So you hear it all the time, from chefs on TV, from cookbooks — even from this blog: make your own stock. And I think you’ll find that most of us serious cooks love making our own stock, and often keep a stash of scraps in the freezer just to add to the pot. Roast a chicken? Save the carcass for stock. Steak bones? Stock. Supermarket puts chicken backs/soup bones/beef necks on sale? Stock, stock, stock.
But let’s face it — you aren’t going to make stock every time, and you aren’t going to always have some delicious stock chilling in your fridge or freezer. We’re all busy, and we all have to eat, which means you’re going to head down to the soup aisle and take the quick and easy way out: pre-packaged stock or broth. Don’t worry, you’re in a happy place here — store bought stock isn’t the end of the world, but buying it at the store isn’t the end of your process, either.
So you’ve got your store bought chicken, beef, or vegetable stock and you’re going to just toss it into your recipe. Stop, take a deep breath, and follow a few simple tricks to get that thin stuff up to scratch. Your soups, braises, and other dishes will thank you. Here’s some tips for doctoring the pre-made stuff and turning it into something almost as good as homemade.
Doctoring store bought stock
- Celery and/or leeks
- Red or White wine
- Tomato paste
- Any and all scraps you might have
The secret to spiffing up your stock is to think of the store bought stuff as a base and then using it as a starting point for a quick-and-dirty stock-making session. When you do stock from scratch, you’re boiling down bones, meat scraps, herbs, and aromatics to produce a velvety, rich liquid that adds tons of flavor to thousands of recipes. You can still get a lot of that homemade taste into something from the store by simmering your packaged stock with these things. To add sharpness, toss in some celery or leeks; to add sweetness, toss in sliced carrots (the baby carrots you bought for your kid’s lunch are fine); for complexity, use diced onions and garlic. Wine is a common additive to finished stocks, so pour some in your pot — you’ll be shocked at how much depth a cup or so of wine will add to the finished product. Toss in a few peppercorns, and cheat things up even further by stirring in a spoonful of tomato paste. Alternatively, mix your tomato paste with your vegetables and roast them in a 400 degree oven for half an hour, then simmer your store stock with the caramelized results. And of course, if you do have a few scraps around, go ahead and toss them in — just add a cup or so of water. Herbs like bay leaf and thyme are also wonderful to toss in.
The result will be something far greater than pre-made stuff straight from the package. Simmer your stock and other ingredients until it reduces by about a third, then strain it off and discard your vegetables — you’re ready to cook. This process takes a little longer, but it’s quicker than making a pot of stock from scratch, and certainly makes your recipes taste better. Happy cooking!