I very much dislike throwing away food.
No, by that I do not mean that I’d eat things which have gone off, or are in some other way unappetising. There is no reason to do that, and reasons not to (in case of spoiled food). What I mean, I suppose, is that I dislike wasting good food by letting it go off, or, similarly, by not using something which could yield good food, and throwing it away instead. Beef, lamb and poultry bones which can be used to make stock are a typical example of such.
The large stockpot, once a pride of a kitchen in its gleaming polished-steel grandeur has, in recent years, become symbolic of a few things, and sadly not all of them nice.
And while it still stands somewhat for large holiday family dinners and grandmother’s cooking, it is also something which most modern kitchens simply do not have. Why? The answer is not simple. One, making stock is not glamorous. It is nothing like allowing a beautiful steak rest on a pretty platter in a rub, or putting little canapes onto a gleaming tray. It involves, instead, handling bones or a poultry carcass, and a lot of time – which is why it has come, rather sadly, to symbolise the pre-war housewives spending hours on end in the kitchen, and drudgery.
The even more sad bit about it is – it is neither difficult, nor requiring much effort, and while it does take time, it is not, after the initial boiling-up period, time which needs or must be spent in the kitchen, barring a once-an-hour check. Moreover, it is something which produces a lot of delicious, fantastic food out of something which would otherwise be discarded into the garbage, as the poultry carcasses quite often are these days. Beef and lamb bones aren’t so much, as they are not even normally sold anymore, and I have to ask the butcher for some if I want to make beef marrow bone soup – but chicken and duck and turkey carcasses are discarded after the roast bird is eaten.
The most common misconception about homemade stock, and the one that keeps people away from making it, is that it’d be a waste of chicken which could otherwise be eaten. It’s a natural assumption that for a chicken soup, you need a … chicken. And well, in the olden tyme, a tough old egg-layer bird or an aged rooster did end up in the soup pot – but in the age of baby broiler birds, there is no reason for that. Stock does not need much meat, and what it does need is bones and cartilage – precisely what remains on a carcass after it’s had the meaty pieces cut off for roasting or poaching or eaten in whichever other way.
Moreover, to paraphrase Nigel Slater, “stock for [his] recipes never comes from a cube – it comes from a stock pot, a can, a wine bottle, or from a water tap in a pinch” – but the stock cubes can murder a recipe’s flavour. The way I view it, you can, if you are careful, use a stock cube (along with a liberal amount of white wine and seasonings) in a pinch if you need it for a slow-simmering dish, but what stock cubes, or even canned stock simply cannot do, is become homemade bullion soup, the clear golden beautifulness of which needs little seasoning, and not much garnish – a handful of chopped parsley or other greens, a spoonful of cooked rice, or a bit of noodles, or a few thinly sliced raw mushrooms dropped into it while it is very hot to cook themselves right in the bowl.
But yes… making stock is very simple. As promised on the previous post, here’re the recipe/instructions.
- Remains of whatever animal or bird you have eaten (leg bone from lamb, rib rack after the loin was cut off, chicken or duck carcass).
- A large soup pot. For this little bone mass, a 4-5L soup pot is more than large enough. Actually, you need two, but if you only have one, a large mixing bowl (preferably steel) can be used for straining the stock into, and it can then be returned to the same pot.
- Salt, a few bay leaves and a few whole peppercorns – or, if you want to be more adventurous, a few slices of ginger root, a chopped chili or some chili flakes, and a stick of lemongrass for SE Asian flavour.
- A metal sieve.
- A slotted spoon.
- Unless you are eating the entire several litres of stock on same or next day, I also happily recommend a few plastic boxes with lids and a freezer. Stock freezes well and stores near-indefinitely, providing an easy on-hand supper base or proper stock for future cooking as the recipes call for it.
- Time. But most of it, you can spend on yourself (though I do recommend staying at home: however little watching the stock needs, I don’t think it’s wise to keep a turned on stove if you are leaving the immediate geographic vicinity of it).
Here’s what you do:
- Wash the bones/carcass in cold water and place into pot.
- Fill the pot with cold tap water to about 5cm from the brim.
- Put pot on stove and turn it on high heat. Cover if you have a glass lid, otherwise don’t. This is the part where you should be in the kitchen, as you want to make sure you are there when the pot gets close to boiling.
- When the bloody (greyish brown) foam appears, carefully skim it off the surface with a slotted spoon, and discard (having a saucer to drop it on by stove helps). Repeat until the water is boiling and no more foam appears. This step is not strictly necessary, but it makes the stock clearer and to me, taste better.
- Once pot is boiling, turn the heat down to 1-2 (as low as it can go and still have a very gentle simmer), add peppercorns and bay leaves (or the other seasonings as desired), but not yet salt. Cover. Note: if your lid is not glass, you can start using it now, but you must remember that it will boil harder if covered, so adjust heat down for that.
- Leave to just barely simmer for an hour, check, and salt to taste. I usually start with a single teaspoon and then add more after tasting.
- Leave to simmer for another ~2-4 hours, checking occasionally to make sure water is not boiling out (add more if needed). I tend to productively use those two+ hours to be lazy, take a bath, read or nap (with a timer set).
- Use the slotted spoon to remove biggest pieces of carcass (it may start to fall apart at this point) onto a plate (caution, those will be very hot).
- Place the second pot on the stove (or the metal bowl if using), with a sieve on top of it. Pour the soup through the sieve. If using one pot, wash the pot and rinse well, then return the soup to it, otherwise, just place the second pot with soup onto heat.
- Bring to a very very gentle simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning. Simmer for 5 more minutes, then turn the heat off and take pot off heat.
- Ladle into bowls. Serve with whatever your heart desires. Or let it stand a few minutes, and ladle into plastic boxes. Cover boxes and let them stand on counter for some time till they are cool enough to place in freezer. Make sure the lids are securely on before doing so – leaking soup box in freezer is not nice (spoken from personal experience!).
Enjoy, both the home-cooked flavour, and the ethical satisfaction of not having wasted something wonderful that came from an animal which died so that you may eat it, and live.