Meditations

Kitchen Essentials: Making Stock


Homemade Chicken Stock

When I was starting out in the kitchen, I was convinced that I was missing something. While I could follow a recipe without too much trouble and only a modicum of charring, anything I tried to make from scratch tended to turn out flavourless and drab. Any comparisons I tried to make between the meals I made at home, and those I had at decent restaurants inevitably left me with a sense of disappointment. It was nothing that an extra bottle of wine wouldn’t fix, but for a long time I wondered: what’s the secret?

A decade later, I’ve discovered that, while there isn’t any magic behind making a good meal, there certainly are some things that can elevate ‘ordinary’ cooking to at least the lower rungs of haute cuisine. Perhaps the most important of these is also the simplest: stock.

I make my own stock whenever I can – it’s easy, and it gives you an essential ingredient that you can use over and over again in the kitchen. Stock is useful in braising liquid, in soups and stews, as a sauce base, in risottos, and in all kinds of recipes for almost everything. It’s hard to find a decent store-bought stock at a low price, and it’s also tricky to find out where the animals (or vegetables) that led to the stock came from. While it would be nice to have stocks of all varieties on hand, it’s very useful to have at least a couple of basic varieties in your fridge or freezer.

There are slightly different techniques behind making various types of stocks – some, like chicken stock, are simple, while others, like lobster stock, can be trickier and require some unusual techniques. Let’s start with the simplest one, and the one I make most often, chicken stock:

Ridiculously Easy Chicken Stock

1. Take the bones from a roast chicken, with all of the meaty bits an cartilage attached, and put them in a stock pot. Fill the pot with cold water until the bones are covered (plus an inch or so).

2. Cook on the stovetop at the lowest simmer you can get for about 10 hours. If you’re not going to be home, you can also throw the (ovenproof) stock pot into the oven and cook it at about 200F for a whole day.

3. Toss some chopped vegetables into the pot. Which vegetables you use are up to you, but stay away from anything strong-flavoured like green peppers. I usually use a carrot or two, some celery, and an onion, and some garlic cloves along with a handful of herbs like parsley, thyme, bay leaf. I also use about 5-10 cracked peppercorns.

4. Cook for another hour, then strain out all the bones and vegetables. Pass the stock through a cheese cloth to get rid of any of the smaller bits and to make sure the stock is nice and clear.

Done!

Chicken stock will last in the fridge for a week (bring it to a boil again before cooking with it), or it can be frozen to be used whenever you please. Some people freeze it in ice cube trays to leave nice small portions that can be used over and over again.

Almost all meat stocks are variations on this same easy method. Pork, beef & veal stocks tend to use roasted or blanched bones – depending on the strength of flavour desired. Vegetable stock is quick and easy – just start at step 3! I’m going to leave fish, lobster and prawn stocks for another post – but think twice before you through out your fish bones and crustacean shells…

Top image from Flickr user Merelymel13

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