If you want to add more flavor to your meatless cooking, a good vegetable stock will help.
But I bet you didn’t realize that it is a controversial brew.
Not in the news-generating, social-media frenzied sense.
More in the nit-picky, grammary sense.
The issue revolves around whether anything made without animal bones can truly be called a ‘stock’. Some assert that what many of us call vegetable stock should in fact be called vegetable broth.
Well – I won’t keep you hanging.
There’s no definitive answer. Call it what you will.
I’ll call it stock because like its chicken and beef-based counterparts, it is used as base and backdrop for many dishes. It’s made to be part of something else, rather than enjoyed on its own.
There are lots of commercially available vegetable stocks and powders to choose from in the grocery aisle, and having these on hand is certainly convenient. They can often have too much of a particular flavor and are often too salty, however, and this can have a big impact on the success of your recipes.
Making your own vegetable stock is not difficult, and can give you more control over the outcome of your cooking.
In cooking school, stock is one of the first things students learn to make because it is so important for culinary success. The emphasis is mainly on foundational beef and chicken stocks, but many of the principles apply to developing a good vegetable stock.
5 Key Tips for Making a Good Vegetable Stock
Start with equal amounts of onions, carrots and celery.
These three vegetables form the base of all French-style stocks. Cut them into roughly 1/2 – 1-inch / 1.25 – 2.5 cm pieces. This creates more exposed surface area during cooking, which enables better extraction of flavor from the vegetables.
Use approximately a 1/4 – 1/3 vegetables to water ratio.
Too few vegetables in too much water will create a watery stock with little flavor. Use a good proportion of vegetables to ensure your stock has enough taste. For 16 cups / 4 liters of water, 4 – 6 cups/ 1 – 1.5 liters of chopped vegetables should be sufficient.
Don’t add salt at the start.
Salt is a critical seasoning in cooking, but keep it out of your stock until the very end. Remember, stock is used as a base for other dishes so it should be neutral. The stock will also reduce in volume as it cooks, concentrating the flavor and degree of saltiness if salt is added.
You should add aromatics like peppercorns, bay leaves and other fresh (or whole dried) herbs at the start.
Simmer, don’t boil.
Stock shouldn’t be boiled. You need to bring it to the boiling point, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Boiling creates large bubbles that break over the surface of the liquid. A simmer creates a constant stream of small bubbles around the edges of the pot, with a few across the surface of the stock.
Vegetable stock only needs to cook for a maximum of 45 minutes. Any longer than that and your stock will taste tired and overcooked.
Additional Tips for Adding Body and Flavor to Vegetable Stock:
Sweat your vegetables.
When you sweat vegetables, you cook them over a med-low to low heat in a bit of oil until the vegetables soften and begin to release some of their liquid. This helps develop more flavor in your stock. When you are sweating vegetables, you need to keep the temperature low so that they do not brown.
Add soy sauce.
Add soy sauce while you are sweating your vegetables to further boost the flavor of your stock. This will also deepen the color.
Soy sauce is salty, but a couple of tablespoons will not make your stock overly salty, and it will not make it taste like soy sauce.
Because chicken and beef stocks are made with bones, they develop a slightly jelly-like consistency. Gelatin is leached from the bones during cooking and gives the stocks a thickness that is valuable in soups, sauces and other dishes. Vegetable stocks often lack this quality.
There are ways you can thicken up your vegetable stock. They will usually cloud the stock slightly, but for most people this isn’t a huge concern.
The two additions you are most likely to have on hand are a chopped potato or two, or a handful of rice. Either of these two will release lightly thickening starches into the stock as it simmers.
Corn cobs are another possibility (but which require a bit of thinking ahead). I keep a few bags of these in the freezer for use during the year. When corn is in season, you can cut the kernels from the cobs for cooking, and save the cobs for later. They add some thickening to a stock, as well as a slight sweetness.
Finally, you might consider dulse or Irish moss if these are available in your area. These seaweeds are often used in cooking, and will add flavor and thickness to vegetable stocks.
Add additional vegetables
In addition to the onion, carrots and celery that form the basis of any good stock, you can add other vegetables to round out the flavors. Stay away from the brassica family – strongly flavored cabbage, brussels sprouts and broccoli will overpower your stock.
Mushrooms are a great taste builder, and can be added fresh during the sweating phase, or dried when the water is added.
Some fresh fennel will also add a nice dimension to your stock.
Some people prefer not to add garlic but for a stock that will be used in strongly flavored dishes, garlic is a flavorful addition.
Try roasting the vegetables.
Roasting your vegetables before you simmer them adds a smoky, caramelized flavor and deeper color to your stock. If you decide to add this step, toss your vegetables with 1-2 tablespoons / 15 – 30 ml of oil and an equal amount of soy sauce and roast at 350 degrees F / 176 degrees C until the vegetables are browned and aromatic. If you decide to do this, however, you must commit to it. Pulling your veggies out before they are fully roasted and caramelized will not improve your stock.
Since your vegetables will reduce in volume considerably during the roasting process, you will also need to reduce your amount of water to ensure a decent vegetable to water ratio for good flavor.
Ready to get started? Here is a recipe for a basic vegetable stock to get you started – one that you can play around with and make your own.
And here are some soup recipes for your stock:
- 2 tablespoons / 30 ml vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons / 30 ml soy sauce
- 2 cups / 500 ml chopped onion
- 2 cups / 500 ml chopped carrot
- 2 cups / 500 ml chopped celery
- 16 cups / 4 liters cold water
- 1/2 cup / 125 ml rice or 2 potatoes peeled and chopped into 1" / 2.5 cm cubes
- 5-8 whole peppercorns
- 2-3 bay leaves
- Parsley stalks
- 3-4 stalks of fresh or whole dried herbs
- Salt to taste
Heat a large pot over med-low heat. When pot has heated, add oil. Swirl to coat pan.
Add onions, celery and carrots. Stir to coat with oil. Add soy sauce and stir into vegetables.
Cook vegetables until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Do not let them brown. If they begin to brown, turn the heat down to low,
Add water, rice or potatoes, peppercorns, bay leaves, parsley stalks and herbs.
Increase heat to high and bring stock to a boil. Once it has come to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low or to a temperature that keeps stock lightly simmering.
Simmer stock, uncovered, for 45 minutes.
Remove stock from heat and allow to cool slightly before straining. Strain into a colander over a large pot until all the liquid has drained from the vegetables. Do not press on the vegetables.
Taste the strained stock and salt lightly. Add only enough salt to bring out the flavors in the stock.
Pour stock into storage containers and refrigerate or freeze until needed.