I haven’t done a food post in a while, and this is one of my favorite cooking tricks, so I thought I’d share it with the rest of the class.
It’s homemade stock.
I think a lot of people have the idea that making your own stock is a big pain. But it’s really not. It’s ridiculously easy. And homemade stock adds a wonderful richness and complexity to your cooking. It’s delicious in soups and stews; we always make pots of beans with stock; it’s essential in gravy, in my opinion; and you can cook rice with stock instead of water, to give it flavor and a little more substance. Almost any savory dish that you cook with water can be enhanced by using stock instead. And yes, homemade is better than store-bought.
Besides, if you eat meat, making stock out of the bones gives you that whole “using every part of the animal” thing. I’m not a vegetarian, but I sort of feel like I should be, and getting as much use out of the meat as I can is one of the ways that I assuage my guilt about it. (Not eating it very often is another; mostly eating free- range, grass- fed, pasture- raised, etc. meat is another.)
So here’s my EZ, low-stress recipe for homemade stock.
The Meat Version
1. If you cook with or eat meat, save the bones. If there’s meat or fat on the bones, that’s good, but it’s not necessary. Keep them in a big, gallon-sized freezer bag in your freezer. (This is the part that grosses Ingrid out — she had a hard time getting past the “Why are we keeping garbage in our freezer?” issue — but I think I’ve finally convinced her that chicken bones are an ingredient, not trash.) I sometimes even ask restaurants to give me the bones in a take-home bag if there are any left on my plate.
We keep chicken and beef bones separate. I suppose you could mix them, I’ve never tried it — but different animals have distinctive flavors, and I’m inclined to think that mixing them would be a muddle. Also, we don’t cook with beef often, and when we do it’s kind of a big deal — so we like to keep our beef stock for special cooking occasions. (We’re still cooking with the bones from our Christmas roast beef.)
You can also include the rinds of hard cheeses like Parmesan in your frozen bag of bones. It makes for a very rich, smoky, strongly-flavored stock, so be sure that that’s what you want if you’re going to do that.
2. When you’ve saved up enough bones (and hard cheese rinds, if you’re doing that), put them in a big-ass cooking pot. Add in a bunch of cheap, flavorful vegetables: onions, carrots, garlic, celery, bell peppers, corn, pretty much whatever you want. (This is a good use for veggies that aren’t actually rotten but are past their prime — rubbery carrots, wrinkly peppers, that sort of thing.) Just be sure the veggies are the flavor you want: tomatoes, for instance, will give your stock a very strong, tomatoey flavor like ministrone, so don’t use them if you don’t want that. If you want to play it safe and have a very versatile stock, stick with onions, garlic, carrots, and celery. Chop the veggies up some, but you don’t need to do it finely — big chunks are totally fine. And don’t bother chopping the garlic — just peel the cloves and throw them in whole.
Add some whole peppercorns (more or less, depending on how much pepper you like — I usually use a small handful for a big stock pot), and fresh herbs of your choice. (When we make stock, we usually just get the packet that our organic produce delivery service
calls “mixed herbs,” and that works just ducky. And no, you don’t need to make a sachet out of the herbs — you’re going to strain it all out anyway, so just throw the damn herbs into the pot already.) The pot should not be too full — say, about a third to a half full of bones and veggies.
Salt is not necessary or called for. You can add salt to whatever you’re cooking with your stock. The stock doesn’t need it, or want it.
3. Cover the whole mess with plenty of water. Bring it to a boil, turn it down to a simmer, keep it covered, and cook it for about an hour. You can stir it now and then if you like, or you can leave it the hell alone.
4. Strain out the boiled bones and veggies from the yummy liquid. You’ll probably need to do this three or four times to get all the pulp and gunk out. Use a sieve, and keep straining until you’re no longer straining out a significant amount of pulp.
Throw the boiled bones and veggies away. They are now useless: the flavor and nutrition has been boiled out of them and into the stock. That’s the whole point. However, if there’s any edible meat left, you may want to pick it off the bones and keep it with your stock. You won’t want to make a sandwich out of it or anything, since it’s now been boiled to a fare- thee- well, but it can add some meatiness and substance to soups and stews.
You can use your stock right away, or you can stick it in your freezer and use it whenever you want.
Many recipes call for roasting the bones and veggies before you simmer them. Supposedly this makes for a richer, more flavorful stock. But it’s also, obviously, more work… and for me, one of the great joys of stock is how fracking easy it is. I love doing something that adds such a distinctive touch to my cooking, with so very little effort. So I’ve never bothered with the roasting. But if you think I’m wrong about this, let me know.
The Veggie Version
The veggie version is exactly like the meat version. Just leave out the “storing the mutilated skeletons of dead animals in your freezer and then boiling them in a pot like a ghoul” part. If you eat cheese, though, hard cheese rinds are a very nice addition to a veggie stock, giving it that smoky richness without the dead animals. So when you’ve grated your Parmesan down to the rind, put the rind in a baggie or a Tupperware in your freezer, and use it when you’re ready to make your stock.
The big downside of homemade stock is that, between the last batch of stock you made and the bag of bones you’re saving for your next batch, it can take up a fair amount of room in your freezer. But IMO, it’s totally worth it.
Any thoughts? Do any of you make your own stock — and if so, what tricks do you have to offer?