Learning to make proper stock in culinary school was a fucking game changer. It was what we did from day one to the day before graduation.
Laying out 50 pounds of bones-du-jour on to sheet pans, roasting them until deep brown, struggling to get them in the huge industrial stock pots bolted to the floor, stirring and skimming for hours – on the daily. The second most laborious part of the job was straining. There was a convenient spout at the bottom that when opened would gush stock. However this procedure required you play tag team with a fellow student – someone willing to donate practically their entire body to the pot reaching all the way in to keep the drain from blocking on the inside with bones and veggies and one stationed on the outside trying to keep the spigot clear and the stock flowing.
Yet the most laborious and dangerous part of the process was balancing stock pot after stock pot on over turned milk crates, switching them out just in time before they overflowed. Then enlisting some strong arms to carry them away as they inevitably sloshed over creating animal-greased floors was a precarious lawsuit in the making day after day. Yet, we all survived.
While learning this important skill, I decided I needed a taste test comparing to store bought. Even though homemade stock in the at-home kitchen would not have been nearly as dangerous to produce, was it worth the 3-4 hours of simmering time for poultry stock and the 6-8 hours for beef stock? The answer is just yes, fucking yes you need to make homemade stock. Every store-bought version I could get my hands on was either thin and watery or too salty or both – and all about 10-15x in price. The cherry for me in making stock is that I also get to use more of the whole animal.
So please take a lazy weekend afternoon and make stock. After you strain it, pour into smaller containers, label and freeze. Your rice, grains, soups, sauces, just about any place that calls for water in a recipe, and, most of all, your taste buds will worship you in response.
It’s taken me forever to read “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain. He writes as fantasticly as he narrates. Maybe it’s our Jersey connection, but that straight-forward attitude is golden. And while he is making fun of you, you have to admit he’s nearly always right.
Here’s what he has to say about stock:
“Stock is the backbone of good cooking. You need it – and you don’t have it. I have the luxury of thirty-quart stockpots, a willing prep crew, readily available bones and plenty of refrigerator space. Does this mean you should subject your guests to a sauce made from nasty commercial bases or salty canned broth? Make stock already! It’s easy! Just roast some bones, roast some vegetables, put them in a big pot with water and reduce and reduce and reduce. Make a few months’ worth, and when it’s reduced enough strain it and freeze it in small containers so you can pull it from the freezer as needed. Life without stock is barely worth living…”
I am a convert and he’s is absolutely correct that stock is life.
Years later post-culinary school, I would now call myself a bone-hoarder. That turkey carcass after Thanksgiving? I’ll fight you to the death for it! Thankfully no one actually wants it so I have never had to use my Chef’s knife to procure it. They don’t know what tasty pleasures they are missing.
I am awfully glad that Nerdie didn’t examine my freezer before he proposed or he might have thought twice after seeing a good 30-40% of the space devoted to either bones, finished stock or both. But now just try and get him to eat rice made with water – HA!
- Cooked Bones (skin and meat on ok, sauces and breading no)
- Garlic cloves
- Whole Peppercorns
- Peel off any visible skin from the bones and then break the bones, if needed, to fit in your stock pot. I found that about 2-3 # of bones fit into my Dutch Oven.
- First, put the skin in the pot over medium heat. Let the fat render off. If you don’t have enough of a coating of fat, add a little canola, vegetable or olive oil.
- Add a whole onion, peeled and cut into what the culinary world calls production cuts. These are rough, imprecise cuts so just run your knife through it and put it in the pot.
- Meanwhile do the same production cuts with 2 carrots and 3 celery stalks – mas o menos. After the onion edges start to brown, add the carrots. After the carrots start to brown, add the celery. This takes about 8-10 minutes between each browning.
- Then add the celery. Celery doesn’t brown, so just cook until you see it start to soften.
- You know those annoyingly small garlic cloves in the bulb? Save them and use 3-4 of them here. Smash them with the side of a knife and throw them in the pot, skins too.
- Add some herbs, woody-er ones, like thyme, sage, rosemary, bay leaf, depending on how you might use the finished stock. I typically use thyme and bay leaf because they are flavorful, but not too strong in flavor.
- Add about a teaspoon of black peppercorns cracked with the side of your knife.
- Put the bones in the pot. Fill to the near top with water.
- Bring to a boil, then cover most of the pot with a lid, turn the heat to low and simmer, yup, 3-4 hours for poultry stock and 6-8 hours for beef/game stock.
- Check periodically to make sure it stays at a simmer. Skim if you’d like, but I don’t bother.
- This would make a food inspector cringe, but after the allotted simmer time, I turn off the heat, put the lid on and let it sit just like that overnight.
- The next morning there may be a solid layer of fat on top. If so, gently heat to reincorporate. Don’t be afraid of fat and skim it off god damn it! Fat is flavor – just like stock!
- Then turn off the heat, and using tongs, pull all the big bones out of the pot. I learned this step the hard way after making a right mess trying to strain. The weighty bones came barreling out of the pot, hit the side of my straining vessel, turned it over and all that work went down the side of the cabinet and on to the floor. Now I had animal-greased floors! No fun – so take the bones out first.
- Place a fine-meshed colander or chinoise over a glass Pyrex bowl with a spout. The spout is non-negotiable!
- Pour the stock into the colander and fill the bowl. Get yourself some restaurant-grade pint and quart containers. I found them easily and cheaply on that big box store in the clouds. The lids fit tight and you can freeze, microwave and dishwasher them.
- Continue until it’s all doled out. Label and freeze.