Saturday, December 05, 2009

Stocks: still a good investment

This is the life-changing recipe I promised in yesterday's post.

This is not, nor will it ever be, a food blog. But I like to cook. There's one thing I make all the time that makes me feel like a rockstar in the kitchen, and it couldn't be simpler: stock.

(You might call it "broth" at your house, but there's a difference.)

In fact, I'm amazed more people don't make their own stock. In this age of conserving resources (or recycling, pick your favorite term), stock is the ultimate conservation project.

You're basically taking stuff you'd normally throw away and making more food out of it. (OK, that didn't sound right...) When you buy stock in the grocery store, it will set you back at least $3 for a quart. And for what? Water that's had bones and vegetables and herbs and spices simmering in it.

It couldn't be easier to do: take the remains of a roast chicken (it doesn't have to be homemade — a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store works well too) — bones, skin, wingtips, etc. — and toss them into a slow cooker. Scrub a couple of carrots and a rib or two of celery, cut them in two or three pieces, and throw them in with the carcass. Wash an onion — no need to peel it, but do remove the label if it has one — cut it in half, and throw it in. Add a few whole peppercorns, maybe a bay leaf and some thyme. Cover the whole thing with water, slap the lid on, and cook it on low for several hours or overnight.

(Edited to add: I prefer to use a slow cooker because I don't have to monitor it. Traditional stock recipes instruct you to periodically "skim the foam" off the top. For whatever reason, that instruction put me off the whole idea of stock for a long time. But with a slow cooker, foam doesn't happen — a bonus for those of us who like our cooking low-maintenance.)

(Sidebar: I once read that fancy restaurants have a stock pot going all the time, and they toss in various peels, ends and trimmings of vegetables and herbs as they're prepping. Carrot ends, onion skins, fresh herbs that are a little past their prime, even salad greens... as long as it's not too strongly flavored and there's not too much of one thing, it goes into the pot. I adapted that approach, and gather that stuff in a ziploc bag for stock-making day. If we haven't had a roast chicken that week, I make vegetable broth. Same process, shorter cooking time.)

In the morning, turn off the heat and let the cooker and its contents cool down a bit. Strain out the solids (you'll be discarding them) and pour the liquid into a large container. Refrigerate for several hours, then strain the solidified fat off the top.

Violà — chicken stock! (The method works for turkey, too.) You'll note that you just made about $10 worth of stock for the price of a few veggies. Not only that, but you're in charge of how much salt and other flavorings are in it.

You don't have to use it right away — stock freezes well. I'll sometimes pour it into ice cube trays, freeze, then pop the frozen stock cubes into a freezer bag. This makes it easy to grab exactly as much as I need.

What's stock good for? Well, besides the obvious applications like soups and sauces, stock is a great way to add flavor to a lot of things you might otherwise use water for (like rice or couscous). And some dishes (like risotto and polenta) usually call for stock.

So make your own, and you can be a rockstar in the kitchen too!

If you're here from the link on Fiddledeedee, welcome!

~~~~~

6 comments:

  1. Anonymous4:38 PM

    I sometime freeze stock in my muffin tin to have bigger individual portions -works like a charm but be sure to line the pan with plastic wrap first because you can't pop out the frozen stock as easily as with an ice cube tray.
    Great idea to save up all your veggie scraps to use in the stock -I just never would have thought of that; seems a bit obvious now.
    -Racie

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  2. Thanks, Racie!

    I'd thought of using a muffin tin, but wondered about ease of removal. Lining the tin with plastic wrap is a great idea!

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  3. Today I was DESPERATE for chicken stock and had none. I used to be diligent about doing this with our rotisserie chicken from Sam's Club. But I've never tried it with a crock pot. BRILLIANT! Thank you.

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  4. I used to do this frequently back in the day, when DramaBoy had a million food sensitivities and I couldn't use store-bought stock. I kind of enjoyed it, actually. One thing I did that really helped was save all the peelings and ends from the veggies I chopped for other food--the outer layers (minus skins) of onions, the peels and ends of carrots, the ends of celery, potato peels...you get the idea. I'd throw them into a gallon freezer bag, stuff that in a freezer, and keep adding until the bag was full. By then it was usually time to make more stock.

    I find myself cooking very rarely these days, with one thing and another, so I don't do any of that any more. But it does work, and I felt delightfully thrifty.

    Thanks so much for your kind words on my blog, by the way! I'm delighted you stopped by!

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  5. Pam, that sounds like way too much work for what sounds like it turns out to be chicken broth. But I admire you and all the other excellent cooks who tackle it! Maybe someday I'll be that organic. ;)

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  6. Rachel, you make me laugh! It actually takes longer to read the post than it does to make the stock. And homemade stock is SO much better than store-bought.

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