Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Taking Stock

Just had a little fledgling swallow land on the sill outside my window and chirp at me for about five minutes while I sat at the computer.  Apparently he had something important to share with me.  Lol.

It always kind of amazes me that there are so many people of my generation (and younger) that have no idea how to make certain things from scratch and assume those things just come from the store.  A good example of this is stock.  Vegetable stock, chicken stock, beef stock... so many people think it comes in a can from Swanson and either don't know how to make it or think it is a huge time-consuming task.

The other day I was watching the Food Network and caught Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) discussing her recipe for making stock.  Now, I appreciate that Ina makes good food with high quality ingredients, but I find her show a disappointment for the average viewer because she lives such an elitist lifestyle and it shows in her food choices.  Not too many of us can sit around nibbling crab cakes for a Sunday afternoon apperitif before moving onto the main course of fresh caught salmon steaks, with caviar and caper compote, arugula chantrelle salad and sherry trifle for dessert in December.  Sorry Ina, but most people can't afford these things.  So I stumbled across Ina showing how she would make a lovely chicken noodle soup for lunch using her own homemade chicken stock.

Ina's recipe for stock sounds delicious, but who can afford to use three whole chickens just to make broth? And piles of fresh veggies, and fresh bunches of herbs as well?

Here's my recipe for stock, it's simple, inexpensive, and yes it does take a lot of time, but like doing laundry, you're actual involvement in that time is negligible.

First of all you have to have a system in place for stock-making, the goal with stock is to use every part of the food and waste nothing, it is what poor people have done for decades to get the most flavor from their food.  A good system involves a "Stock" bag in your freezer, to which you can add the leftovers of whatever mirepoix (meer-pwah) ingredients (that's carrots, onion, and celery) you use.  The centers of celery with the short pale stalks, the ends of carrots, skins of onions... so long as these trimmings are not dirty or moldy they will work fine.  Each time I use these vegetables in the kitchen, or if they start to fade before I can use them, I toss them into the "Stock" bag in the freezer. If my stock bag is slim I will fill in with fresh veggies, but I prefer to use the trimmings in the stock bag.  Appearance of the veggies in this doesn't matter, you just need the flavors.  I know this post isn't very garden related, but if you have a garden it's a great way to fill your stock bag, veggies that were nibbled by pests make a great addition to the stock bag, as well as those that bolted or became woody or failed to bulb (the flavor's still there, they just don't have the right texture or appearance).  Why toss them in the compost when they can be used in stock? 

Stock bag from the freezer.
Secondly, you need a source for your meat flavor (obviously this isn't needed for vegetable stock).  Generally when I make a roast chicken for dinner, the first night it is served as roast chicken, the second night the remaining meat is served as some kind of soup or casserole, and the third day the bones and drippings are used for stock.  This is why Ina Garten seems very wasteful to me, one chicken should be able to provide nearly three meals for a family of four.  So my third day chicken carcass provides the meat flavor.  This also works with pot roast leftovers and beef bones, or ham bones and hocks to make ham stock, or turkey bones and drippings, etc.
Ingredients collected
 Finally, you can throw any seasonings you'd like in your stock, in my case I tossed in some garlic cloves that had sprouted a bit and then dried out in the fridge and a handful of thyme I had accidentally cut off while trimming out dead branches on my thyme plant.

Veggies and herbs go into the pot.
 Throw your chicken carcass, including all of the skin, bones, fat, and drippings into the pot.

Looks terrible, smells and tastes fabulous.
 If you want to, you can add salt or pepper to your stock, I usually save that step for when I'm ready to use it in preparing a meal though.

All set for a nice long simmer.
 Fill the pot with water, you need enough to cover all the ingredients, but leave a little room at the top of the pot to avoid a boil over.  Put a lid on it, bring it to a boil, uncover, stir, and let simmer for several hours until the liquid is reduced by about half.  Every 30 minutes to an hour it helps to walk by and give it a quick stir to ensure nothing scorches on the bottom of the pot.

Reduced by half.  3-4 hours later.
 Once your stock is reduced turn off the heat and let it sit for another 30 minutes to an hour so you don't burn yourself when you strain it out.

Colander full of strained chunks.
 After cooling set a colander in a large bowl (for a super clear broth lay cheesecloth inside the colander), then pour the entire pot into the colander.  Be careful as it may still be hot, and be sure to use a large enough bowl to hold it all.  Lift the colander out and dispose of the now flavorless remains.

Stock! Well, almost.
 What you are left with is a bowl full of beautiful, flavorful stock.  It's not quite done though.  Pour the stock into a freezer safe container (or two), label it, put a lid on it, then place it n the refrigerator overnight.

Ready for chilling overnight.
 The next day uncover your stock, you should be able to see a top layer of pale fat over the stock itself.  Spoon off this semi-solid fat for a nice lean stock.
Fat separated to the top of the container.
 Finally, you are left with your chicken stock, low fat, flavorful, ready to use in soups or whatever meal you'd like.  It will keep for months in the freezer, but only another day or two in the fridge.  Now wasn't that easy?  Time consuming yes, but really not that much work.

Ready to freeze for chicken and dumplings!
And I didn't even need 3 whole chickens and 6 handfuls of fresh herbs.  Plus, if you started with organic chicken and veggies it's completely organic too.   ;)


  1. Great post! I spoil my dogs by crockpotting chicken thighs for them. I add chunks of veggies (no onions for the dogs) for flavor. After I've slow cooked them all day, I remove the meat for them and discard the bones and I'm left with a lovely pot of stock for our consumption. It's great for soup, even without any meat or chicken in it. Once in a while I'll keep a thigh or two for us, I just don't tell Annie & Otto ;-)

    1. Yum, sounds delicious. Those are some spoiled puppies! I hope they are appreciative, my cats just look at me with disdain when I offer them treats like that... well, the cats always look at me with disdain. lol

  2. Thanks for the detailed post! I have often thought about making stock but I was afraid I would mess it up! I think I am going to try this tomorrow. :)

    1. If you don't scorch it on the bottom, it's pretty hard to screw up. I know a lot of people that have never tried it for just that reason, that's why I posted this. Plus, until last year, I didn't know how to do it either ;) Good Luck!

    2. One tip I didn't include here is that you'll know you did it right if the chilled stock has a soft Jell-O like consistency. It should be wiggly, not wet once it chills. If it's wet it either didn't cook down long enough, or you had too high a ratio of water to ingredients.

  3. Hi! Nice directions for your soup stock. I make chicken broth but need to work on some veggie stock. It all seems to take time tho! I have recently started a garden blog. Come see me when you have time. Happy Gardening! Nancy at Cozy Thym Cottage