EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to “In & Out of the Kitchen,” a locally written, wide-ranging column about cooking, eating and buying food. Today's topic: Instead of opening a can of stock for soup, why not make your own?
Several years ago, The Gazette had a soup contest. Readers sent in their favorite soup recipes, and a handful of reporters and editors read them all, chose those that looked best and, after cooking and tasting the finalists’ entries, a winner was chosen.
I have no recollection of what the winning soup was. But I did save several of the finalists’ recipes, and still consult some when I’m making soup.
Consult, I said. Most soups don’t require specific recipes and I tend to think of soup cookbooks and soup recipes as places to start. I look for ideas, maybe combinations of flavors, then look at what I have on hand.
That’s the beauty of soup.
The other thing I remember about the soup contest is how many of the hundreds of entries began with “Open a can of chicken stock.”
This made one judge particularly outraged. “A can of stock? What’s that about? A soup recipe should start with making broth! Doesn’t anyone make their own soup stock?”
“How do you make stock?” I asked him.
He didn’t. But he was pretty sure his wife did.
I make stock. It’s easy, and it’s essentially free. And it’s way better than anything you can get in a can.
In case you don’t already know how, here’s a quick primer.
To make chicken stock, or broth, save your bones. If you’re roasting a whole chicken (or turkey, for that matter) just save the carcass for your soup starter. If you’re eating a smaller amount — cooking for one or two, say — or you don’t feel like making stock right away, put your bones in a bag in the freezer. When you have enough (bones or time) get started.
Put the bones in a large pot, and cover with water. Then mine your fridge or pantry: an onion, a carrot, the leafy ends of celery you don’t eat anyway, some garlic — basically any nonstarch vegetable you have on hand. Add salt or not — your choice.
Bring it to a boil, then simmer for an hour or two. Strain and cool. Skim the fat off the top. That’s it. Soup stock. You can use it right away, or measure and freeze it so it’s handy any time you have a recipe that begins “Open a can of chicken stock.”
Another quick way to get an excellent, rich stock is to simply drain off the liquid that collects when you roast a chicken (or turkey). Pour it into a bowl or pot, chill it, skim off the fat, and use or freeze the drippings.
They’ll be gelatinous — the sign of a really good stock.
Vegetarian? You can make stock too. Save your peelings, and those leafy tops of celery, ends of onions and carrots. You can throw those in the freezer too, collecting them until you have enough to maybe quarter-fill a pot. Add water till the pot’s three-quarters full and boil, then simmer.
Adding lots of garlic, an onion, a carrot can’t hurt.
It’s not science. It’s soup.