Laid up sick last weekend, I got a head start on soup season. Not by making any (I was sick, you see), but by craving it, ordering it—Vietnamese pho—and then savoring it. I doctored up the beefy broth with a few squeezes of lime juice, a couple dashes of soy sauce, and a generous spoonful of sambal oelek. And if I could have tasted anything, the spicy-salty-sour-meaty blend would have been absolutely delightful. But in my stuffed-up state, I knew just that it was warm and soothing, and that was enough.

I’m on the mend now, and about ready to get back in the kitchen and brew up some soup of my own. I start with stock—a big batch, enough to last me a while and make it worth my time. And oh, is it ever worth it. Rich, fragrant, gelatinous homemade stock can make the difference between a good soup and an outstanding soup. It’s easy to prepare, and though it simmers for hours, the hands-on cooking time is minimal. A few general tips:

Use the right amount of water to bones/meat. The classic ratio of three parts water to two parts bones (two cups of water weighs one pound). So if you use 4 pounds of chicken bones (or parts like backs, necks, and wings), you’d use 3 quarts (12 cups) water. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but it’s helpful to know this proven formula, and that more water may lead to bland, watery stock, while using a little less will boost the stock’s flavor and body.

Skim. Remove the foam and fat that floats periodically to the liquid’s surface. This keeps the stock pure and clean-flavored.

Watch the heat. Once you first bring it to a boil for a moment, immediately take the stock down to a bare simmer. This will keep fat from emulsifying into the stock and weakening its taste.

Strain well. Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth; this way you’ll catch tiny particulates.

Here’s a tried-and-true recipe for Homemade Chicken Stock. It uses slightly more chicken parts to water than the classic ratio and the chicken is roasted first, which makes it all the richer and more delicious.