All my life I can remember my grandmother (“it was the great depression”) Buboo saying at holiday dinners “Don’t you throw away that carcass, I’ll use it for stock!” my mental answer was eeeeeeeewwwwwwwww Bub, why would you want to pick some slimy bones and them boil them for days for some turkey flavored water? But we bagged it up for her to freeze and take home anyway. “There’s nutrition in there” she says. Buboo knows best. Frugality at it’s paramount.
Now that I have made my own stock, I understand what all the fuss is about. Liquid gold from bones and water. It is pretty miraculous now that I understand it. Long slow simmering of cooked and/or raw bones and meat scraps dissolves collagen out of them and into the cooking water. When cool, a good quality stock will be jiggly, sometimes even firm, from all that dissolved collagen ie. gelatin. That is why good stocks have that certain mouthfeel, rich and almost silky on the tongue.The taste should be reminiscent of the meat used, but not overpowered with it or bitter.
If you have stock in the freezer, you have the base for a lot of meals. You can sub it out for water in most savory recipes – it adds a little fat, some nutrients and a lot of flavor.
I use it primarily to make ‘rice a roni’ type dishes that are way tastier, Garrett safe (woo-hoo!), cheaper, healthier and more adaptable than the box stuff. It does take longer to cook (in an oven – hands off) and it is marginally more challenging (you actually have to boil liquid and measure stuff), though – you can’t have it all. It also makes some fabulous risotto.
“Hey homemaderachel, What’s wrong with boxed/canned/powdered/concentrated stock?”
Nothing really, besides a butt load of salt, preservatives and sometimes things that Garrett can’t have. It’s more that I just prefer to make my own to get the most bang for my buck. Plus, you know, the control freak thing. Stock making is another one of those budget stretching no brainers. You use bones from a chicken/turkey/roast/fish after it is cooked. You use veggie trimmings/skins/tops. You can use veggies that are looking kinda tired, fresh herbs that are a lil sad or dried ones getting old in the cabinet. All stuff that would be thrown out or composted eventually anyway. Minus your time and the cooking energy, it’s basically free.
“So you mean I can make food out of something that I would otherwise throw away?”
Well, sort of.
This is how it works. You save all the bones from the poultry, (beef, mammoth, venison, fish, crustacean shells, whatever really – separately of course) even the ones that you and your family have gnawed on (get over it-they’re being boiled-if it really skeeves you out that much don’t use them) and they go in the freezer along with maybe a piece of leftover meat or two and the scraps from the pre-cook trimming. Some people don’t mix raw and cooked scraps – I do. Some people roast beef or venison bones or parboil raw poultry bones for a brown or white stock respectively. Some people save the organs from poultry and put that in – some think that makes it bitter. Personally, I don’t use them. Keep another bag in the freezer for scraps and veggies/herbs that are just past prime. Save your onion skins too, they give the stock a golden – amberey color.
You can also use fresh stuff too. Throw in some garlic cloves or a quartered onion. Bay leaf is nice, maybe some thyme and peppercorns. Carrots, onion and celery (mirepoix) are the classic combo for stock. I’ve seen advice not to use things like cabbage, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables because they can take over a stock. Asparagus is said to do the same thing, so are tomatoes. But if you dig a strong asparagus flavor, why not try it?
Salt is also a bone of contention so to speak. Some say salt enhances the flavor, others say you are going to be using it in a recipe or reducing anyway and the salt should be added at cooking time so it is not over salted. I am firmly planted smack dab between both camps on this one. I add sea salt, but only a little tiny bit, just so you can barely even taste it, before the stock is strained. Next time I plan to reduce the stock by more than half so I will not be adding salt at all.
I am told that chicken feet have a tremendous amount of gelatin in them and will thicken a stock considerably. Apparently that is also the secret to the pretty yellow color that Jewish chicken soup has. I’m totally going to try this next time. I hadn’t been able to find chicken feet, but a friend recently posted a picture on Facebook of a package of chicken feet at a local grocery store. They were labeled, oddly enough, ‘chicken paws’. Maybe all this time I was just asking for the wrong thing?
Great, for some reason, I now have a mental image of the Swedish Chef with a chicken hanging out of the pot. Bork! Bork! Bork!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
When you think you have enough to fill your biggest pot maybe 1/2 – 2/3 full, chuck it all in, still frozen, and cover the bones and stuff by an inch or two with cold water, add a glug (about 2 T per chicken carcass) of white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, wine, or lemon juice (not strictly necessary but the acid helps leach calcium out of the bones and into that cooking water) slap on a lid and slowly bring the whole mess to a low boil, 200 degrees F. or so.
If the stock boils too vigorously for too long it will churn up the solids and make the stock cloudy. I don’t care about cloudy stock, it tastes the same to me, but for some applications like consomme it may be desirable. I’ll never make consomme so It’s not a big deal. I’ve accidentally boiled almost every pot of stock I’ve made and it’s all been fine.
Remove the lid and then back it down to a simmer when small bubbles break the surface periodically(180-200 degrees F.) and keep it there for as little as 4 hours, skimming the scum (coagulated proteins, fats and assorted bits of flotsam) about every half hour or so for the first couple of hours with a spoon or mesh scum skimmer dohickey. After the first few hours, you can just skim as you see it. The longer you cook it, the better, I think at least 24 hours is best, but I’ve seen some sources say that 30 hours is best. I usually start the process in the afternoon and have it done by the next afternoon. Check the heat periodically and fiddle with the flame when necessary to keep it at that simmer. Add more water when required to keep the level a few inches above the bones.
You could leave the lid off or on throughout the process. Leave it off and the water evaporates more quickly so you need to add water more frequently, but the flavor gets more concentrated. Leave it on and it keeps the heat in the pot (good for summertime) but makes for a more dilute stock because the water drips right back onto it. The temperature also has a tendency to creep up when the lid is on. I generally cover it to get the initial low boil, remove lid for simmer, replace lid and check that water level is high enough and temperature is stable (on the low end) before I go to bed, then remove the lid in the morning before adding water. At this point I leave it off for the rest of the cooking time. Or you could leave the lid partway on for the whole time. It all depends upon the results you are looking for.
After it’s simmered as long as you have patience for, remove all the spent hunks of beast with tongs or something and trash them. You may also want to run a slotted spoon through the stock to remove some of the larger pieces to make straining easier. You will also find that the bones may crumble when you take them out, that is a pretty good sign that you have extracted all the goodness from them. My man Alton Brown uses the bone crumble test to determine if stock is finished. The smaller chicken bones should crumble when squeezed with tongs. I use this guideline too, but it is just a guideline. You do not have to have crumbly bones to have decent stock.
Now for the straining. Let the stock cool off the burner for maybe a half hour so it’s a bit easier to handle- I wouldn’t go much longer than that because you start to get optimal conditions for bacterial growth if it sits at room temperature for too long. I usually set up a large colander lined with a floursack cloth inside my dutch oven and use my 4 cup pyrex to transfer stock to the colander. I have to empty the dutch oven into bowls a few times because it is considerably smaller than my stock pot, but it works OK. There will be a good amount of fat in this process and if you drip stock on the floor as I always do it will be EXTREMELY slippery. Watch out! Actually, everything that stock touches will be covered in a thin layer of chicken fat so it will all be slippery after a while.
When everything has been strained and you just have solids left in the colander, press out all those last drops of goodness with the back of a spoon and chuck the rest of the spent meat and stuff. I just rinse the stockpot and dump the strained stock back into it.
Make sure to wash that chicken fat saturated floursack cloth in some liquid dish detergent and rinse well before putting it into the wash. That’s a lot of grease to ask a washing machine to dispose of, this gives it a head start.
Now for the cooling, it’s just as important as the cooking really. As I said, bacterial growth is of concern. This is because cooling a whole stockpot load of stuff takes time. It is a large volume so different areas can be different temperatures, some of those are temperatures that bacteria thrive in. Specifically from 40-140 degrees F., what is called “the danger zone”. The less time you spend in this danger zone, the less chance bacteria has to grow. Not to mention stock is perfect bacteria chow with all those fats and protein. So we have to cool it quickly and without using the fridge because putting a big ol’ pot of hot stuff in the fridge will break it, not to mention warming all of your other food accelerating it’s spoilage.
There are a few ways of achieving this.
Leaving it outside for a few hours in sub freezing temperatures is the easiest. Just stir it every 15 minutes or so till it’s chilled to the touch. Barring that, you could put the whole pot into a sink full of ice water stirring periodically and replenishing cold water and ice as it warms. You could also put a couple of zip top bags filled with ice or ice packs directly in the pot, stirring every so often. This method also removes a lot of extra fat as it clings to the plastic bags when they are finally removed. You could also do what I do when it’s warm outside. Divide it into the (labeled with contents and date because you will not remember – my bags of frozen applesauce have been mistaken for stock!) quart freezer bags it will be stored in, lay flat on the basement floor or front porch to cool. If I get impatient, I flip them to a new cool spot after a bit. It’s such a small volume that it will cool fairly quickly. The cool concrete just sucks the heat right out of it. It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as it cools quickly.
Once it is chilled, the fat will congeal at the top of the stock. You can remove this or keep it in the stock and evenly divide it between all the storage containers. I keep it in there. I figure if I need to remove it I can do it after thawing. If the stock is to be refrigerated, this ‘fat cap’ will keep it fresher longer. Apparently if you reboil the stock for a few minutes every few days it will keep in the fridge for more than a week. No experience with this though, I freeze all mine. I also saved some poultry fat (schmaltz) from the last batch I made to use as a cooking fat for Garrett that is dairy and soy free, but I haven’t used it yet.
After chilling and before freezing, you could reduce the stock to anywhere from 1/2 to 1/10th or less of it’s original volume. This achieves two things. It concentrates flavors and reduces the amount of storage space needed. The resulting ‘glace de viande’ (1/10th reduction) can be used as a sauce in itself or have water added to it to make it back into regular stock for cooking. The key is to reduce it with that same low heat you used to simmer it originally. Leave the lid off for obvious reasons. It will get thick and syrupy after a few hours so make sure to lower the heat to reallllly low when it starts to thicken up so you don’t burn it. I have not yet done this but plan to the next time I make stock.
You can use any freezer safe container to freeze the stock in. So far, I’ve used quart sized zip top freezer bags and wide mouth pint canning jars. The plastic bags are convenient and don’t take up much space but they tend to get beat up and get little holes in them in the freezer so they leak when you thaw them. That and the fact that they are not reusable or recyclable. There is also some question as to the safety of freezing plastic – even the BPA free kind, but that seems to be up in the air. Wide mouth canning jars are recyclable, reusable, eco-friendly and inert. They are also heavy, bulky, breakable and more expensive. So, you pick your battles. I use both, whatever I happen to have on hand.
When I freeze stock, I lay a cookie sheet or cooling rack in the chest freezer and place the bags flat on that, stacking them if needed. The neat rectangles take up much less space than the amorphous blobs that form when you just put them in the freezer wherever they fit.
You could also pour it into ice cube trays, freeze, pop out and store in a larger zip top freezer bag if you need smaller quantities. I never do this because I don’t need small quantities! I may use this technique when I reduce the stock though.
Your stock should last a year in the deep freeze, 6 months in a fridge/freezer combo, probably longer in glass.
So, what about an actual recipe? Well, I don’t have one. That’s part of the beauty of stock. You can use whatever you have on hand and 9 times out of 10 it will be awesome with just what you have. You almost can’t screw it up. I like stuff that I can’t screw up, because screwing up is something I do often! Not having to follow a recipe is refreshing for me since I bake a lot and baking is all about precision. Stock is, by definition, not precise.
But, if you need numbers, here are a few recipes for different types of stock.
And here are a few ways to use your newborn stock.
So start saving those bones and make yo ass some stock. It’s so easy it’s ridiculous! You won’t be disappointed!