I can’t recall when I started making soup stocks. All I know for sure is that vegetable stock and shrimp stock have long been staples in my freezer. The pair meets most needs, but I keep a lighter Corncob Stock and heavier mushroom stock on hand when growing season and freezer space allow.
Like salad dressings, stocks are easy to make and adapt. They’re also powerful: Replace water with stock when preparing soup, a sauce, or even plain rice, and you instantly elevate your dish to the next level. But stocks can be too powerful: Store-bought stocks are often too intensely flavored and too highly salted. By making your own, you can control everything from content to salt ratio to storage size. They can be made with whole vegetables, but they’re equally tasty from the trimmings off another meal. You don’t really need a recipe, but a few techniques can help.
2 small onions
2 celery ribs
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons fresh or 2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon fresh or 1/3 teaspoon dried dill leaves
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
3/4 teaspoon peppercorns
1 bay leaf
Make sure the vegetables are clean, but don’t peel them: Scrub any dirt from the potatoes and carrots, and clean the mushrooms gently with a damp brush or paper towel. Cut the potatoes and onions in quarters; cut the carrots, celery ribs and lemon in half.
Add the prepared vegetables and lemons, unpeeled garlic, and herbs and spices to a large stockpot (about 10 quarts). Fill the pot with water to within about 2 inches of the rim. Bring to just below a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 60 minutes. Use a spider or large slotted spoon to pull the vegetables from the stock, and then strain through a colander lined with cheesecloth to remove the remaining solids. Let cool before dividing into containers, bags, and/or cubes and freezing. Makes 6–8 quarts, depending on the size of your stockpot.
Tips & Tricks
- Although this stock calls for specific whole vegetables, you can make it using whatever vegetables and flavorings you have on hand. Onions or leeks, celery, and carrots are typical base ingredients for a soup, but you can add or skip other vegetables or use even seafood or meat trimmings (see below) as desired. Peelings from another meal work too.
- I tend to make stock in a 10-quart stockpot so that I can freeze it in various containers for later use. If you’re using a smaller pot, you may want fewer vegetables or just less water. If you just want enough for a specific recipe, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- Clearer stock means better flavor. I find it easiest to pull out the large pieces before I try to pour it through a strainer. Most of these I add to my compost, but I set the stock-infused potatoes aside; they pan-fry or oven-roast beautifully for breakfast or dinner.
- This recipe makes a fairly light stock, which I find highly versatile: I use it when steaming rice, making a cream sauce, or preparing a marinade. For a stronger flavor in the stock, put a bit of oil in the pot first, roughly chop the vegetables and garlic, and cook over low heat until caramelized. Then add the remaining herbs and water.
Twice as Tasty
I think I started making shrimp stock after a trip to New Orleans more than 15 years ago; while there, I picked up a copy of a 1935 cookbook and began peeling shrimp to make into quick stock for etouffée. Now I only buy raw shrimp and save the shells in gallon zip-close bag in my freezer as I peel shrimp for various meals. When the bag is full, it’s stock time.
If you don’t buy raw, unpeeled shrimp straight from your store’s freezer section, you should. Unless you are pulling shrimp pots yourself, this is your best option. Most shrimp today is frozen on the boat and delivered in that state to your local area. If it’s sitting on ice behind the fish counter, it’s been defrosted for you and you’ll want to eat it straight away. If it’s been cooked for you, hopefully you’re sitting in a restaurant. Not only will raw, shell-on shrimp taste better in your home-cooked meal, but you’ll have the shells for your stock making.
2 cloves garlic
2 stalks celery
1-gallon bag frozen, uncooked shrimp shells (about 8 cups)
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup fresh or 3 tablespoons dried parsley
1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
3/4 teaspoon peppercorns
1–2 teaspoons coarse salt
Make sure the onions and garlic are clean, but don’t peel them. Cut the onions in quarters and the celery ribs and lemons in half.
Add the shrimp shells, vegetables, lemons, and herbs and spices to a large stockpot (about 10 quarts). Fill the pot with water to within about 2 inches of the rim. Bring to just below a simmer over medium heat and cook for 30 minutes. Use a spider or large slotted spoon to pull the largest items from the stock, and then strain through a colander lined with cheesecloth to remove the remaining solids. Let cool before dividing into containers, bags, and/or cubes and freezing. Makes 6–8 quarts, depending on the size of your stockpot.
Tips & Tricks
- You can add other vegetables to this stock, as you would for Vegetable Stock, but I prefer to let the shrimp flavor and herbs shine through.
- There’s no need to defrost the shrimp shells before you start; simply dump the bag’s contents into the pot and turn on the heat. Avoid letting the stock boil; it can affect the flavor.
- I use shrimp stock any time I’m making a seafood dish, such as shrimp etouffée, or am preparing a grain to go with a fish- or seafood-based meal.
- Other shells, like crab, and fish trimmings can be used in stock, but if you’ve cooked them first, you won’t get as much flavor from the scraps.