I love this time of year. To me, it’s Broth-for-Breakfast, Broth-for-Lunch, Broth-for-a-Snack, Broth-for-a-Late-Night-Somethin’ Season! It’s time for broth!
I write this post as one who feels fairly confident in making broth. Maybe not your definition of broth. Maybe not some fancy chef’s. But I can pump out some pretty good drink-your-vegetables savory rich broth-y-soup-y concoctions. Smooth. Tasty. Sustaining.
But things weren’t always that way. Quite the opposite, actually.
an insane definition of normal
I grew up with a mom who was a master of make-it-from-scratch meals in an era of increasing pressure — advertising pressure — changing social norms as more women worked out of the home, her personal challenges of working first one, then two, full-time jobs while having three children, a not-at-all-helpful husband and a host of other challenges on her plate.
Yet, we ate home-made, cooked-from-scratch meals almost every single meal of my childhood years. Not always tasty (especially to a child’s tastebuds) but always home-made with as many “whole foods” as she could manage. There were no frozen entries at the ready, nor microwavable snacks, We went to Taco Bell once a year, maybe twice; it a very special treat and we would be on our best, best behavior in hopes that our mother would see how good we could be when she took us out for a meal.
And other than our annual-ish trek to Taco Bell, we never (ever) ordered food for takeout, pickup, delivery or however you want to classify it.
She bought whole ingredients — cans of food, meat, pastas and grains with which to cook these meals. She also grew an impressive quantity of vegetables and fruit on our family’s 1/4-acre lot in Columbia, Md. She canned. She composted. In the summers, she hung the just-washed clothes out to dry when everyone else — yes, everyone else — used their dryers.
She made her own chicken, vegetable and ham stocks. From scratch. From scraps of vegetables and meat bones. And then she made soups. Lots of soups with her go-to being a simple chicken, vegetable, noodle soup. Yet for how simple and basic, each was also a masterpiece as my mother was an avid cleaner of her refrigerator, lest she waste food, and was quite (still is!) the master of the “use it up” approach to making delicious soups with whatever concoctions of “hmmm, i can put that in” will work, the likes of which can never be repeated again.
no grasshopper here
For all my mom’s masterful, artistic, well-informed, natural and skilled abilities in the kitchen, I didn’t tune in bunches as a kid to learn her cooking skills. She shared a tip here and there, but I discovered I knew rather little about cooking when I got my first apartment.
I’ve since become adept in the care and feeding of my body, and I know what works for me, but along this path, I attempted to do what she did. (Like the time in 1984 when I bought my first whole chicken, came home, attempted to cut it up with my little pairing knife and quickly realized it was my mom who was the child of a butcher who had a little shop in the front of his home, and that I, Jessie, daughter of Eileen, actually, had know idea of how to transform a whole chicken into cookable, recognizable parts.)
With broth and soup, I attempted to make some broths with vegetable and meat scraps as my mom had, countless times while I was growing up.
I made the mirepoix (had to look that word up) of celery, onions and carrots. Saute it all real nice. Follow along with recipe best I remembered it and even looked up some recipes online, but my experiments were more of a utilitarian function of using up vegetable and meat scraps rather than making something delicious.
Every single time it was a disaster. Flat. Not tasty. Blah.
him and this!
Then last fall I did this thing: I googled “how to make a great vegetable stock” (or something along those lines), and that’s when I discovered HIM and THIS. Him is Adam Ragusea and This is the link to his “how to make great veggie stock” video. (I do recommend watching it; I find him rather entertaining and quite informative.)
The main stock-making tip I got from Him is this: throw it in a pot, heat it, and season it as desired. He does offer a few more tips and specifics, especially in terms of sequence of vegetables to add toward the end, but basically I understood: throw it in a pot, heat it, season it.
I took things to another level, for me. I pureed the cooked stock within an a nano-inch of its life in my Vitamix, on speed 10, for a bit of time. That’s the trick. Make it smooth, drinkable.
my not-secret tips
Other than the puree-it-until-your-Vitamix-heats-up tip, one of my great-broth tricks — well, two of my great-broth tricks — are to add —
- Fat and
- as above — pureeeeee it
I’m generous with my oils when cooking. We need our fats. Fat makes food taste better. I usually add either gobs of coconut oil or a reasonable gob of bacon grease. I use gobs of coconut oil in soup for many reasons: it’s health, it’s hearty, it takes heat well and the flavor gets spread out over more surface area rather than being concentrated and in my nose more when I cook with it directly .
I add bacon grease because I generate a lot of it and want to use it. It also helps the stock feel and smell richer.
Sometimes I add butter (especially if I have a potato in the stock). Sometimes heavy cream. Not so much olive oil. Oh, and of late, avocado oil and tea seed oil.
I’m generous also with my salt, of which I aim to buy the best salt money can buy. #bitofafanatic (I shop at The Meadow, exclusively, for salts.) I’m also generous with the bouillon. (I use mostly a mushroom or beef dried bouillon from the nearby Korean grocery market and/or Better Than Bouillon products.)
Because I puree everything in my beloved-how-does-anyone-survive-without-a-Vitamix Vitamix, I don’t have to focus on the cut vegetable pieces being “soup sized” or similarly sized. I just put them in a pot with water, add heat, season it and puree it!
When it’s all cooked, cooled, pureed and put in containers, I usually have a good three or four pints of broth/stock/pureed soup. I aim to eat quickly and while it’s still fresh in the fridge and not frozen. This (completely self-imposed) time pressure makes me more focused on consuming the broth, which makes me more creative.
With my broth as a base, I can now throw in a handful of julienned Swiss chard or fresh kale. Easy peasy. Or toss in the last bits of some savory leftovers in some little container, just sitting in my fridge, waiting for me to make a mini-snack out of them. Or I can add some already-cooked meat. Or a smidge of cheese. Or more cream. Or more butter.
I can water the puree down if I make a richer-flavored batch of broth. I can use it as a base for cooking another dish, or for making a quick and easy savory sauce.
I know broth is different from stock is different from soup. You could argue me on definitions and you wouldn’t be wrong. In my world, I think of broth as something savory, of delicious ingredients, that I can drink with ease, in which I can find sustenance, warmth and power.
I just love broth.
I love that it’s warm, and savory,
I love that it’s easy … easy to make, easy to consume.
I love that it’s so flexible and adaptable.
That it’s volume can be turned up or turned down.
I just love broth.