I’ll be honest: I never make my own turkey stock in advance of Thanksgiving. Suffice it to say there’s enough on my to-do list during that fourth week of November without filling a stockpot for an eight-hour simmer (and I’m definitely not going to purchase more than one bird). Instead I add a few quarts of boxed chicken stock to my cart when I do the rest of the holiday shopping. Because when it’s going in stuffing or gravy, store-bought really is fine.
But if you want better than fine and have a spare half hour or so? You can make boxed stock taste homemade (you can!) by jazzing it up with a couple flavorful ingredients you almost certainly already have. Here’s how:
For the blankest canvas, start with unsalted or low-sodium chicken stock or broth. (And in case you were wondering, technically stock is made only from bones and water, while broth is simmered meat and vegetables. As the two tend to be interchangeable in recipes, I buy whichever is cheaper.) Combine a quart of stock and one to three of the below options in a large pot, then simmer partially covered over medium low heat for at least 30 minutes to get the full benefits. Strain out the solids, then store the enhanced stock in airtight containers in the fridge for up to a couple days or in the freezer for up to a few months.
I keep a container of Parmesan rinds in my freezer at all times for dropping into slowly simmering soups, tomato sauce, and beans. As the rinds warm, they release some of that salty umami funk we know and love from the cheese. Per quart of store-bought stock, add at least 3 parm rinds (but really, the more the merrier).
If you have dried mushrooms in the back of your pantry from the last time you made risotto, ramen, or at-home hot pot, toss them into slowly simmering broth. Dried shiitakes are especially tasty if you’re trying to add meaty savoriness to veggie stock. Add 3–4 mushrooms to a 1 quart of stock.
Fermented, Spicy Pastes
Adding heat and umami is one of the simplest ways to add big flavor to stock. Fermented bean pastes like miso or doenjang will be relatively subtle (whisk in 1 Tbsp. per quart of stock and add more to taste). If chiles are involved (like gochujang, sambal oelek, harissa, zhug, etc.) the additions become more pronounced; start with 1 or 2 tsp. per quart of stock and increase as needed.
Sautéed or Roasted Aromatics
Nearly every culinary tradition has a version of sautéed aromatics (French mirepoix, Spanish sofrito, Italian battuto, Puerto Rican recaito, to name a few) that acts as a springboard for soups, stews, sauces, and more. Finely chopped vegetables are slowly fried in fat until broken down, resulting in a deeply concentrated flavor. Cook a few ounces of chopped vegetables (onions, leeks, celery, and fennel all work) per quart of stock if you’ve got the time, or take a peek in your fridge for shortcuts: If you’ve got lingering roasted carrots, caramelized onions, or browned mushrooms, they can all be tossed in to add robust savoriness. To avoid overpowering the flavor of the stock, stay away from strongly flavored broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage here.
Garlic (Lots of It)
Every homemade broth in my kitchen gets plenty of garlic. As the allium slowly cooks in liquid, it becomes so tender that it essentially dissolves. Half two heads of garlic crosswise (no need to peel it) per quart of boxed stock. When you’re finished simmering, use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to smash the garlic cloves, which releases more flavor into the brew.
Woody herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, tarragon, and marjoram release tons of flavor as they slowly simmer in stock. Give them a rinse and toss in a big handful of sprigs per quart of store-bought stock.
Adding whole spices will add an earthiness to stock without overpowering the mixture—just look at the power of anise, cloves, and cinnamon in pho. Cardamom pods, allspice berries, cumin, coriander, yellow mustard, fennel, and peppercorns are all fair game. Per quart of stock, toast any of those ingredients—check your pantry and pick two to four—in a dry pot until fragrant, then add the stock and simmer.