I'm not sure how many people make stock anymore. I know it was common in the days of our grandparents and great grandparents, but now we can buy it in a box at the grocery store. Though I am aware of the boxed stuff, I've never bothered trying it.
I grew up with my mother making stock. Not a lot, mind you. It was mostly after Thanksgiving and Christmas, though that was enough to last the year. Consequently I much prefer to make my own.
Stock is useful for more than just soups. A lot of my stock goes to dishes that need to simmer in a liquid. Basically any time I see a dish that requires water to be added, I consider what a stock would add instead. It is especially good to use as a substitution for adding white wine, if you either don't have any or don't like the taste.
First I'm going to give you the theory behind stock, then tell you to forget it and do what you want. Making stock may sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn't. Mostly it comes down to time.
A standard stock is made with a 5:1:14 ratio of bones to chopped vegetables to water. So 2.5 kilograms of bones, chicken, turkey or beef, needs 0.5 kilograms of vegetables and 7 litres of cold water. The cold water is key, because it prevents the stock from becoming too cloudy and gritty.
For chopped vegetables, use two parts onion to one part carrot and one part celery. That is 250 grams of onion, 125 grams of carrot and 125 grams of celery. Add a sprig of thyme, a bay leaf and some peppercorns, and bring to a simmer for three to four hours. Pass the stock through a strainer, cool, and freeze into whatever portion you like.
The time is probably the most daunting part, but if you plan ahead a little it isn't so much of an issue.
Granted, de-boning meat is a bit of a chore and takes time. However they don't need to be perfectly clean for the home chef. Sometimes the grocery store puts deep discounts on bone-in meat as well, so if you use both bones for stock and meat for a mealit becomes a great deal.
Vegetarians shouldn't dismiss stock either. A vegetable stock just omits the bones and adds in leaks, mushrooms, tomatoes and fennel. Those are put in at 100 grams per 500 grams of the onion/carrot/celery mix above.
Now, I talked about the ratios above for a consistent stock. Let's talk about breaking those rules.
The ratio's need not be exact. Those are just for a stock that tastes the same every time. A little more of something won't make too much of a difference. A lot of something will enhance that flavour
A lot of times my stocks are made when I need to clear out my freezer. I save vegetable ends and bones in the freezer until I have enough to do something with. Then I go through the vegetable crisper to see what needs to be used and toss those in the pot. I keep the ratio's roughly in mind, but I don't worry about it if I chop a little too much of anything.
There are only two things to really keep in mind when making stock: enough water and strong flavours.
As long as your water submerges everything you've put in the pot, you'll be fine. The simmering process will lower the water level as you go, so don't worry about exact amounts.
Strong flavours are trickier. Avoiding them is the easiest, though they can be interesting if you are willing to experiment. Different meat bones like lamb and game will give strong a strong flavour. You will taste it in anything it is added to, though this can be good for something like a lamb stew.
The same goes for strong vegetables, such as broccoli and asparagus. Anything with a bitter flavour seems to get stronger when made into a stock. Unless you have a specific need for those flavours, it will mostly likely end up down the drain.
Keep that in mind and you can make some great stocks.
One of my favourites was a vegetable stock made with beets. The beets had been sitting for too long, though were still fine, so I tossed them in the pot. The result was a ruby red stock that had a subtle beet flavour. Using them in soups darkened the colour considerably, but gave them a great flavour.
Most of us have seen those pre-cooked little chickens you can buy in the stores. Typically they are smaller than a whole chicken, and make a good meal or two when you just don't feel like cooking. Don't throw away the bones when you are done though. Follow the weight ration above to make stock with the leftover bones and meat. You'll get a nice pre-seasoned stock. Just make note of the seasoning used in the chicken, to make sure it goes with the dish you are making.
Not everyone will want to make their own stock, and that's fine. I know a lot of cookbooks call for the boxed kind, so even they don't want to spend all that time in the kitchen. However I find it worth the effort, and would encourage anyone to try it at least once.