Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Stock Pile - or - What I Learned from My Snails

our pet snail, "Gal" eating a carrot peel
I temporarily adopted two snails for four weeks in January.  I found one in a driveway on my way home one morning.  I thought my daughter, who was home sick, and I would take care of him until my son came home.  We learned about caring for snails and the next day decided to buy a little tank, find him a friend, and keep him for a bit.  I found that while I was gathering food for our snails, I was learning about conservation.  I could give them peels of carrots and ends of veggies that might have otherwise been thrown away.

my stock pile with peels, stems, and greens
And that is how keeping snails led me to begin making chicken and vegetable stock from food scraps.

For some time I have been meaning to start saving vegetable scraps that could be used to make soup stock.  However, it wasn't until I started keeping snails that I really started paying attention to what was worth saving.
It is good to keep in mind what you might reuse before you start cooking, so that you will wash the skins more carefully than you might if you were tossing the peels.  On the other hand, since you will strain the stock, you can leave in seeds or pits.

zip-top bag and serrated peeler
It is an excellent habit to gather veggie peelings, scraps, cores; and meat, chicken, and fish bones, to make a stock once a week.  If you don't have enough stuff for once a week, or your veggies are going downhill, keep your "stock pile" in the freezer.

To start get a zip-top bag or container.  (I rinse my zip-top bag and keep using the same one.)  Add trimmings from all stock-worthy fruits and veggies.  In a separate container save all bones.  This could be a raw fish skeleton, or bones from a roasted chicken your family has picked clean.  I like to toast chicken or turkey bones to enhance the flavor.

This is my official non-recipe stock guide:  Think carrot, onion, celery, meat.  These are the basic soup ingredients, but you don't NEED these items.  You just need the flavor elements they add.  As your bag fills up, aim for a balance of these elements.

Carrot is sweet.  You can fulfill this component with carrot or winter squash peels, the stringy insides of the squash with seeds, and apple or pear cores and peels.  Think outside the box!

Onion is sharp and sweet.  You can use clean peels and ends of onions and shallots, wilted scallions or chives, or the tough green part of leeks.

Celery adds a fresh taste and also enhances other flavors.  You can use the green leafy parts of celery, celeriac/celery root, and parsnip, as well as their washed peels.  Stems of parsley and dill will add to the fresh flavor.  Mushroom stems will enhance flavors.  If you want your stock to taste meaty, don't go overboard on the greens.  That is probably my #1 soup mistake - green chicken broth that tastes more like celery and parsley than chicken.

toasting chicken bones in the oven
Meat is not necessary, but you will want something that adds a savory, meaty flavor (termed umami).  My first choice is anything you are reusing/recycling: chicken, fish, or meat bones; mushroom stems; leftover red wine; stale beer; leftover tomato paste or stewed tomatoes; and tomato juice, skin and seeds from ripe tomatoes.  However, if you're short on these flavors with your odds and ends, there are other inexpensive items you can add.  Shitaki and other mushrooms, bullion (read the ingredients and know what you're getting into), soy sauce, fermented miso, and Japanese fish sauce will all enhance the meatiness of a vegetarian broth.  Chicken wings and necks, bones, and turkey necks can also be purchased inexpensively.  If you cannot find them prepackaged ask the butcher.

To make the stock I prefer a pressure cooker.  (High pressure for 15-20 minutes for chicken bones, up to 35 minutes for other meats, less for fish.)  In a large conventional pot you will want to simmer all the ingredients for close to an hour, less for fish bones, more for beef and turkey necks.  Add a couple bay leaves if you have some.  I prefer to add salt only when I'm ready to use the stock.  Optionally, add a splash of red wine and/or a drop of soy sauce toward the end of cooking.

When all the ingredients are soft and falling apart, strain the soup.  I dawn my silicone oven mitt and give everything a good squeeze, then let the ingredients drain for a few minutes.  Cool as quickly as possible.  I use ice packs in zip-top bags.

Other stock worthy vegetables, plus a recap
  • outer artichoke leaves and stems 
  • the tough part of asparagus stems 
  • garlic stubs
  • broccoli and cauliflower stems
  • corn cobs
  • wilted lettuce 
  • potato peels
  • sweet potato peels, plus the pointy, fibrous end 
  • whole peppercorns
  • herb stems
  • tomato parts and products
  • celery, celeriac, and parsnip greens and peels
  • some fruit peels and cores
  • summer and winter squash
  • mushroom stems
 Enjoy your stock plain, make stinging nettle soup, add noddles, or make a quick pressure cooker risotto.


  1. I do this too! I keep a big ziploc bag in the freezer and just throw odds and ends in it whenever I have them. (I put meat and veggies together because I figure neither will go bad after being in the freezer for a few weeks.) It makes making soup stock so easy, and I always feel thrifty when I make soup stock for free. :)

    Interesting tip about keeping the greens down... I think I've made that mistake!

  2. I do the same! I keep a bucket in the freezer and keep adding peels and scraps till it's full. Apple and pear cores are also good.



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