Making Stock

Stock in the freezer offers freedom and flexibility in the kitchen. When you have it on hand, it is easy to make a quick soup or sauce to satisfy eaters and eliminate a trip to the grocery store. Making homemade stock is economical from a financial standpoint, and also reduces food waste. Instead of buying processed chicken breasts, consider instead a whole chicken. There is more meat on one bird for much less money per pound, and a lot of food mileage compared to boneless skinless pieces. Stock also makes use of older vegetables that have lost their crispness for fresh eating, but are still good for cooking. Throw them in the pot to add their aromatic flavor to a stock, instead of throwing them away because they’ve gone soft.

Making stock takes time, but is easy. As one chef who teaches at the Culinary School of the Rockies says, ‘if you have time to watch a football game, you have time to make stock.’ With a big pot and a little effort at the front and back end of the process, you can make enough stock to last several months in just one day. That’s a lot of nourishing soup for relatively little money and work. You also control the flavor of what you are preparing, and know exactly what is in the stock, rather than using over-salted boxed or canned varieties.

To make simple stock, you need few ingredients:

Chicken, duck, rabbit, etc, carcass: These should be bones only. For the clearest stock, remove all meat, fat, and skin from the carcasses. For example, if you roast a chicken and eat most of the meat at dinner, put it in the fridge over night and the next day, remove all other edible pieces of meat for sandwiches, salad, or chicken soup. Then put the carcass in a plastic bag and into the freezer. Add other carcasses and bones over time until you have enough bones to fill your largest pot halfway.

Carrots, Onions, Celery: Sweet and aromatic, these three are essential for any stock. They are also inexpensive. I usually have a couple of pounds of carrots and celery in the fridge for snacking, and if I notice that they are getting a little old, I move them to the freezer to await stock-making day. Thus, I usually don’t have to buy them when I want to make it, I just fish them out of the freezer. Saggy vegetables are fine, but please do not use anything that is rotten or spoiled. That will ruin your stock’s flavor. Vegetable prep for stock is easy, since you do not actually eat the vegetables. Onions can be peeled and quartered. Carrots do not need to be peeled, just cut up into reasonably sized pieces to fit in the pot, and celery should be washed and chopped the same size as the carrots.

Water: This should be cold. You will need enough to cover everything in the pot.

Because stock will always be used as an ingredient in recipes, it is important to keep it neutral. Do not use salt and pepper in the stock itself; season it when it becomes part of a soup or sauce.

Making the stock

For the best stock, several simple rules should be followed. First, the proportions should be approximately two parts bones to one part vegetables. The vegetables add flavor, but the true silkiness and depth in a stock comes from the slow simmering of a carcass to pull out all of the flavor therein. Second, your water must be cold to begin with. Hot water will react too fast with the animal fats and make your stock greasy and cloudy. Finally, you must keep it on a low simmer, not a rolling boil. A rolling boil will break down the meat and vegetables too much, and also cloud your final product.

Start with a large pot. Mine is a 16 quart aluminum pot coated with enamel which I purchased for $18. It is cheap and flimsy but does the job (I only use it for stock-making and canning.) Fill the pot halfway with the stripped bones. Fill it to three-quarters with vegetables (equal portions of each.) Fill it to within 2 inches of the rim with cold water.

Put it over high heat until it comes to a boil. Then turn it down to a gentle simmer and cook for 4-6 hours. Skim the top of grayish foam occasionally. Do not stir. If you are leaving it for a significant amount of time without attention, be sure to top up the water to prevent cooking off all the liquid.

When the stock has cooked for as long as you have time to let it, remove it from the heat and strain into a large bowl. Use the finest strainer you have, or a collander lined with a cloth. Because of the size and weight of the pot, it is sometimes easier to remove the large solids with a slotted spoon first, and then ladle the liquid through the strainer. Spoon it into freezer safe containers and freeze.

If you want to reduce the volume of the stock, you can simmer it again for several hours after straining. This makes a stronger stock by boiling off the excess water and concentrating the flavor. When you use it in a recipe, defrost it in a saucepan first. Enjoy the rich flavor of your homemade stock in everything from couscous to gravy.

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