The Crisper Whisperer: 5 Principles of Vegetable Stock (and Why You Should Care)

Crisper Whisperer

Cook through your crisper surplus with ease.

You may know Carolyn Cope as Umami Girl. She stops by on Tuesdays with ideas on preparing the abundance of fruits and vegetables you might get from your CSA or the market. —The Mgmt.


[Photograph: Carolyn Cope]

You've heard it a million times, but it bears repeating. There's nothing like a homemade stock. Whenever I find the time and money to simmer a turkey carcass or a couple of whole chickens with some vegetables and herbs for a few hours, I'm always glad I did.

But I'm also the first to admit to keeping a stash of boxed chicken broth in the pantry. For pureed soups, grain dishes, braises, and once in a while even broth-based soups (gasp!), sometimes you don't have the luxury of reversing time and spending last Sunday afternoon tending the stockpot instead of going about the rest of your life.

The thing is, there's a happy medium between homemade poultry stocks and the boxed stuff. I sometimes forget about it myself, despite the whole Crisper Whisperer thing, but homemade vegetable stock solves several problems at once: it helps use up your vegetable scraps and slightly past-peak produce, it's economical, it's flexible, it's quicker to make than most poultry stocks, and it can taste really, really good. Of course, it's vegetarian, too—but that's not the only reason to use it.

You really don't need a recipe to produce good vegetable stock. You can use whole vegetables cut into chunks or the peelings and scraps that you've saved in a bag in the freezer as you've cooked other meals. Follow these five principles, and you'll get a good-tasting, full-bodied stock in about an hour.

1. Use approximately equal proportions of vegetables and water.

Don't obsess over it, but a ratio of about 1:1 vegetables to water will yield a stock with a nice amount of flavor and body. Filling a pot halfway with vegetables and covering them with a couple of inches of water works nicely, too.

2. Onions, leeks, garlic, and herbs are your friends.

These guys impart lots of good taste and some sweetness. Celery and carrots are high on the list of good ideas, too.

3. Tomatoes, asparagus, and cabbage aren't exactly demure.

Use tomatoes and asparagus in small quantities unless you want tomato or asparagus stock. Some people avoid cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables altogether when making stock.

4. Use potatoes or potato peelings to add body.

A couple of potatoes or some potato peelings added to your pot will add voluptuousness—and who doesn't like voluptuousness, really?

5. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour.

Simmer for a shorter time, and your stock will lack flavor. Simmer much longer, and it may not taste as fresh. After an hour, strain your stock through a fine-mesh strainer and use as you would (or wouldn't) chicken stock.

What about you, Serious Eaters? Do you ever make homemade vegetable stock? Do you use scraps, whole vegetables, or a combination? And what types of recipes do you use it in?