Friday, January 31, 2014

Making Stock

Yesterday I posted about roasting a chicken and exhorted readers to save the bones.  Today we'll talk about saving vegetable leavings and making stock.

A good stock is a foundation of a wide variety of foods. Soups, obviously, but a quick search for stocks in recipes I use has it showing up in Chinese chicken with peanuts, chilis, moles, broiled chicken, gravys, tagines, seared fish and more. 

If you are using bouillon cubes for stocks, you are seriously cheating yourself.  Oversalted, underflavored cubes of mediocrity are forming the base of your dish.   Stop it.  Some of the boxed stocks are OK, but you can do better than OK.  With a good homemade stock you can control the flavor, control the intensity, control the saltiness and improve the mouthfeel of your dish.  And you can do it at a fraction of the price of the boxed stock.

Assembling the Ingredients

You're already saving chicken bones, as I mentioned.   Now you want to save a lot of your vegetable scraps.  And by scraps I'm not talking about onion and carrot peels -- there's not enough flavor there to make a good stock.  But the unused pieces of onion from all those dishes that have some left over?  That.  The heel and toe of the carrot that you cut off?  That, too.  Into a labled ziploc bag throw your onions, carrots, celery, and leeks.  If you want, you can also save mushrooms and their stalks, fennel, parsnips and other root vegetables besides potatoes, whatever you want really. 

In the chicken bone bag, be sure to get the wingtips in there.  In fact, if you can have your friends over for a game on TV and serve them Buffalo chicken wings that's ideal.  Before you make them you'll remove the wing tips.  Save those.  If you happen to run across chicken feet, those are great too.  Wings and feet have an increased amount of collagen compared to other parts of the chicken, and when you make the stock that collagen will break down into gelatin and make your stock thicker and silky on the tongue. 

Make the Stock

You'll want some herbs and spices here.  The classics are a bay leaf, peppercorns and some parsley.  You can add thyme, rosemary, coriander seed, cloves, garlic, and salt.  I don't use salt because I like to add it when I'm assembling the final dish. 

For vegetable stock, when your leftovers bag is full throw some oil in a stockpot and heat it unitl the oil shimmers.  Now dump the contents of the bag into the pot and cook without stirring for 5-10 minutes or so until the vegetables are fully thawed and starting to cook.  Then stir a few times and cook until they start to brown.

Add water until it just covers the top of your pile of vegetables.  Add the spices.  Bring the water to a boil, give a nice stir, and reduce the heat so the liquid is at a bare simmer.   Cook it for at least 30 minutes, longer if you're not really doing anything.  You don't have to go crazy here they way you will with the chicken stock below, because the vegetable flavors will extract more easily than the chicken's collagen will. 

That's it.  You have vegetable stock.

Chicken stock is more difficult, in the sense that taking candy from a toddler is more difficult than taking candy from a baby.  

First, decide whether to roast the bones.  Roasted bones give a darker, more robust stock and that's the kind I prefer.  We're a Maillard reaction kind of household.  If you want a lighter stock for more delicate dishes don't roast them.  Especially, if you want to make a lot of soups that have an essence of chicken taste and a nice gelatinous mouthfeel without them shouting, "Hey! Chicken is here!" don't roast them.  If you do roast them, empty the bag onto a sheet pan and put it in an oven at 400F until they're roasted.  You'll know when. 

Next, roasted bones or no, use a meat cleaver or kitchen scissors to break up the bones at least a bit.  There's no need to slice them into tiny pieces but you want lots of places where the marrow and other interior parts can see the water you're going to use.  If you haven't roasted the bones, you may at this point want to lightly brown them in a thin layer of oil just like we did the vegetables above.  That's kind of a middle route between roasting and raw.

Now cover the bones with water and bring it all to a full rolling boil.  Just for a minute.  Then dump that water down the sink.  That will coax out some of the less tasteful and more nasty-looking parts of the bones and make it easier to make the stock.

Dump your veggies on top  of the bones and cover both with water.  Bring that almost but not quite to a boil.  Ideally you'll get to a light simmer without overshooting into a rolling boil.  If you do overshoot, don't worry.  It happens to the best of us. 

Add the herbs and spices.  No, I never did tell you how much.  About as much as you want.  For 2 1/2 quarts of stock, made from 5 quarts of water, I use two bay leaves, a teaspoon of peppercorns and two or three sprigs of thyme.

After the water comes to a simmer, scoop off any scum you find floating on top.  There shouldn't be much if you've pre-boiled the bones and gone straight to a simmer.  

This stock you're going to want to simmer for a while.  The longer the better, to get the good bits of the chicken out.  Think four hours.  Re-check and re-scoop any scum you find every hour or so. It will reduce by half or so.  If you start worrying that the water level is getting too low, add some. 

Cool and store the stock

When your stock is done you want to cool and store it.  It's especially important to cool the chicken stock quickly because you've basically got a huge steaming pile of bacteria food in your kitchen.   The longer it sits between 140F and 40F the more likely it is to pick up some beasties which your stomach won't appreciate down the line.   Ideally,  partially fill your (cleaned!) sink with cold water and all the ice you can make.  Plop the entire stock pot into that mixture and cool it to room temperature.  Alternatively, you can put the container into which you strain the finished stock below but I prefer to cool the stock before I start transferring it from container to container.

After the stock is cool enough to work with, strain it into another container or containers.  I use a fine mesh strainer and some cheese cloth into a large mixing bowl and then distribute the stock from there. If it's chicken stock you eventually want it in relatively narrow containers to refrigerate.  If it's vegetable stock it doesn't matter.  You can go straight to freezing the stuff.

Refrigerate your chicken stock overnight in the narrow-ish containers.  I use Mason jars.  The chicken fat will congeal on the top.  Remove that (you can save that, too.  We'll post about that later). 

 If you've got a use for the stock in the next week or so, store that amount right in the fridge.  The rest, freeze.  I pour the stock into ice cube trays and when the ice forms I store the cubes in a labled zip-loc bag.  Measure your ice cube trays so you know how much stock you're using in future recipes.  It turns out that one of my ice cubes is 1/14th of a cup.  Someday I'll get around to getting 1/8 or 1/16th cup ice cube molds. You can also store it in cup or even quart quantities, keeping in mind that it might be a bit of a pain to unfreeze it for use. 

And that's it.   Easy stock that will blow the doors off of any stock you've ever bought.  The process for beef and veal stock isn't much different, and fish stock isn't much different from that.  Perhaps we'll do those later.  This post is already too long.

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