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Foundation Food: Stock

by vmbrasseur on December 13th, 2011

People often ask me, “Vicky, what’s the easiest way to improve my home cooking?”

OK, so they don’t really ask me that. But they should. If they’re not asking me they should at least be asking the question to the foodies at large but I don’t see that they’re doing that, either. That’s a shame, as the answer is simpler than the question:

Homemade Stock

Really, that’s all there is to it. Even a bad (but well-intentioned) homemade stock is better than any canned or boxed stuff you can buy at the store. It’s used in practically everything from soup to risotto to a nice pan sauce and makes a world of difference. Green beans steamed over homemade stock? So very much better than those steamed over water. Plus with homemade stock there’s considerably less waste, both culinarily (using all bits of the critter), physically (packaging) and financially (it’s so much cheaper). It’s a win-win-win proposition, yet for some reason very few people take the minimal time and effort required.

Alright, you got me. I said “minimal time” but, in truth, a good stock takes many hours to make. However if you do it my way you’ll hardly even notice. It’s almost entirely unattended so you can go about your life and yet still end up with excellent food at the end.

Before you freak out about the number of steps below, please take the time to read them. Most of what follows is a lot of anecdote and smart-assery. The tl;dr version is:

  1. Roast bones
  2. Simmer bones
  3. Strain stock
  4. Skim fat
  5. Freeze stock

See? That’s not so bad. Now on to that smart-assery that I mentioned above…

Equipment

  • A sheet pan or large roasting pan
  • A large stock pot (at least 8 quarts; mine is 12 quarts) with a cover
  • A colander
  • A container which will hold up to 2 gallons. I use one of these. This container should be able to fit into your refrigerator.
  • Several quart-sized zip-top freezer bags
  • A freezer

Ingredients

  • Approximately 5 pounds of bones and scraps from the meat critter of your choice. While you can get this the old fashioned way (accumulating bones in a big bag in your freezer as you make/cook the critter in question), I prefer to buy the bones from one of my local butcher counters. The most I’ve ever paid is $0.99/pound and I felt rather ripped off at that. My favorite is pork but chicken often makes a showing as well.
  • A lot of water

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to around 350°.
  2. Spread the bones out evenly on the sheet or roasting pan. If things get a bit crowded in the pan then please do share the love to a second pan. You’re looking to get good caramelization and you can’t do that in a pan that’s crowded (things steam instead of really roast).
  3. Pop the pan(s) into the oven for an hour or so. What you’re looking for is a nice, dark, more or less even brown across the entire batch. This will probably require you turn the pieces somewhere in there. It also may require more or less time than an hour. Cooking isn’t fire and forget so please take the time to mind your bones and make sure they get nicely browned.
  4. Once they’ve roasted, add the bones to the stock pot.
  5. There’s a lot of tasty goodness stuck to the pan(s) so pour some boiling water into the sheet or roasting pan(s) and scrape up all the nummy brown bits. Pour this water over the bones. Extra bonus: you’ve just made it considerably easier to wash those pans.
  6. Add water to the stock pot. How much? Enough to cover the bones. Feel like adding a bit more? That’s fine. Just don’t add less. You can’t extract all the tasty goodness from those scraps if they’re not submerged.
  7. Cover the stock pot, put over high heat and bring just barely to a boil.
  8. Once it’s hit a boil immediately drop that heat down to low. Keeping it boiling will form an emulsion which, while tasty, will be a cloudy mess. It’s not particularly attractive.
  9. Walk away for 8-10-12 hours or so. No, honest, I mean it. Just walk away. Go out to dinner. Take in a show. I usually do this at night then just go to bed at this point. Yes, there is a teensy weensy teeny tiny miniscule risk that something may go awry and you’ll burn your house down. But, um, HELLO PEOPLE, there’s that risk every time you turn on your stove. Or your furnace. Or light a candle. Does it happen? Sure. Does it happen often? Hell no. Put your stock on the stove, bring it to a simmer, make sure the top is on all the way and then go the hell to bed. If this makes you intensely nervous then just start the entire process early in the morning and hang around the house all day. Whatever.
  10. Have 8-10-12 hours passed yet? If not then do not touch that stock. It needs a lot of time to dissolve all the gelatins in those bones. Really, you’re not doing yourself a favor by pulling it off the stove early.
  11. OK, since 8-10-12 hours have passed you can feel free to remove the stock from the stove. Before the next step, do yourself a favor and let the stock cool down for an hour. No, really. You don’t want to be pouring two gallons of boiling hot stock out of a very large, very heavy pot which was just removed from the stove. You really, really don’t. If you’re like me you’ve just woken up, removed the stock from the stove top, made some coffee and wandered away to do some reading or something for a spell.
  12. Done with that reading? Good! Now you can strain the stock. Place the colander over your stock-receiving-vessel. Very carefully pour the stock into the vessel. Please keep in mind that though it’s been sitting for a while it’s likely that this is still a very hot brew. Take care not to burn yourself. Or others, for that matter.
  13. Discard the bones. I recommend putting them into your local civic green bin. If you made beef stock then some of the heartier bones can be distributed to dogs whom you wish to bribe to love you. Do not bribe dogs with pork or chicken bones. You could kill them and, well, that kinda kills the love as well.
  14. Cover the stock and leave it on the counter for a couple hours until the container is no longer hot to the touch. This is necessary so you don’t pop it into your refrigerator, raise the temperature of the entire cold box and thereby risk bacterial contamination of everything inside.
  15. Once it’s cool enough, pop that container into your fridge. Walk away.
  16. The next day (or the day after, or whenever; just don’t wait more than 4 or 5 days), take the stock from the fridge and remove the nice layer of solidified fat from the top of it. You can either put this fat into the aforementioned green bin or you can stow it in a separate container in your fridge for other nefarious purposes.
  17. Fat removed? Excellent. Now parcel out that stock into the quart-sized zip-top bags. Want to use a different container? Knock yourself out. I just personally find a quart an easy size to work with. Do what works best for you.
  18. Place those bags into the freezer. They will keep well for…um… OK, to be honest I have no idea how long they last since I always use them before they get anywhere close to bad.

I typically get between 6 and 8 quarts of stock out of each batch. It depends a lot upon how many bones I bought, how much water was required to cover them and how much water was lost to evaporation (even with the top on the stock pot) during the cooking process. This will usually last me for two or three months, unless I’m on a soup kick in which case it may last two or three weeks.

If you feel like being particularly decadent (or just don’t have much space in your freezer), you can take your batch of stock and reduce it down to half or less of its original volume. This drastically concentrates the gelatins and flavors of the original stock. This reduced version can be used either as-is (adding a spectacular mouth feel to your food) or reconstituted to its original form. I like to do this with a batch of pork stock every once in a while, reducing it down to a thick liquid which rapidly solidifies into a pork gel when it cools. While it might not sound appealing now, just one spoonful of this stuff added to vegetables, sauce, or what have you will bump up the ‘luscious’ factor, aka umami.

That’s really all there is to it. Now get yourself out there and buy some bones, people.

From → Food, Recipe

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