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

Vegetables 2
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?

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11 thoughts on “Stock

  1. 1

    You’ve pretty much nailed it, from my point of view. If you do want to try roasting bones, this is mainly useful if the meat hasn’t been cooked already. Say if you’ve bought bones specifically to make stock. Roasting your carrots and onions can add some nice caramelly notes.
    To save freezer space, you can reduce your stock down a long way and freeze it in ice cube trays.

  2. 2

    I agree that it’s good to avoid eating meat. The energy that goes into animal production is far greater than that of plant production. Eating meat contributes to the energy crisis. …But it’s still tasty. 🙂
    I wonder if butchers give bones away for free? Then I wouldn’t have to have the “there’s a frozen carcas in my freezer” feeling.

  3. 3

    Unfortunately, butchers don’t do that any more. The vast majority haven’t cut up a carcasse in years; they get it “boxed”, pre-cut, and only do very minor trimming.
    Because of this, they don’t have any butchering scraps to give away!
    Only a few “custom butchers” actually get things like sides or quarters of beef and break it into retail cuts themselves. And they’ve found that they can actually sell the bones. Not for very much. but for something.
    A good butcher is amazing efficient. I had one break a steer carcasse, about 900 lb after skinning and gutting, and I got about 5 lb of sausage scraps.

  4. 4

    I’ve tried saving veggie scraps, but I don’t produce enough of them (not enough cooking from scratch. If I have “tired” but whole veggies, I tend to simply turn them into vegetable soup.
    TheNerd: “Eating meat contributes to the energy crisis.”
    Ironically so, since, long ago, eating meat was the ur-human solution to a much more fundamental energy crisis: finding enough calories to feed our increasingly oversized brains!

  5. 5

    What a wonderful post!
    It’s so nice to hear you extolling the virtues of home-made stock! This is, perhaps, the one single thing that will make more difference in the quality of one’s cooking than anything else– and, as you noted, it’s a way to use everything and not just as a matter of need but to an actually pleasurable, nutritious, and good end!
    A little thing– please forgive me if I didn’t see it mentioned, as it is late, but when your stock is doing its thing, it’s nice to periodically skim the scum off of it. This will help it to have a more clear appearance, plus it’s kinda fun.
    Also, I am surprised that you allow your own stock to boil. Usually, the conventional know-how has it that you want to start with the water cold, and slowly bring it up to temperature– you actually want it pretty low, a shade below any sort of bubbling. This has the effect of drawing out flavor. Do you find that this is hogwash, or does it work for you?
    YAY for stock!! Thanks, Greta!

  6. 6

    Olive oil. That’s the first thing I put in the pot.
    All the veggies you describe, plus some fennel bulb.
    Wine, sometimes.
    I was at a “cauldron” party one time where the head pot-witch explained to us how the best part of the chicken for stock was the feet, and I spent about an hour cleaning chicken feet for an enormous iron outdoor cauldron. It was the best stock I ever tasted.

  7. 7

    Oh, the meat eater’s guilt. Meat (among other things) is murder. There’s no way to sugercoat or season the guilt away. No matter how good it tastes, it’s still dead animal flesh/muscle. And our bodies should not be graveyards. At least you’re honest about it, and trying to eat less meat and eat free range. That’s a good start :o)
    Please excuse my self-righteous tone. I don’t eat chicken, beef or pork, but I still eat seafood on occasion, so I’m not perfect either.
    Oh, and I really enjoy your blog!

  8. 8

    I don’t have much to add, except to repeat the importance of NOT adding salt. It’s easy to add later, but impossible to take out, and if you want to boil down the soup for a richer sauce, salt will render the result inedible.
    But I wanted to say yay for variety!
    Not that your other subjects aren’t fascinating, but it’s nice to have some breadth.

  9. 9

    Like you said stock is essential in gravy. So is the roux. There are 2 ways to thicken gravy. You can use cornstarch or roux. I prefer roux. Only 2 igredients go into a roux, flour and fat. Like the stock, roux can be made vegetarian or carnivorous. Of course, no one should be eating much animal fat. It’s not good for anyone. So, I suggest a vegetable oil like soybean or corn. First heat an ammount of oil until it gets hot. Don’t get it get so hot that it’ll smoke. Then put about half the amount of flour into the pan. I like it to have the consistancy of “a little thinner than peanut butter.” Add more flour until you get the consistancy you like. Now, heat the mixture slowly. All the while stir with a wooden spoon. Plastic spatulas tend to melt when cooking your roux. Cook it until you get the color you want. Depends on what you want to use your roux for. If you want to make white gravy then cook just until it starts to take on a brown color. If you like brown gravy, cook it until it’s peanut butter color or darker. If you don’t cook the roux long enough, you’ll get a floury taste to the gravy. Take the roux off of the burner and let it cool. After it has cooled you can store it in a covered container. Roux also freezes well. To make the gravy out of your wonderful stock, start by heating a tablespoon or so of roux until it gets hot. Then slowly add your stock stirring the whole time. It works well if the stock is cool. Add a cup first and if the gravy gets too thick add more stock. Season as you like.

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