Soup weather is upon us and it’s easier to make than you’d think. Even the simplest vegetable stock — an onion, a carrot, a celery stalk, a few other scraps, cooked together for 20 minutes — can make a difference in most soups. And a grand, full-flavored chicken, meat, or fish stock is good enough to serve on its own. In fact, bone broths so popular right now are nothing more than stock cooked for hours — and sold at quite a markup.
With planning, stock need not be expensive: It’s easy enough to start with bits of vegetables that you’ve frozen and saved over the course of weeks, the trimmings and ends from aromatics, and herb stems. Just avoid strong tasting vegetables like broccoli and asparagus, and bitter ones like eggplant and bell pepper.
Beyond vegetables, the meaty raw bones of a single chicken, combined with a few vegetables, provide enough flavor for a pot of stock. Same thing with seafood in the shell, whole fish, or any other meat on the bone. Figure about a pound of bits and pieces per quart. So if you keep containers going in the freezer, you can use just about every butchering scrap except fat, chicken skin, and fish gills and innards.
Anything you like to eat whole might be considered a candidate for the stock pot: a mild or hot fresh chile, a few cloves of garlic, which will become quite mellow; some dried mushrooms (almost always appropriate); herbs or herb trimmings. You know what you like. Use these recipes as a guide as opposed to a formula.
Makes about 12 cups
Time: About 1 hour, somewhat unattended
Making good vegetable stock takes a little work: You really should cut the vegetables into small pieces and brown them at least a bit. You can do without these steps, but the flavor won’t be the same. I also add mushrooms and soy sauce, which make a big difference. Despite all of this, preparation and cooking take less than an hour.
4 large carrots, sliced
2 large onions, chopped (don’t bother to peel)
1 large potato, sliced
2 celery stalks, chopped
5 or 6 cloves garlic (don’t bother to peel)
10 to 20 medium button mushrooms, trimmed and halved or sliced
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
10 or 20 fresh parsley stems or stems and leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
Combine all the ingredients and add 14 cups water and some pepper. Bring to a boil and adjust the heat so the mixture simmers steadily but gently and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender. (Longer is better if you have the time.)
Cool slightly, then strain, pressing on the vegetables to extract as much juice as possible. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to five days or freeze for up to three months.
Clear Vegetable Stock. Substitute 3 medium parsnips, peeled and chopped, for the potato.
Mushroom Stock. Use 1 carrot, 2 pounds mushrooms, and add 2 ounces dried shiitake, porcini, or a combination.
Quickest Chicken Stock
Makes about 12 cups
Time: 40 to 60 minutes
This stock takes less than an hour to make, has clear, clean flavor, and gives you a whole cooked (not overcooked) chicken, for salad or any other use.
One 3- to 4-pound chicken
1 large onion, roughly chopped (don’t bother to peel)
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
Several sprigs fresh parsley (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the chicken up if you like; it will speed cooking. Combine all the ingredients in a large pot with 14 cups water and turn the heat to high.
Bring just about to a boil, then lower the heat so the mixture sends up a few bubbles at a time. Cook, skimming any foam that accumulates, until the chicken is done, 30 to 60 minutes (depending on the size of the chicken and whether it’s cut up).
Cool slightly, then strain, pressing on the meat and solids to extract more juice. Remove the chicken from the solids and use in another recipe; discard the remaining solids. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Use the stock immediately or refrigerate (skim off any hardened fat from the surface) and use within three days or freeze for up to three months.
Mark Bittman is the author of more than 20 acclaimed books, including the “How to Cook Everything” series. He wrote for The New York Times for more than two decades, and became the country’s first food-focused op-ed columnist for a major news publication. He has hosted two television series and been featured in two others, including the Emmy-winning “Years of Living Dangerously.” Bittman is currently the special adviser on food policy at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and the editor-in-chief of Heated.