...SOUP stock! You thought this was going to be an investing post didn't you? Au contraire!
I just got done making one of the best soups I've ever made, and I wanted to share with readers the one simple secret to making the perfect soup.
This was just a humble split pea soup with very basic ingredients: an onion, half a pound of grocery store-quality kielbasa, and a few carrots. I spiced it with some hot pepper flakes, a lot of ground thyme, black pepper and garlic powder. Nothing fancy. And, like most of the simple soups and stews we make here at Casual Kitchen, it was laughably cheap, costing something like 47c a serving.
But what made this soup taste so amazing was this: I used a simple homemade soup stock as the base.
Level up your cooking
This isn't the first time I've written about the merits of using stock rather than water or bouillon as a soup base. I want to re-emphasize this with readers, because homemade stock is easy to make and it adds something amazing, something extra, to soups and stews. It's an easy way to level up the quality of your cooking at practically zero extra cost.
Also, let me be clear: do not buy store-bought stock. It is not worth it. Almost all store-bought stocks contain sugar (sometimes in more than one form), excess salt, artificial flavors and colors and, often, MSG. Blech. Don't pay your hard-earned money for this crap when you can make far better and healthier stock at home for free.
How to make a basic stock at near-zero cost
We've shared various stock recipes here at CK in the past, but I'll share briefly here what I did to produce about 10 cups or so of pork stock, which will be the foundation of perhaps three or four batches of delicious soups in our home in the coming weeks.
First, I decided to cook up a pernil, thanks to stumbling on a doorbuster sale on pork shoulders at my local grocery store. We seasoned and roasted it according to Rosie's Pernil recipe. Then, we saved the bones, the skin and any and all leftover vegetable trimmings we happened to have on hand (often we will save up random vegetable peelings, onion ends, etc., in our freezer for this very purpose).
Then, all you have to do is put everything into a big soup pot, fill with cold water, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer gently for several hours on a lazy afternoon. Let it cool a bit, and then pour it through a colander (fat and all!) into pre-measured plastic freezer containers in sizes of your choosing. A batch of stock usually yields ten to twelve cups, which we freeze in 2- and 3-cup containers.
If you don't like pork, feel free to use bones and trimmings from roasted chicken, turkey, beef or other meats, even seafood. Or, for CK's many vegan and vegetarian readers, you can make an easy basic vegetable stock.
Here's where some readers push back. "I'm busy! I don't have afternoons to kill sitting in the kitchen watching a pot of stock simmering."
Oh, zip it, ye piteous excuse makers! It's not like you have to stare unblinkingly at the pot all day long. You can use this time to cook something else for your family, read a good book, do your taxes, work on a personal writing project, or handle some of your own personal investing. A pot of simmering stock takes just a minute or two of attention every couple of hours or so, just to check that it's simmering sufficiently.
The cost is near zero, but the rewards are priceless. You'll be astounded by the added nuance and flavor enhancement your stock gives to any soup or stew.
A quick coda: A few months ago, Laura and her mother made a mini-pilgrimage to Buffalo, NY, Laura's birthplace and where much of her family is from. While there, they stopped in at the family’s favorite meat shop to pick up what I consider to be the best pork sausage on the face of our green Earth.
Laura brought a couple of pounds home with her, and this past weekend she cooked it up according to the family recipe: boil for an hour and a half in plenty of water.
She didn't realize it at the time, but she'd inadvertently made a big batch of sausage stock!
And she made it at zero cost and at zero extra work. Admittedly, the zero extra work part was because I did all the rest (heh). But hey, we were going to cook the sausage anyway. So instead of pointlessly dumping the "sausage water" right down the drain, I created a use for it by pouring it into a few pre-measured plastic containers to freeze for later use.
And oh what a use it was. This humble little pot of split pea soup, made with modest--even forgettable--ingredients, became something unforgettable, with a flavor literally out of this world. All thanks to a few cups of pork stock and a few cups of sausage stock, substituted for water as the soup's base. It's amazing how something so simple and so easy as a basic soup stock can pay such profound cooking dividends.
Take your cooking up a level or two: use homemade stock. I'm serious, it's magical.
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