Making Stock at Home – Why You Should Do It and How to Make It Easy

Stock is one of the most basic of preparations which you can make in a kitchen. It’s what you get when you steep bones and/or vegetables in water for long enough to extract flavour, colour, texture and nutrients. It sounds pretty simple and, to be honest, it doesn’t need to be much more complicated than that.

Making stock was the very first bit of cooking we were taught in culinary school. Before we pulled out our first pot or pan, we were chopping mirepoix and rinsing bones to load up several massive stock kettles for producing stock. When we were done we would strain, bag and cool the stock that the previous class prepared. This remained a daily task throughout the entirety of our culinary fundamentals class. That’s just how basic and integral stock is in a kitchen.

So why should you make stock at home?

Good stock improves so many different recipes

Stock has a place in so many different recipes – braises, soups and stews are immediately improved when you replace the water with quality stock. A nicely glazed plate of pasta, a pan sauce, the perfect risotto – these all rely on great stock. Sure other cooking liquids like water, beer or even using a stock cube will do in a pinch. However, few compare in flavour or body to what you can get with well made stock. Stock cubes are convenient but are often very salty and have very little body. Not to mention nutritional value.

Stocks made with animal bones adds texture and body

Real chicken stock, or any stock made from animal bones contains high amounts of gelatin from all of the collagen present. This not only adds flavour and nutrition to the stock but gives it an incredible mouthfeel and texture. It leaves the sort of aftertaste that makes your mouth water and sticks your lips together slightly. Some of the finest french sauces and jus are based on reducing stock until it becomes thick and concentrated enough in flavour to use as a sauce. Such is the power of great stock. Vegetable stocks are also incredibly useful because of the flavour that they bring but they don’t have the same textural properties that you can get from a meat based stock.

Stocks make use of food you’d otherwise throw away

Vegetable scraps, as well as both cooked and raw animal bones, are waste products we amass throughout our time spent cooking in the kitchen. You could throw these out or you could turn them into something delicious. I’ll typically go through a whole chicken a week, I’ll either break it down into its separate parts and save the bones or roast it whole. Regardless, I’ll save the bones (yes, cooked bones still make for delicious stock as long as nobody was gnawing on them) and make stock when I’ve amassed enough. Often when I roast a chicken I’ll make a small batch of stock with the cooked bones and turn it into a noodle soup to enjoy with any leftover chicken the next day.

You don’t just get stock out of the deal

I’ll most often make stock out of chicken bones I collect from breaking down whole chickens or deboning chicken legs. I roast these before I turn them into stock to get more flavour out of them. This process also gives me a wonderful supply of roasted chicken fat which renders off from the bones. Collecting this is super simple, just remove the tray from the oven and pour into a container. This stuff is an incredibly delicious fat to cook with as well as being entirely free!

Roast chicken fat in a small pot

“Making stock sounds like a lot of work and I never have enough bones for a full recipe”

Neither do I to be honest. To get around this I keep a large, sealed container in my freezer and add any spare bones I have leftover to it. When the container is full I bring it out to thaw in the fridge overnight and the next day I’ll rinse off the bones and roast them well.

Rinsing the bones gets rid of any unwanted blood or organ pieces, making for a cleaner flavoured stock. Roasting them adds additional flavour and rendered fat but isn’t necessary if you prefer a more neutrally flavoured stock.

Once I have these roasted bones, all I need to do is place them in a pot with some water and aromatics and simmer them for a few hours and strain. Simple, quick stock at home.

Something that puts people off stock making is how tedious it can be. In restaurant kitchens stocks are meticulously skimmed of any protein scum and degreased of any fat that pools at the surface of the stock. At home I never bother with either of these steps. If I simmer gently enough, the coagulated proteins can be strained off easily through a strainer. When I strain and chill my stock, the fat readily separates from the stock and is easier to remove.

Turn your stock into homemade stock cubes

I’ll pretty much always do this to save space and have quick access to small portions of strongly flavoured stock whenever I need it.

This is a lot easier than it sounds. Once the stock is strained and has been degreased of any fat, I’ll return it to a clean pot and reduce it over medium heat. I’ll typically let the stock reduce down to the point where it’s about 1/8th of its initial volume. At this point I’ll strain it again through a fine meshed strainer and pour it into ice cube trays.

By reducing the volume of the stock, we have both concentrated it’s flavour and also allowed it to take considerably less space. Once these set nicely in their ice cube trays, pop them out and store in an airtight container in the freezer. In this way every time you want to use stock you can either add it in the form of these handy cubes or alternatively, just dilute them in warm water to bring them back to their original volume and flavour.

Vegetables and aromatics for stock

Ingredient choices

You don’t need to be fussy about the kinds of bones you add. Make the stock with whatever bones you’ve collected and combine them for your very own “house stock”. If you have large pieces of bone try to break them down a little bit before cooking. If you have a whole chicken carcass for example, snap or chop it into two or three pieces to offer more surface area for a better stock.

For the vegetable and aromatic portion your options are quite vast also. I would recommend against the use of very starchy vegetables as many of these won’t add much flavour and add unwanted starchiness to the stock. Common inclusions include onion, carrot, celery, leek, spring onion, tomato, mushroom, garlic and ginger. As well as herbs and spices such as thyme, rosemary, black peppercorns, bay leaves, parsley etc.

If you are cooking your stock for a short amount of time add smaller diced vegetables. If you are simmering for longer you have more time to extract the flavour and nutrients from your vegetables and can therefore cut larger pieces. A vegetable stock for example can be made in under 45 minutes and so I would recommend cutting your ingredients as small as possible. On the other hand, I usually cook my chicken stock for 3-4 hours total and cut my vegetables into rough 1 inch pieces.

I prefer peeling my vegetables to make sure they’re going in clean but many will not bother with this step and even make stocks out of their vegetable peelings. As long as they’re clean, go ahead.

In the same way that you collect your bones slowly over the course of several weeks by freezing them, you can hold on to usable vegetable scraps in a separate container. The knobbly tops and tails from onions, carrot and celery all make fantastic additions to the stock pot.

To follow is my go-to recipe for stock making at home, truthfully I rarely weigh anything out and only loosely time my stock production. This doesn’t need to be fussy. This is the sort of cooking I’ll do on a lazy Sunday. I’ll get my stock going first thing so I can lazily enjoy my morning coffee on the sofa with lovely background aromas of roast chicken.

Roast Chicken Stock

Cooking duration
20 minutes active
4-5 hours passive

Makes roughly 2 liters of stock

2-3kg chicken bones and scraps
4 liters water
3 large onions, roughly chopped
3 large carrots, roughly chopped
4-5 ribs of celery, roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped
8 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves
1 head of garlic, cut in half
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1. Begin by placing the chicken bones and scraps into a large container and rinsing well with several changes of water until it begins to run clear.

2. Drain your bones and lay them onto 2 baking trays. The bones will shrink during cooking so it’s ok if they are crammed side by side as long as they are not stacked on top of each other. If they don’t fit neatly, roast in batches.

3. Place into an oven set to 250C and roast for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown, rotate the chicken pieces with a pair of tongs and place back in the oven for another 10 minutes to finish browning. Omit the roasting step to make a milder flavoured, white chicken stock instead.

4. Once the chicken is done browning, carefully drain the residual chicken fat into a heat proof container or jar. Reserve for other applications.

5. Place the bones into a large pot and top with 4 litres of water. Bring up to the boil and then reduce to a low simmer.

6. To roughly chop your vegetables, peel the carrots and onions and cut into 1 inch pieces. For the leek, cut the green part in half and rinse well to remove any sand. Add these to the stock pot as well as any aromatics and stir to submerge. The vegetables floating above your stock will not do much to add flavour.

7. Continue to simmer for a total of 2-4 hours. The longer the cooking, the more chicken flavour and more gelatin you’ll extract. Turn off the heat and strain through a colander to remove any larger pieces of bone etc. Strain through a fine meshed strainer for a beautiful clear stock. Allow to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate.

8. Once chilled, remove and separate the layer of fat that comes to the top and reserve for other cooking applications.

For reduced stock and stock cubes

1. Place your chicken stock back onto the stove and turn the heat to medium. Continue to cook until reduced to roughly 1/8th of its original volume.

2. Pour into ice cube trays and cool overnight until frozen.

3. Pop the stock cubes out of their trays and place into an airtight container. Next time you need more flavour in your broth, a killer risotto or a fabulous sauce in a hurry, look no further!

Frozen chicken stock

Hungry for more chef secrets?

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