DIY stock – to make or to buy?

Is it always worth making your favourites from scratch? Our DIY series puts shop-bought and homemade to the test – this time, stock

Stock in jars with onions

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...

The cost

Fish stock in pan
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.

The making:

Vegetable stock in jar with vegetables on board
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.

The taste:

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.

The verdict:

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:

Comments, questions and tips

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6th Jun, 2019
I’ll make my own stock any time we’ve eaten something with bones, although the vast majority is chicken or duck with the odd goose. My grandmothers always swore by their own stock, my parents never made it so the habit skipped a generation. I wouldn’t make a soup without doing the stock myself; you just can’t get the body and depth of flavour from shop bought stock. I’ve tried cubes ,which were awful and insipid, and the small individual pots or small jars, which are not too bad for rice dishes or casserole, but still not up to the flavour needed for soup. I usually add most of the ingredients listed in the article, plus anything else that comes to hand; a couple of apples or a pear works well with chicken, and I’ll often add an orange to duck to offset the fattiness. I like plenty of different dried herbs and a handful of fresh coriander if I have some. I usually simmer the stock for 3-4 hours, giving it a gentle stir about once every 30 mins
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Tenere's picture
30th Jan, 2014
Don't just save the 'bones' to use for a the fresh herbs you never got around to using and the herb stems that normally get thrown away, just wash and gently dry and then place in a freezer bag and freeze until required. Apple peelings are another candidate for freezing until needed......either for a stock or a spiced apple stock syrup. Second tip is to make a lot of stock....a large stock pot full and freeze until needed - a full freezer is a cheaper to run.