added once the water has come to a simmer. Black Peppercorns and Bay Leaves are often first choices for a soup stock. You can use whatever suits your taste or cuisine. Maybe a few Allspice Berries or a Star Anise pod? Spice Pro, Alex Wilkens, likes to use Whole Mace in his stock.
“A single piece of blade mace, the size of a quarter, yields an unmistakable warmth and depth, when added to a simmering stock pot with your other aromatics. This addition is all about nuance, distinct notes of nutmeg means you’ve gone overboard. Like any great secret ingredient, mace adds another dimension to homemade stock without giving away its identity.”
Alex makes a great point, and Bay Leaves work much the same way. Most people can’t tell when they’ve been used, but you can tell when they haven’t. Just use two or three bay leaves in your pot and you’ll be golden.
A few of the most popular herbs for soup stocks are Chervil, Sage, Parsley, and Thyme. We admit that fresh herbs are preferable, but we have blends worth making soupy exceptions for. Bouquet Garni and Pot Herbs are two French-inspired blends that stand up to long simmering. Bouquet Garni has a strong, hearty flavor that’s perfect for beef stews and beef bone broth. Pot Herbs is the graceful cousin that’s ready to cozy up to your chicken, vegetable, or seafood stock. A teaspoon per gallon of liquid is a modest measurement to start out with. (Particularly if the pot will simmer for hours.) Both of these blends can be used as aromatics in the stock, or later on when you make soup.
Ingredients are also up to your taste buds. Stock pots often consist of meat scraps, bones, vegetables, whole spices, and herbs. This is a great opportunity to use up leftovers. Next time you roast a whole chicken, save the carcass. It’s going in the pot. Beef bones, chicken or turkey necks, all make for delicious stock ingredients. The cartilage and collagen add flavor, texture, and nutrients to the stock. More often than not, you’ll want your bones to be cooked ahead of time. Roasting the bones first, and even your veggies, adds a richer flavor to the broth. Fish bones and crustacean shells, like shrimp, crab, or lobster, are good for making a seafood stock.
Vegetarians will be happy to know that mushrooms are some of the most flavorful stock ingredients. They are rich and meaty. Dried Mushrooms are particularly good as their flavor is concentrated. Shiitake Mushrooms are especially popular for ramen broths. The rehydrated mushrooms can be removed later to add into your soup or another dish. (Or eat them as a cook’s treat!)
The holy trinity of soup vegetables is mirepoix: carrots, onions, and celery. The carrots and onions are sweet, and the celery adds zest to level it out. Garlic is also a must. You can simply cut a whole bulb in half and toss it in, or smash one or two cloves for a milder flavor. Leeks, shallots, or spring onions can all be used for more of that allium goodness without the strength of garlic. A tomato or two can even be added, particularly sun-dried. Parsnips add a zestier carrot essence. If you like the vegetable’s flavor, try tossing it in the pot! Stock making is a rough cut operation, so just chop the veggies into a few pieces and toss ‘em in.
Alright, the moment is finally here. Your soup stock has been gently bubbling for 6-12 hours, and your stomach is simmering with appetite. It’s time to make some soup! For the next chapter, try browsing our collection of soup recipes. Nearly all of them call for a few cups of stock. If you find that making stock just isn’t your thing, or you don’t have the time, that’s okay! We carry an excellent line of stock concentrates. Soup’s on!
Geoff Marshall is Web Content Manager at the Spice House. He loves writing stories and recipes for the blog. When he’s not nose deep in one of Tom and Patty’s many spice encyclopedias, you’ll find him daydreaming of dinner prep or riding his bicycle.