In these troubled times, it’s hard to know the safest place to put your money. I’ve never claimed to be any sort of financial expert, but I know where I’ll be storing my nest egg, and it ain’t under my mattress. No, these 10 bucks are going straight into my stockpot. That way, come June, I’ll know I have something left. Take that, economy.
To continue our previous discussion, don’t let stock’s reputation get you down. It just requires that you have access to a large pot, that you remain in the vicinity of your house for a few hours while it simmers away (not hard when you’re poor), and that you have some freezer space in which to store it. Stock is a good way to clean out your crisper of limp celery, dehydrated carrots, and that leek you don’t know what to do with, as well as any onions that are starting to sprout. I use parsley leaves often when I cook, so I save the stems for stock. Any vegetables that are about to rot, I store in the freezer until it’s time to make stock. Same with leftover wine, if you can imagine such a thing. Ditto for bones, which is one of the benefits of buying local meat.
Here’s the method for vegetable stock (broth, really), but use whatever you have on hand. VegYear says potatoes are the secret to a great veggie stock, so I’ve learned something today. You can then modify this basic recipe if you have access to bones. Often you can get some for cheap or free from your local butcher or fishmonger if you ask.
Basic Technique: Vegetable Broth
3 onions (or leeks), halved (peeled or unpeeled)
2 garlic cloves, smashed (peeled or unpeeled)
2 carrots and/or parsnips in large chunks (unpeeled with tops is fine, washed would be nice)
2 celery stalks (or small celery root) in large chunks
Handful of parsley stems
Several springs of thyme
A bay leaf
A sprinkling of whole peppercorns
A cup of wine (optional)
Cover with water by several inches (vegetables will float, so use your imagination). Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Let cool a bit, then strain and portion into freezable containers (or ice cube trays).
Here are some non-vegetarian stock options:
Add a meaty chicken carcass to the vegetables and add water to cover. Simmer 2-3 hours, skimming off the foamy stuff that collects at the top. Strain out the solids and remove the slick layer of fat from the top of the remaining stock. Or leave it in like I do.
I like to roast five pounds of beef, veal, or lamb bones for about 45 minutes in a 375ºF oven first to get those deep, meaty, caramelized flavors going on. Then they go into the pot with the vegetables. Simmer for 3-4 hours, skimming the foam off every so often. Remove the fat if you like (this is easier to do when it’s been in the freezer for an hour or two, as it helpfully congeals).
Fish heads or racks (meaning skeletons, not breasts) from white fish like haddock are ideal. Oilier fish like salmon I’ve heard don’t make good stock. You’re supposed to remove the eyes, which cloud up the stock, but I just leave them alone (somehow, gouging them out seems grosser than cooking them). I like to use fennel fronds in place of carrots, but that’s just me. Simmer for 30 minutes, skimming occasionally.
Now that you’ve invested in delicious stocks, how do you know when it’s time to cash out? I find chicken and vegetable stocks to be the most versatile with a subtle flavor good for most soups or sauces. I like them in risotto and polenta, too. You can even use them to braise tougher greens like collards and kale. Beef stock has a more assertive flavor, good for heartier soups and stews. I use fish stock whenever a recipe calls for clam juice in chowder or any fish-based soup, and you could also use it to poach seafood. Just remember to add salt whenever you cook with homemade stock. You’ll need a fair amount, but it will be nowhere near what you get with bouillon cubes.
So, who’s with me? Let’s hear it for frozen assets, the only investments you can really rely on these days. At least until they shut off your electricity. What else do you guys use stock for?