January is National Soup Month

Making your own soup stock is an easy way to have delicious, nutritious soup all winter long.

If you haven’t been outside lately, it’s cold and wintery out there! What better time to hunker down in the kitchen and make a big batch of soup stock. It also coincides that January is National Soup Month. Although there are many convenient soup and stock products on the market today, making your own is really quite simple and often much healthier as many manufactured products are high in sodium. Then use your stock to make a delicious soup like chicken noodle or beef vegetable. Stock can also be used as a base for other sauces, risotto or to boil rice in for an enhanced and full flavor.

Stock can be made out of any type of meat, fish or vegetables. For a meat stock, choose a cut with the bone in, as bones provide nutrients, fat and flavor. If you’re using poultry, leave the bones in and the skin on. Although the skin adds fat, the amount of fat can be controlled later. The benefit of the skin is that it contains gelatin which is healthy for skin and joints, and also helps move food through the digestive system. For a darker, more robust stock use meat that has already been roasted, such as: Leftover meat and carcass from a rotisserie chicken, ham bone and fat leftover from a holiday dinner or beef knuckle bones with some stew meat. For a lighter stock, often enjoyed by more finicky eaters (kids), start with raw meat like chicken thighs or wings, or a soup-bone from the grocery store. Despite the term “meat stock,” vegetables should be included because they add great flavor and depth to your stock. Onions, carrots and celery are a good start but feel free to add whatever vegetables, cooked or raw, you have around. Don’t be afraid to leave onion skins or celery leafs on as they add more flavor and will be strained out later. Vegetable stocks are even simpler and more inexpensive than meat stocks. Use a variety of vegetables and change it up with what’s in season or on sale.

Once you’ve got your ingredients there are a few important things to remember:

  • Always start your stock with cold water. This causes slow heating and allows soluble proteins to come out of the meat. It also allows for fat to be skimmed off the top for a less-fatty stock.
  • Simmer, don’t boil. Bring your liquid to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Boiling will break down the ingredients too quickly resulting in a cloudy stock.
  • Simmer your stock uncovered so it will cook down and concentrate flavors.
  • Don’t forget to add herbs and spices. Rosemary, thyme and oregano are great additions to any stock. For a lighter, vibrant stock try adding cilantro and lemon juice. For a slightly spicy stock add a little curry powder and black pepper. Instead of table salt try tamari or soy sauce to add saltiness. Always add these ingredients at the end of cooking as their flavors are decreased the longer they are cooked.
  • Taste, taste, taste! Once the meat (if added raw) is fully cooked, make sure to taste your stock. Make and flavor additions, and taste again until you think it is complete. Always use a clean utensil when tasting to prevent contaminating the whole pot.
  • When cooking is complete strain the stock and either use it right away or cool it, then freeze it in quart containers for later use. Michigan State University Extension recommends using frozen stock within three months of freezing for best quality.

Once you’ve got a stock made you will have a good base prepared for any soup. Try adding leftover chicken breast, carrots and noodles to chicken stock for a hearty homemade chicken soup. Or if you’re cramped for time but need a quick dinner your kids will love, add cooked ramen noodles and frozen peas to your homemade beef or vegetable stock for a healthier version of a common favorite. The sky is the limit – don’t be afraid to experiment.

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