It's basically SAW: Beauty Edition.
Let's talk soup stock, homechickens, because it is the foundation of deliciousness. A good stock can make or break a soup, and a good stock is actually not that difficult to make, although it is time consuming. Better yet: you can freeze the shit out of stock, so you can make a whole bunch and it will be ready when you need it.
Which, if you're like me, is really handy, because otherwise, you're never going to use soup stock in your soup, and you will use bouillon, and then you will be all "why is this soup not transcendently delicious?" And then you will be all "because I didn't use stock, I know, I know."
When stock is frozen and handy, though, all your soups will be fantastic!
So, stock. People make a big production about it, but basically it involves two steps: boiling the crap out of some stuff in a big pot, straining it, and then boiling down the remainder to concentrate the flavor. Except that by "boiling" I mean "simmering," because I'm not a complete animal.
Let's start with what you can throw in the stock pot. If you're a carnivore, leftover dead animal parts are great. Chicken carcasses, ham bones, whatever. However, don't stop there. Throw in some carrots, onions, celery, garlic, and herbs like basil and thyme. Better yet: roast your vegetables to give your stock added depth (make sure to add the roasting juices too, because hoo boy).
But if you're veggie, you can still make awesome stock. I like to roast onions, carrots, and garlic, and throw them in with fresh onions, carrots, celery, leeks (white parts only), and, this is key, shiitake mushrooms. They round out the stock and give it that umami flavor that is so hard to describe, but so key. If you've been missing heavy, meaty stocks, add more mushrooms to increase the intensity of that flavor. Bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, chives, and other herbs are always a great choice. If it's summer, add tomatoes.
Don't use tomatoes if it's not summer, kids, it's just sadness all around. Break free of the grocery store. It's teasing you with those roundish red things misleadingly labeled "tomatoes." Those are not tomatoes. They are an unholy abomination intended to strike fear into the heart of all produce lovers. What you want are some super great, summery, vine-ripened tomatoes. (You can also preserve those babies for the fall/winter, when you really start to miss tomatoes.)
Cool fact: When you're making stock, you don't need to fuss around with peeling or fine chopping. Just wash and loosely chop things before tossing them in. Celery leaves, onion skins, and all that other stuff you don't usually want to eat actually adds flavor to stock.
How many veggies do you use? Basically as many as you want, and in any combination, with enough water to cover, plus a bit more. For me, this usually works out to about four roasted carrots and two roasted onions, two whole heads of garlic for roasting, and another onion and two carrots for the stockpot. Add a good handful of mushrooms and two leeks, and a few sprigs each of your herbs of choice. If it's tomato time, roast four-six tomatoes to add to the stock as well.
Try not to totally overload the pot, because then you'll end up with a lot of soggy vegetables and not very much stock. Bring everything to a simmer and cook for around two hours, until the broth tastes savory when you try it. Remember that it might not have an intense flavor, because you haven't reduced it yet, but also that it can start to go slightly bitter if you simmer everything too long.
Next comes the straining, which, I admit, can be a bit of a pain unless you have a well-equipped kitchen. Place a big colander over a second stockpot (which you totally have, right? It's okay, I use a big bowl) and line it with cheesecloth (this is important, because you want to catch the little chunks that would fall through the slots of a colander). Carefully pour your hot stock through. When it's all strained, squeeze that cheesecloth, because there is all kinds of tasty goodness in there, and you want to milk it for all it's worth.
Next, plop that baby back on the stove with the lid off and cook down for two to three hours, until it's lost 1/4-1/3 of its volume -- do periodic taste tests to see how it's doing. Remember that you're the one who's cooking with it, so ask yourself if you like the flavor intensity. While you're at it, periodically skim the fat and debris off the top.
When it's done, pour into glass jars or containers to cool (hot liquids+plastic=bad idea). You can leave it refrigerated for up to a week if you plan to use it in the near future, or you can transition it to the freezer to use in the future.
Some notes on freezing: freezing in glass can be tricky, so I don't do it, because I am a scaredy-cat. Instead, I use plastic ziplocks. I measure out two cups of soup to each, which is handy because I can thaw chunks of stock for soup when I need them. I put my ziplocks inside another, bigger ziplock to create a nice air cushion to prevent freezer burn and messes.
You can also freeze stock in silicone ice cube trays (throw those into a ziplock when the soup is frozen so it doesn't build up little fuzzy ice beards), and I highly recommend this. Sometimes you need just a couple of tablespoons to deglaze a pan, thin a sauce, or add a little extra flavor to something. That's when being able to pop out a cube of stock is incredibly useful. (Plus, you'll wow all your friends with your brilliance ... unless they read this article and know all about your stock tricks.)
Here's why I love cooking with stocks: it makes my soups fuller, more rich, and more intense. It also allows me to control every ingredient, cut down on sodium, and be a smarmy "I make my own stock" kind of person. While it does require a couple of hours to supervise as it cooks, stock provides a great excuse to hang out around the house watching bad television, I mean, reading, and unwinding over a weekend day.
If you want to be industrious, you can cook other things while your stock is going, like bread, or food projects for the week. I like to do a lot of cooking on Sundays so I have tasty nutritious things ready to hand when I'm crunched with work. It saves me money because I'm less tempted to eat out, and there's something very nourishing about delicious food that makes me feel warm and comfortable even when I've been writing for 12 hours straight and I hate everything and everyone.
What do you use in your stocks, y'all?