Updated on 11.05.10

Turning Kitchen Waste Into Something Sublime

Trent Hamm

You’ve just finished prepping a meal. You have a bunch of leftover vegetable scraps – onion pieces, a bit of chopped tomato, some extra pepper, the end of a zucchini, a single garlic clove, whatever. Or, maybe you had a whole rotisserie chicken or a roast and find yourself with some leftover bones with a few bits of meat attached to them. Maybe you even have a leftover turkey carcass after Thanksgiving dinner.

For most families, almost all of this would hit the trash can. A few families might be able to toss the vegetable scraps into a compost bin at least. In the end, though, they’re simply trash for most people.

Over the last year or two, we’ve started doing something very different.

Whenever we have scraps like this, we throw them into a bag in the freezer. We have a “misc. vegetables” bag and whenever we have some bones or meat scraps, we put them into a freezer container that’s appropriately labeled with the contents.

Then, when we’re starting to build up a few quarts’ worth of material in the freezer, we bust out the crock pot and make ourselves some stock.

About to make stock

In the picture above, all we did was take about two or three quarts worth of leftover vegetables stored up over a month or so, toss them all in the crock pot, add enough water to cover the vegetables with about two inches more (and, yes, some of the vegetables will float), and then add a bunch of pepper and a bit of salt.

Then we just turn the crock pot on high and let it sit for a long while – four hours or so.

Making stock

At the end of the time, we just get out a strainer, pour the liquid through the strainer, and collect the liquid on the other end. That liquid is, in this case, vegetable stock.

What do you do with vegetable stock? Whenever you’re making almost any dish at home that uses water as a component, we substitute the stock for incredible flavor effect. Soups. Stews. Shepherd’s pie. Stir fry. Anything.

How do you store it? Usually, we use the stock within two or three days of making it, so we just store it in a jar in the refrigerator. If you’re going to keep it for longer, it can easily be frozen, but when you thaw it, you’ll need to stir it thoroughly.

What about chicken/beef/turkey stock? If you have bones and cooked scraps left over from any meat dinner (yep, fish works, too, if you want to make fish stock), just use them as a component in the stock. If you want to call it chicken stock (or beef stock, or fish stock, or turkey stock…), I would use 50% meat and 50% vegetables.

The procedure is still the same: add water to the pot until you have two inches or so over the top of the items in the pot, then boil it for a few hours with a lid on it so you don’t lose liquid to the steam. Then, when you’re done, strain it to get out the big pieces and keep the liquid. Cooking gold.

The next time you have vegetable scraps or leftover bones that you’re going to throw out, consider keeping them instead. Use them to make stock on a lazy day, then make yourself some mind-blowingly delicious meals with that liquid. It’s incredibly cheap, gets more use out of an item you would have thrown away, and makes your homemade meals that much more tasty.

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  1. marie says:

    I actually tried that recently with a turkey on Thanksgiving, and I had a lot of trouble because there was a ton of fat in the broth. Do you have any tricks to remove it or do you just mix it in?

  2. Johanna says:

    “You’ve just finished prepping a meal. You have a bunch of leftover vegetable scraps – onion pieces, a bit of chopped tomato, some extra pepper, the end of a zucchini, a single garlic clove, whatever.”

    This never happens to me, and I find it fairly puzzling that it happens to anybody. Why not add the leftover vegetable pieces to whatever dish you’re making in the first place? If you’re setting them aside for the purpose of making stock, that’s one thing, but why would you throw away half of a perfectly good zucchini just because your recipe only calls for half a zucchini? No recipe that I’ve ever seen would be ruined by the use of a while zucchini instead of half of one.

  3. Johanna says:

    (“whole zucchini,” not “while zucchini”)

  4. Riki says:

    I usually just let the stock cool and then scrape the fat off the top when it’s firm. I’ve seen recipes that call for “skimming” the stock during the cooking process but I usually can’t be bothered with that step and I never have an issue.

    But, Trent is right — this stuff tastes great and is much, much healthier than the sodium-filled boxed version at the grocery store. I freeze my homemade stock in ice cube trays and then I can pull it out in whatever amount I need. In a two-person household, we rarely have a need for gallons of stock at a time. Make rice with stock instead of water and your life will change forever.

    However, I find Trent’s use of the word “sublime” to be odd. It irritates me.

  5. marta says:

    Johanna,: I assumed the pieces that end up in a vegetable stock are the ones you usually won’t use in a recipe: the ends of onions, peppers and such. No idea, though, as I have never made stock.

    Riki: agreed on the use of the word “sublime”. And “mind-blowing”. It sounds ridiculous.

  6. Johanna says:

    @marta: But the “bit of chopped tomato,” the “extra pepper,” and especially the “single garlic clove” don’t sound like descriptions of the inedible parts of the vegetables.

    Some inedible parts of vegetables are good to use for stock (e.g., corn cobs, leek roots) but others aren’t (e.g., onion skins, anything spoiled or too dirty to wash).

  7. marta says:

    Johanna, you are right. Maybe that’s why I have never been able to make stock… generally what I am left with after food prep is the inedible stuff.

  8. Katie says:

    I don’t know, I’ve run into situations where I could put extra zucchini (or whatever) into what I’m making, but where the balance I’m going for would be thrown off. I don’t think it’ so weird to save those pieces for stock if they’re not enough to use in another recipe (or I’m not planning on making another recipe soon where they’d be useful).

  9. Kevin says:

    “Sublime” is the new “stellar;” Trent must be “deeply passionate” about stock.

    @Marie: Skim the excess fat off the broth or stock with a spoon. Then strain through a strainer that you’ve lined with a clean, wet, cold paper towel. (Make sure to use a heat resistant bowl.) You may have to replace the paper towel during the process. Finally, if you’re going to save the stock for future use, freeze it – once frozen, it’ll be easy to remove the fat layer.

  10. Greg says:

    I tried my hand at making my own veggie stock this summer. I made it exactly the same way. I collected bits and pieces of veggies and tossed them into a plastic bin in the freezer. When the tub was full I cooked up a big pot. I like the idea of using the slow cooker.

    After cooking I strained it through some cheese cloth and froze the stock in Mason Jars.

    Makes great veggie soup base. I think it is much more favorable than store bought stock.

  11. Gretchen says:

    A single garlic clove will store, and I usually just toss the rest of the pepper or whatever into the pot or eat it right there.

    Half of a zucchini would be eaten the next day for breakfast, or something.

    I don’t make stock at all, the powdered stuff is fine for my taste buds. Guess I don’t things to be mindblowing.

  12. Gretchen says:

    It is also my understanding that the lid should be left off, however.

    Concentrated is better.

  13. Wally says:

    I’ve been doing this for a while now. I find it helps to make the food we bought through our csa last longer. I will usually make up a big batch of veggie stock and use whatever I need for my recipes that day then freeze the rest in 2 or 4 cup increments. Then whenever a recipe calls for some I take it out the night before or can even plop right into the pot and it will melt while everything else is cooking. Much healthier than the stuff from the can or box and a really nice way to stretch out the veggies from the organic csa.

  14. Cheryl says:

    also add carot peelings, dabs of leftover gravy or sauce stems of parsley basil or other herbs pieces of celery that have gotten pithy,,

  15. Sarah says:

    Another thing you can do with your kitchen scraps is plant some fun plants! I love this book: Don’t Throw It, Grow It!: 68 windowsill plants from kitchen scraps by Deborah Peterson. I think it would make for some fun winter plant growing and is a great project for kids too.

  16. Stephan F-- says:

    Save the fat from a meat stock after straining it and letting it chill in the fridge overnight. That has lots of flavor and is great for making a roux which is a base for lots of soups and sauces. You can even fry with it, much like bacon drippings.

    To store stock the best way is to freeze it in 1-cup amounts in a muffin pan. The 2-Tbsp you get from a ice cube tray is often too small to be useful.

  17. Stacy says:

    We do this although we use meat bits more than veggies. I keep watch for reduced meat scraps or fish heads at the grocery store. My husband also saves shrimp shells when we get them with the shell still on. Usually what we’re left with after prepping veggies is inedible- onion skins, bitter ends of things, etc. We always ask around for good friends who won’t use their turkey carcass after Thanksgiving and get at least one or two this way.
    The best way to get the fat out of meat-based stocks is to put the strained stock in the refrigerator overnight (or longer if it is a big batch) and then the fat will congeal on top and you can spoon it off in the morning. Keep in mind that fat adds flavor and you may not want to strain every last bit off.
    Oh, and you do indeed want to leave the lid off. A VERY light simmer will help to break down the collagen in the meat/bones and add nutrition. Evaporating a bit of the water also intensifies the flavor.

  18. Aubrey says:

    If you’re using a crock pot, lid on. It’s a crock pot.

    If you’re doing it on the stove top, lid on for the first hour or so to increase the pressure while drawing out the flavor. Then decide whether the flavor is strong enough or you need to simmer with the lid off to evaporate.

  19. valleycat1 says:

    Marie – you can use an ice cube to skim off fat immediately (it adheres to the ice cube as you use a spoon to move it around quickly) – or as was said, refrigerate the broth & then remove the fat once it congeals on top.

    We always use our turkey carcass at holiday time to make soup – it usually has enough meat on it that once boiled is yummy. We usually save any odd bits of veggies for salad add-ins rather than soup stock. But will often buy the marked down sad-looking veggies if we’re making soup.

    I like mine boiled down/reduced too.

  20. Carole says:

    I like the word “sublime” when used to describe food. I have also heard people (usually men) refer to a particularly good dish as “ambrosia” which I also think is very descriptive.

  21. Rebecca says:

    I do this, but a bit differently. I freeze my chicken bones or carcasses until I have about 3 chickens worth, or one turkey carcass. I break up the bones a bit and put them in a roasting pan with a few old carrots and celery and onion and garlic and roast the bones for a few hours. They get golden brown and supper flavorful. Then I put them in my stock pot, about 16 qts and add water to fill. Boil for as long as I prefer.

    The stock is so flavorful it is delicious. I use my pressure canner to can mine in pints and quarts. You have to use a pressure canner, not a water bath but it works frozen too, I just don’t have room in my freezer.

  22. AK says:

    i leave my chicken stock in the fridge overnight, and in the morning the fat has all risen to the top. i just skim it off before i divide it into containers. i’m not sure how much fat is still left in it, but it’s a lot less than if i’d just stirred it in.

  23. Steve in W MA says:

    @ Marie:

    1) When you are making stock, do it at a temperature low enough (say, 170-180F) that the stock does not bubble at all. This is because the bubbling action will emulsify fats into the stock, making it fatty and cloudy

    2) After cooking and straining the stock at the temperature described above, it will be a clear stock with fat floating on the top. The easiest way to deal with the fat is to pour the stock into a few mason jars, let them cool to room temp, and then refrigerate.

    When you go to use the stock, pull the refrigerated jar from the fridge and you will see that the fat will have formed into a solid “cap” on top of the clear stock. Just pull the cap of fat off and the rest of the stock will be completely fat free.

    If the refrigerated stock has a cap of fat on it but the liquid underneath is jellylike instead of a liquid, that jelly is not fat. The jelly is the collagen and cartilage from the carcass that have dissolved into the stock. It’s very healthy and is NOT fat. jellied stock like this is the best stock of all-but watery stock is still pretty darn good!

  24. Steve in W MA says:

    I find that the average left-over, close-trimmed roaster chicken carcass, cooked into a stock and then removed and cooled to room temperature (I remove it by simply straining the whole pot of stock into a container) , has about 1/4 to 1/2 pound of meat left on it that can be removed by hand from the cooled, cooked carcass. I reserve this meat and use it with some of the stock to make mexican tortilla soup or chicken salad.

    It is astonishing how much meat is on a close-picked chicken carcass. You can also pull any clear cartilage bits off and include it with the meat. They are quite good.

  25. Steve in W MA says:

    I don’t view stock as primarily a way to use leftover vegetables. Stock CAN be made that way but I prefer to view stock as a basic food product/component, and it’s worth adding some vegetables to it like some carrots, celery, and onion, because the stock gets the essence of the flavors of those vegetables. I used to view this as a waste of vegetables but that’s only true from a pure subsistence point of view. Using a few vegetables and extracting their flavor into a stock along with the leftover carcass makes for a truly good stock.

  26. de says:

    We’ve always done this. Carrot peels, clean onion and garlic skins and the root ends, ginger peels,bones and skin, leftovers no one has claimed from the fridge, pan drippings, veggie cooking water all go into the stock pot with the pasta strainer to simmer for a few hours, then the strainer is lifted out and it’s done. I’m looking for a strainer to fit my crock pot to make it even easier.

  27. deRuiter says:

    If you’re not looking for crystal clear stock (#23 Steve is correct about how to get clear stock!) you can make it in the pressure cooker in a lot less time. If you make stock from chicken bones and scraps only, you pressure cook until the chicken bones turn to mush, maybe 1/2 hour to 40 minutes on the lowest jiggle. Strain the stock into mason jars as mentioned above, and cool in refrigerator overnight. The fat rises to the top and there is a jelly like stock underneath, filled with nutrients. The mushy bones can be safely fed to the dogs because there are no splinters, and the food is high protein. Do not remove the fat at the top until ready to use the stock. This gives an airtight seal and keeps the refrigerated stock fresh longer if you don’t get to use it right away and forget to freeze it. To freeze, remove the layer of clean fat (useful for soap making) and put the gelatinous stock in plastic freezer containers, leave some headspace, and freeze. “..bust out the crock pot”? “Bust out” is better reserved for an action novel. “incredible flavor effect.” “effect” is unnecessary. Brevity is the soul of wit and clarity. The only time you put in superfluous words if you’re writing local news and they pay you by the word.

  28. kathleen says:

    Must people be so snarky? I almost stopped reading the comments in disgust, but then was glad I did, because I picked up some good hints that will improve my stock making. One question – is it really true that it’s safe to give the pressure cooked bones to dogs? If so, that is a fabulous way of using every morsel. @Joanna – do you ever say anything positive?

  29. Lee says:

    I make gumbo fairly often and have been experimenting with homemade stocks. I tried shrimp stock recently with shells and tails. It was very easy and took only an hour. I’m very much looking forward to Thanksgiving and making leftover turkey gumbo. Will use the turkey carcass for stock and leftover meat. There are tons of recipes online for this, just google for it.

  30. Diane says:

    @Kathleen – In the early days of TSD, the author’s name didn’t appear until the end of the comment. Trent has now helpfully placed the author’s name first, making it easier to avoid folks with perspectives that are not helpful to you.

  31. Alice says:

    I love making stock! I roast a chicken about once and month, and we always save the bones and scraps in a freezer bag. Once we’ve made it through the whole bird, I throw the remains in a pot with onions, celery, and carrots. I’ve always boiled it before, but I’m definitely going to try the lower heat method. We peel the fat off the top and use it to cook eggs or hash browns. Chicken fat is *delicious*, and it’s a frugal way to avoid using butter or some other cooking fat (since you get the chicken fat for “free” with the carcass).

  32. Alice says:

    Oh, and the vegetables you add don’t have to be chopped finely, in case you’re not using scraps. Big chunks work just fine, and are easier to strain out at the end. We throw the strained bones and veggie remains into the compost as we don’t have pets.

  33. Tahlia42 says:

    I love my home-made stock: I’ve been doing this for years.

    When I have enough end bits to make a batch, I make sure that there is the right balance of things in there to make a good broth: outer onion skins (not the paper layer which will turn the whole broth bitter), garlic skins (once again, not the papery bits), something sweet (tomato cores, carrot skins, beet green stubs, strings from winter squashes or Halloween pumpkins) and something “earthy” (base of celery, cabbage cores, brussel sprout ends, cauliflower bases, wilty spinach – a rarity since I’m good at eating through my produce at its prime).

    Having the mix right makes the broth taste balanced and rich. I have been known to sacrifice a carrot or add in celery seed or garlic or onion powder to make up for any imbalance.

    I typically do not add any spices or salt when I create my broth since I’m not sure what the seasonings will be in the end product that I make with it.

    It takes so little time and produces a wonderful tasting result!

  34. Amy K says:

    We just did this yesterday – glad to see the idea being evangelized.

    With just the 2 of us, we make smaller batches (Only saving about 2 quarts of raw materials at a time) but it makes just the right amount of stock for some delicious risotto.

    Like fellow commenters above we try not to toss edible veggies in the bin. We do put in the root and stem ends of onions along with that outer layer that’s not brown but is still tough/rubbery. The root end of garlic bulbs. Herb stems. Celery leaves. We joined both a meat and a veggie CSA this simmer, and they’ve done great things for our stock production because we came home with more bony cuts of meat and more herbs with stems for the bin.

    I’ve stopped putting in carrot skins because I wasn’t sure I was scrubbing well enough to get all the dirt off. I’ve also stopped putting in pepper membranes and seeds, because I did’t like the flavor they added. I do put in a few here or there, I think I was on a pepper kick when the moratorium was declared, and they had taken over my mystery stock :-)

    I also put in the canning liquid from canned vegetables, and when I finish a jar of pasta sauce I’ll rinse it for recycling and toss the rinse water in the stock jar. Like the stock itself, it adds just a little bit of flavor that tap water doesn’t have.

    As for skimming: I usually leave the strained stock in the fridge overnight and skim the next day. Chicken fat is very soft, pork is firmer but malleable, and beef is hard enough I have to crack the fat cap on my container to make an edge so I can lift out the pieces with a spoon.

  35. Mister E says:

    Now this is a great article, I’ve been at this for years.

  36. Janis says:

    Great article.

    Homemade stock is a powerful pantry staple. Every so often, I make a big batch in my slow cooker and I don’t mind using fresh garlic cloves, onions, and carrots, in addition to leftover bits such as lettuce that’s gone a little too limp for salad making or the inner core of a bunch of celery. I avoid using strong-tasting brassicas such as cabbage or broccoli. Like Rebecca (#21), I pressure can what won’t get used right away or won’t fit in my limited freezer space. Homemade stock is so much better tasting (without all the salt, etc.) and so much more cost effective than anything you can buy at the store.

  37. Emily says:

    On the same vein, if you are peeling fruit for a recipe, through the skins into a pot with enough water to cover. For apples, add a cinnimon stick, for oranges, cloves, or just get imaginative. Let it simmer as long as you like for a great, cheap and natural air freshener.

  38. done that says:

    Just talking veggies here but I keep a dish on the counter for the scraps, peelings, what have you. At the end of the day I bring out my stock pitcher, add the trimmings and some more water and re-boil the whole things. Strain it back into the pitcher when it’s cool. We use the stock in soups but also when cooking grains, maybe a quarter to a third of the liquid not all of it. I never freeze stock because we use it as quickly as we make it.

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