Friday, February 20, 2009

Soup 101: Broth Basics

Making your own broth is the first step toward quality homemade soups. Many people turn to canned varieties, bullions and pastes instead of making the real thing. Although you can still turn out a decent end result with those convenience products, there is no denying the superior quality of homemade.

Homemade broth can be made from leftover bits, thereby being almost free to make. It does require time and storage, so planning is necessary. And you have the advantage of knowing exactly what's in your homemade broths--convenience products contain a number of unpronounceable ingredients. Who needs that?

Poultry Broths

Bones from a turkey or rotisserie chicken are the perfect beginnings to broth. But even if you don't have the whole bird's bones, you can use the bones that you do have--a breast and leg bone, wing tips, pieces of skin that you removed, and uneaten leftover pieces. Even the neck is good for broth. Keep a container in the freezer in which to store these tasty tidbits for future use. When it's full, you know it's time to make soup.

Too many bones? A recent 22-pound turkey carcass was too big for my largest pot. No worries--I broke it apart and used half, and stored the rest for another batch.

Simple turkey or chicken broth

Place bones & bits in your biggest pot or slow cooker. Add 1 or 2 small onions that you've trimmed but not peeled (for color) and cut in half, along with 2 or 3 small (about 2") pieces of celery, 5 or so baby carrots (or 1 regular carrot, cut into chunks) and water to cover, or nearly cover. Add 1 or 2 teaspoons of salt and several grinds/shakes of black pepper. Err on the side of caution when seasoning--there's plenty of time to add more salt and pepper.

If you're doing this on the stove, cover pot and place over a medium flame and bring to a boil; reduce to lowest flame to simmer, covered, for 2 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Or you could transfer your oven-safe soup pot to a preheated 250*F oven for gentle cooking without stove-top tending.

If using a slow cooker, set it to low for 8 hours, or high for 4 hours.

About half-way through your cooking time, taste your broth. Does it need salt? Pepper? Adjust seasoning now.

Some recipes will encourage you to add herbs or spices. Unless I'm making a broth that will be served immediately, I avoid this. Making broth for future soups allows me to make a reduced-salt version that I will flavor later on. You don't want to leave salt out entirely, however. The flavor just isn't very good, and requires a lot more salt later on than if you slowly season throughout the process.

After your cooking time is over, remove from heat and allow to cool for about 30 minutes. Taste again and adjust seasoning if needed.

Place your biggest colander in your largest bowl and ladle in your broth. Assuming there's no usable meat, discard all solids collected in the colander. Otherwise, set solids aside to cool completely before harvesting usable meat. Discard all remaining bits, such as bones, cartilage and vegetables.

Strain broth again through a fine wire mesh lined with cheesecloth to remove any grainy bits. Pour broth into a large container and refrigerate overnight to allow fat to rise to the top and solidify. Remove fat layer. Fat may be discarded or refrigerated for future use. (Some people like to use fat for flavoring. This is a personal choice--no judgment here!)

Now that your broth is defatted, you can store it in bags or containers based on your usual use. If you will be using your broth for soupmaking, larger batches of 1 or 2 quarts will work best for most recipes; if you also plan to use broth for sauces & gravies, make some broth ice cubes and some one-cup portions, as well.

Meat Broths

Meat broths are made exactly the same way as their poultry counterparts. You can use raw or previously cooked bones. If you get bones from your butcher, roasting them in the oven before boiling will yield a richer broth.

And again, save bones from roasts and steaks for future soupmaking. Ham bones make especially delicious broth, but can also be a bit overwhelming. It's great for bean soups and for adding in small amounts to enrich other broths. Lamb shank bones make fabulous broth, as well.

Follow the same poultry broth recipe, substituting your meat bones.

Vegetable Broths

I've made perhaps two vegetable broths in my life. Never a vegetarian, I generally start even veggie-based soups with poultry broth.

Nevertheless, the basics are the same: save your leftover veggie bits. Even trimmed ends from green beans and potato peels will add to the flavor of your broth. Use whatever vegetables you like, along with onions, celery and carrots. Those really are a must. Go easy on stronger veggies such as broccoli and cabbage, because they'll steal the show. Herbs and spices, too, can quickly overwhelm your broth; as with salt and pepper, you can always season it more later.

And don't bother peeling or chopping your veggies--you want to harvest as many vitamins and as much flavor as possible from all usable bits.

Here I'll refer you to a great vegetable broth primer at Cafe Fernando's blog. I couldn't have said it better.

Saving Your Mistakes

Even under-seasoned broths are usable--just bring them back to a simmer with more salt and pepper and desired herbs or, in a real pinch, a wee bit of bullion paste (use caution and taste as you go).

Overseasoned broth can be thinned with water or more, less seasoned broth. Don't throw it away--use it. Remember, by using bones and leftover bits from other meals, this stuff really is almost free to make, so even if you have a failed batch you haven't lost anything but time. Practice makes perfect!

I Want Your Bones

My friends and family know that I'm a soup freak and often call me to pick up their ham bones and poultry carcasses. What's even less expensive than using your own leftovers for soup? Getting them from someone else. Oh, yeah!

Soup's On!

Now that you have some yummy, homemade broth, you're ready to use it in any number of soup recipes that capture your fancy.

Next Time on Soup 101

Oh yes, there's more! In my next post I'll discuss some tricks for giving your homemade broth extra oomph and some cheater tips that'll cause your peeps to bow to your soupmaking prowess.


Sam said...

Great post Amanda!

I always make stock after I've roasted a chicken, if I don't need it at the time I freeze it for later.

Amanda said...

Thanks, Sam. That's great--there's nothing like good, homemade stock!

LinkWithin Related Stories Widget for Blogs