Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Making Stock

I use a lot of stock in the kitchen, for everything from the base of a soup to cooking rice or other grains. Does a recipe call for adding water? I'll often sub in stock instead, as it adds nutrients and depth of flavor that water alone can't bring.

Canned or boxed stock from the grocery store can get pretty spendy, though. Even if you skip the organic, and wait until the cans are on sale, you're still (at best) paying dollar for 12 ounces of stock- along with the extras like preservatives and too much salt. Sure, the cans are handy to have in a pinch, but I'd much rather make my own. Not only does that let me control the salt level, but making my own stock lets me use up scraps from the kitchen that would otherwise go to waste.

I keep a designated container in the freezer for veggie scraps. It's nothing fancy, just a one gallon zip-top bag. Every time I cook, I put whatever vegetable trimmings from cooking that meal into the bag, until it's filled. I mostly just keep onion ends and skins, garlic bits, carrot peels and ends, celery leaves, tomato cores and the occasional parsnip for my stock because those are the veggies I prefer. I leave out all brassicas- things like cabbage and broccoli are a little too funky in stock, and potatoes because they'd break down and make everything cloudy. Nothing moldy or slimy- it has to be good enough to eat, after all.

Next comes the chicken... I love making a roasted chicken for dinner. When I don't have time to do it myself, I don't mind picking up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. For $7 we can get at least two meals out of one chicken; even more once you factor in the stock. The bones are really what we're after; once we have our main meal, I'll take whatever meat is left and set that aside for leftovers. If my veggie scrap bag is full, then we move straight on to stock. If not, the bones go in their own container in the freezer, until all of the ingredients are ready.

Once I have everything I need, I break out my roasting pan. The bones and veggies all go in the oven, for at least an hour, at 300F. Roasting them together brings out a whole lot of flavor, and while it's not technically necessary, I think it's worth taking the extra time and wouldn't skip the step. Next, I take everything out of the oven, and the contents of the roasting pan goes into my slow-cooker. I add water to the roasting pan, to loosen up any of the pan drippings- exactly like I would to make gravy. The pan drippings go in the slow-cooker as well, and then I top it off the rest of the way with more water, making sure everything is covered with liquid. On goes the lid, the temperature gets set to low, and I walk away. Well, mostly away. I'll walk back occasionally to stir and check the seasonings- stock definitely needs a little salt, once in a while. I find though, that if my chicken was seasoned well enough to begin with, adjustments are slight.

The longer I can let this cook, the better. This is where my stock crosses over into bone broth territory; I don't consider my stock done until the large bones (like from a drumstick) have softened and start to crumble. What's happened by this time is that the water has begun demineralizing the bone, pulling out calcium and bringing a ton of minerals and amino acids into play. Bone broths are nutritional powerhouses, and are a cornerstone of many traditional diets.

Once I see the bones start to soften, I separate the liquid from the solids by using a colander lined with cheesecloth. The bones and veggies have given up all that they have by this point, so once everything is strained, the cheesecloth bundle goes straight out to the trash. The stock then goes into the fridge, covered, for an overnight chill to make defatting the stock easier. The fat will solidify on top of the stock, making it easy to lift or skim off.

After it's been defatted, I'll either can or freeze my stock, depending on how much time I have. Either way works just fine. Since stock is considered a low-acid food, it needs to be canned in a pressure canner, for about 20 minutes- which ends up being around an hour total with the warm up and cool down factored in. (So yeah, I freeze a lot of stock, except after Thanksgiving, when I have turkey stock to contend with. Bigger carcass means LOTS more stock.)

If you wanted to make some vegetable-only stock, you wouldn't need to cook it for nearly as long- just simmer a couple of hours on the stove, after roasting the veggies at say, 250F or so. Besides that, the possibilities are endless... Beef, Pork, Rabbit, Chicken- those stocks are all made the same way, either with or without veggies added. I think fish stock is done differently, but I don't know for sure. (If I need a fish-based broth, I just use bonito flakes. It's way easier to store.)

Do you make your own stock?

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