By Leslie Kelly
January 08, 2015

Homemade stock adds unbeatable flavor, depth, and body to soup, stews, and braises. While it takes some time, meat-based stocks are easy to make from scratch, especially when following step-by-step directions in our most popular recipes. Here are tips for creating a stock with incredible character.

Homemade Chicken Stock
Photo by Meredith

1. Just add (Cold) Water

One of the world's most basic recipes, stock is simply bones and vegetables simmered slowly in lightly salted water. That process extracts flavor and healing collagen from bones, whether it's the carcass of a leftover roast chicken, prime rib or raw wings. As the water evaporates during cooking, the flavor continues to intensify. The longer it cooks, the more flavorful it becomes. Many recipes call for various herbs and aromatic vegetables, which are considered building blocks that create depth and complexity. Important: For the best stock, start by placing bones and/or vegetables into a stockpot or a slow cooker and add cold water. This ensures the stock heats slowly and evenly.

2. Bring on the Flavor Boosting Veggies

Many recipes call for various herbs and aromatic vegetables, which are considered building blocks that create depth and flavor. Remember, stock is meant to be fairly neutral in flavor, as it's going to be seasoned in finished dishes. That's what separates stocks from soups and the trendy bone broth. Stocks are the starting point, going on to become the best soups, sauces, finishing splash to a stir-fry or pasta saute you've ever tasted. Some recipes call for adding vegetables and herbs after the stock has been skimmed. (See No. 7.) Waiting a bit means the vegetables retain their vibrant quality.

The most traditional additions to most basic meat-based stocks:

  • Chopped onions
  • Chopped celery
  • Chopped carrots
  • Garlic cloves
  • Leeks
  • Parsley (the greens, and the stems)
  • Bay leaves
  • Thyme
  • Whole peppercorns (add only in the final 30 minutes of cooking)
  • Salt

3. Focus on the Bones

Many cooks make the mistake of cooking a whole chicken when making stock. It's essential to recognize that the flavor from stock is derived from the bones, not from the meat on the bones. When using a whole chicken, you could simmer the bird for 30 minutes, remove it from the stock and remove the meat from the bones before returning it to the stockpot to simmer for another 30 to 60 minutes.

102605163 roasted bones for better stock photo by Meredith Publishing
Photo by Meredith Publishing

4. Roast Ingredients For More Complexity

Classic beef stock begins by slowly roasting bones, a process that caramelizes the bones, while the same principle works for vegetables. When roasting chicken, add a few extra carrots and halved onions to the pan. Veggies browned alongside or even underneath chicken adds color and character to simple stocks.

5. Use Stock as an Alternative Cooking Liquid

Professionals have long used this genius trick for creating ultra-tasty stock: Simmer bones in already finished stock instead of water. This technique has roots in classic French cuisine, but time-crunched home cooks often use commercial stocks or bouillon cubes to duplicate the results. When simmering bones in finished stock, do not use additional salt.

102679805 vegetables for stocks photo by Meredith Publishing
Photo by Meredith Publishing

6. Add a Splash of Umami

The so-called Fifth Flavor (joining salty, sweet, sour and bitter) is the savory taste that's hard for most palates to identify, which is why it's often described as "deliciousness." Achieve magical umami-ness by adding a couple of dashes of fish sauce to stock in the last 10 minutes of cooking.

7. Skimming is a Must

As the stock comes to its initial boil, use a slotted spoon to remove the foam that floats to the top. That's excess protein, fat and bits of bone. This step ensures a clear, clean stock with a more intense, concentrated flavor.

8. Strain Stock

When stock is finished simmering, strain it through a colander lined with cheesecloth or a clean tea towel. Adding the extra layer in the straining process further removes impurities. It's the bookend to the skimming process, leaving cooks with stocks that have a brilliant finish.

9. Chill Out

Once stock has been strained, it's essential to cool it quickly so no harmful bacteria forms. Take a cue from the professionals, who place strained stock in a bowl and place that bowl in an ice bath, stirring the stock until the temp drops to 40 degrees F. Then, the finished stock can be refrigerated for at least four hours, or overnight, until a layer of fat forms on top. That fat can be skimmed off (and reserved for later use, depending on recipe instructions), and the stock is ready for use.

10. Store Stock Properly

To maintain the full flavor of the slow-simmered stock, store any stock that's not destined for a recipe in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. Stock can also be frozen for up to three to six months, either in an airtight container, or in ice cube trays. Once the stock is frozen, remove from the ice cube trays and store in resealable plastic bags. Those cubes of frozen stock are handy for adding extra flavor to sautes, stir-fries or sauces.

Try These Tips Using These Recipes:

Watch this short video on making stock with leftovers from Roast Chicken: