How To Make Stock Without Going Insane
This audio opener features me asking Mark and cookbook guru, Kerri Conan, how often they make stock, what they use it for, and advice for people who have never made it. I learned so much; I hope you do too. Read on for a few highlights. — Melissa
Mark: The best chicken stock you can make without going insane is… you make a good chicken stock with a high proportion of meat....and a high proportion of vegetables, mostly carrots, garlic celery, onions, that kind of thing. Then you add fresh vegetables to it, and that is the best. THAT is the best. It is so good.
Kerri: That’s the kind of soup we usually make is some kind of vegetable soup with the chicken stock. I also make bean broth: I save bean broth in the fridge and if I don’t use it, I freeze it. The only vegetables I don’t use are bell pepper, cabbage, turnips, you know, really strong-tasting things that can go bitter. Otherwise, I love fennel, carrots, fennel fronds. But my favorite stock is beef stock with roasted bones and lots of marrow….
Melissa: I’m intimidated about making beef stock, all the roasting of the bones beforehand...
Mark: I would say roasting is optional: It is really great, but if you get beef shin...and just cook that in a pressure cooker for an hour, it’s unbelievable. It’s a really, really good stock. And that meat, mixed with tomatoes, and a little bit of that stock, makes the best pasta sauce.
Melissa: What advice do you have for people who are just starting to make their own stock?
Kerri: I would say, just do it. You really can’t ruin it. Just throw everything in a pot...and let it boil and then simmer for 1 or 2 hours and strain it and you’re done. To store it, I pour it in big Ziploc bags and I freeze them on trays so they freeze flat and then I stack them. It saves room....
Mark: ...If you’ve never made stock, I would take a whole chicken and gently poach it with some vegetables until it’s done. And then I would use the chicken for one thing and call the rest of it stock. And I think that will encourage you to become a stock maker.
Finding Inspiration in the Kitchen
Back in 2013, when The Gramercy Tavern cookbook came out, it was the tail end of the period when a handful of people with money to spend were charmed by chefs, going out to dinner, and planning trips based around going out to dinner. (A year into the pandemic, 2013 seems like ancient history.) I didn’t have a particular connection to the NYC restaurant, but I was smitten with the book when I noticed Danny Meyer’s head chef and co-author, Michael Anthony, sectioned it by season.
In the spring section, there’s a photo that I love of perfectly crisp chicken wings layered in a stockpot anchored with celery, onions, carrots, and thyme. To the left, there’s a sidebar photo of verdant spring things he’d add to the stock eventually — fiddleheads and peas, sugar snaps and spring garlic — for the most straightforward of recipes, titled Chicken Soup with Spring Vegetables.
Who wouldn’t want to pair the bar-food favorite, chicken wings, with the sweetness of spring? I wasn’t focused on the entire recipe, as much as the stock — the hue of it, an almost rosy brown. “The soup is astounding to behold, with its abundance of vibrant vegetables in a rich broth,” reads the headnote — with browned chicken wings the secret to rich stock. I made this stock again and again and again and it has become a foundation for how I make chicken stock.
Fast forward to now, when my sources of inspiration are less precious. But I’m still in search of how to make stock delicious.
My current go-to is the variation on the chicken stock from Andrea Nguyen that’s the base for her chicken pho. It’s easy enough on the stove or in an Instant Pot, and I’ve made it so often I could do it in my sleep. But it took me a while to land on the recipe. “Why aren’t you using the one from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen?” a fellow food writer asked me. When you roast onion and ginger to the point of caramelization and ensure you’re cracking bones with a cleaver to add depth of flavor, you will surely end up with an outstanding stock.
That depth of flavor and body is something I'm into these days. Over on Instagram, I have identified my next chicken stock project, inspired by my friend Juliet’s version that’s glossy and near neon yellow. You can see that it has a ton of body, even in photos.
Sure, she saves her carcasses and makes certain she has plenty of backs and necks (the equivalent of 3 to 4 carcasses or equivalent in backs). But her secret, she told me, is about a pound of chicken feet. She adds to it the “usual suspect” vegetables — and no additional salt. Once it reaches a boil on the stove, she transfers the pot to the oven, uncovered, for 4 hours at 325 degrees.
“It releases so much gelatin,” she says. (And, she noted, those feet sticking up can make your stock look a little spooky).
Once it’s done, she drains the stock through a regular colander and then through a fine-mesh sieve as it goes into containers. For freezing, cool it in the fridge and leave the fat cap on when you transfer it to the freezer. The layer protects it from freezer burn and acquiring any off or funny tastes, she said. You can discard it once you defrost the stock if you so choose.
Back to you, reader. Whether you’ve found inspiration for stock in a cookbook, or a Reddit thread, or a Bittman recipe, or an Instagram post, I implore you to bypass the boxed stock and harness that inspiration to make your own — it’s worth it. Not just for your soups (listen to the audio above), but really, anything that calls for stock.
One more aside: Ingredients matter. Mark recently told me, “Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] used to say, ‘The stockpot is not a garbage dump. You have to put great things in there to get great stock.’ Real meat, yes, of course with bones, but with meat and connective tissue. Vegetables, too, not just peelings, but whole vegetables.”
Whatever direction you go — if you want to start basic or incorporate a more involved recipe, we’re here to help. Drop a line in the comments or consider weighing in during Friday’s discussion on budget cooking — because thankfully, as rich and decadent as making stock can be, it's a fantastic way to use leftovers and save money.
Time: About 3-4 hours
Makes: 2 quarts of stock and 4 servings of chicken
This recipe is the stock for chicken soup with egg noodles in Dinner for Everyone. We took out the egg noodles to provide a great recipe for classic chicken stock.
A whole chicken, 3-4 pounds
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound chicken wings
1 onion cut in half
1 head garlic, cloves separated (don’t bother to peel)
1 bay leaf
2 large celery stalks
1 large carrot
6 fresh parsley sprigs
Salt and pepper
10 cups water
1/2 cup dry white wine or water
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the lower third. Put a large ovenproof skillet on the rack. While it heats, rub the outside of the chicken with 3 tablespoons of butter and lots of salt and pepper. When the pan is scorching hot, 10 or 15 minutes later, carefully put the chicken in breast side up. Roast, undisturbed, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads at least 155 degrees, or you cut into a thigh down to the bone and the juices run clear, 40 to 60 minutes, depending on the size of the bird.
2. Remove the pan from the oven; lift the bird to let any accumulated juices inside the bird spill into the pan, then transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Let it rest until it’s cool enough to handle. (Now is a good time to prepare vegetables.) Break apart the carcass and remove as much meat as you can from the bones, leaving the wings intact, reserving the bones, and discarding the skin.
3. Put the bones, wings, halved onion, garlic cloves, whole celery, bay leaves, and parsley sprigs in a large pot with 10 cups of water. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Put the skillet you used for roasting over medium heat and add the wine. Cook, stirring up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and pour the mixture into the large pot.
4. Reduce the heat so the liquid bubbles steadily and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reduces by an inch or so and the stock is fragrant, at least 1 hour. Strain into a heatproof bowl, pressing on the vegetables to extract as much liquid as possible; discard the solids. Skim some fat from the top if you’d like and taste and adjust the seasoning. At this point, you can cool the stock and refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for several months.
Time: 1 hour
Makes: 2 quarts
Vegetable stock is the easiest stock to make in that it doesn’t take a lot of time and effort. And if you’re using good vegetables, your stock will be all the better. Take this recipe a step further and roast the potatoes, carrots, celery, and onions first for more depth of flavor.
4 carrots, chopped
2 all-purpose potatoes
2 celery stalks
5-6 garlic cloves
A good-sized bunch of parsley
3 quarts of water
Salt and pepper
Fresh or dried mushrooms (optional)
1. Cut into chunks: 4 carrots, 2 onions (don’t bother to peel), 2 all-purpose potatoes, and 2 celery stalks. Put them in a pot with 5 or 6 garlic cloves, a good-sized bunch of parsley, 3 quarts of water, and some salt and pepper. (Add tomatoes or fresh or dried mushrooms if you like.) Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently.
2. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing on the vegetables to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 6 months.