Is it always worth making your favourites from scratch? Our DIY series puts shop-bought and homemade to the test - this time, stock...
While on one hand homemade chicken stock is as simple as throwing remants into a big pan, on the other it's something I seldom bother to make. Why? It always seems to take an eon to get anything close to a flavoursome broth, and by the time I've cooked, served and eaten the bird, I just want to kick back, relax and not think about the kitchen.
However, making your own chicken stock is not only essentially free, it also allows you to control key flavour elements, reduce salt levels, and create something truly nourishing. While there are now some gourmet stocks on the market that have upgraded from the humble powdered cube, a natural, homemade version is undeniably purer. So it's time to see whether hours of slow simmering are worth it...
Cost of shop-bought stock:
One box of 12 chicken stock cubes- £1.13 (makes approximately 22 litres of stock in total)
One pack of 8 gourmet jelly stock pots (approximately 4 litres of stock in total)- £2.41
Cost of ingredients for homemade:
One chicken carcass (free), 3 carrots, 2 celery sticks, 1 onion, 2 mushrooms, 1 bag of bouquet garni- 70p (makes 2 litres of stock)
The stock recipe I used:
Emma Lewis' video guide to making stock
The carcass was the byproduct of a roast chicken dinner - as a bonus it had lemon, herbs and garlic already in the cavity, which I threw in for extra flavour - so it was essentially free. If you were to make stock en masse, it's possible to buy bones, off-cuts and remnants from butchers and fishmongers. If you're friendly enough you can sometimes get them for free.
This technique for making stock is completely foolproof - cover your bones, veg and herbs with cold water, bring to the boil and, according to Emma's video, simmer for:
- 1 hour for fish and vegetables
- 3-4 hours for chicken and poultry
- 4-5 hours for beef and red meat
Skim off the scum and leave to infuse, occasionally checking to ensure there's always water covering your ingredients. The final draining and straining was the only slightly cumbersome part, as I had to handle a huge pan and pour the contents into a small jug - thankfully I had a large colander to hand.
Make sure you chop your vegetables nice and chunky so they don't disintegrate during cooking. Added mushrooms soak up any excess oils from meat and also impart a rich umami flavour.
I cooked my stock for four hours to make it really condensed and opaque. It was worth the gas bill as the resulting liquid was flavoursome enough to eat with just some fresh ravioli and Parmesan (my Italian grandma's version of penicillin). The stock completely enriched the flavour of the soup I eventually used it in, and the same would apply with risotto or casserole. The shop-bought was very salty, even by my sodium-loving standards, and it didn't taste that natural.
Tailor the ingredients of your stock according to how it will eventually be used - add rosemary if you'll be using it in Italian food, or some lemongrass, coriander stalks and a whole chilli if it's going to be the base for a ramen.
Shop-bought stock will always win on the convenience and price front - 12 stock cubes yield a lot of liquid, while my stock only amounted to around 2 litres. And I stand by my opinion that stock cubes are one of the best culinary inventions ever, for storage reasons alone. However, a homemade version feels so much more nourishing and clean, so for that reason I'll henceforth always try to use up my leftover bones!
Do you always make your own stock? Or do you think shop-bought does the job? Let us know: