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Monday, November 26, 2012

Don't Take Stock, Make It

The method and importance of reintroducing homemade stock into everyday kitchen practices.

By Wes Eaton

Stock is a simple, yet too often overlooked part of kitchen practices. Meaty bones, carcasses, grizzle, and trimmings are not only left out of much of the packaged products now available across America, but when they are brought home, they are often neglected and ultimately wasted. Why is this so? The decline of stock-making practices results from both structural changes, as in changing retail and meat packing practices that prioritize individual, boneless/skinless fillets, as well as from a shrinking understanding and appreciation for both the practice and purpose for making stock in the home.

What I want to do here is begin to point us toward ways of addressing the latter of these issues, the knowledge gap in stock-making practice and purpose. To do so, I want to emphasize the simplicity of making stock, and arranging a stock making practice that allows us to truly make this an “everyday” (or, more likely “every-week”) kitchen practice. I also want to draw upon two of may favorite sources of kitchen lore and science, Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions, and Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, and share a bit about the ways stock nourishes, protects, and heals our bodies.

Falling somewhere between myth and science, homemade stock, concocted from fish, poultry, and ruminant bones, grew infamous for its nourishing, health benefits well before the scientific, industrial, and accompanying medical revolutions. Today, however, retail stock, and its sisters restaurant broth and soup in general, are demonized as MSG- and salt-laden health risks. Yet in reality, stock is nourishing in at least three important ways, as pointed out by Fallon. First, meat stock contain the minerals, such as calcium and potassium, from bone, cartilage, marrow, as well as vegetables. The slow process of simmering, and the addition of a small amount of acidic vinegar, help draw this out. Second, the gelatin which the simmer isomerizes into solution, has the special property of attracting liquids, making foods easier to digest. Moreover, the gelatin, in combination with the other ingredients in stock, heals the mucus lining of the small intestine, which is regularly inflamed and damaged by other things in our modern diets.

Finally we come to taste and cooking qualities. Stock, which is best stewed slowly on stove top throughout a blustery day, adds exquisite depth to soups, stews, and other dishes like risotto and quinoa. Stocks can be clear or cloudy, depending on cooking processes, but all stocks carry their concentrated ingredients in a full bodied, gelatinous, and rich form, perfect for thickening sauces.

To make stock, McGee instructs us to begin with cold water, which allows the proteins of the meat to heat slowly, and therefore fall out of solution, allowing the cook to skim off extra foam and particulates, leaving a generally clear liquid if the boil is not too vigorous. My stock, however, is often cloudy. What should be added to stock? Remember, the idea is to dissolve, through simmering, base components of vegetables, meats, and bones, into a homogenous liquid. There are generally four categories of stock: beef, chicken, fish, and vegetable. McGee points out that the meat itself contributes the depths of flavor, while the bones and skin provide the gelatin; so a bit of both seems prudent.

There are countless arrangements of recipes, so here I want to share my particular practice of making chicken stock. I use the word practice to emphasize that this is more than a recipe, and more than simply a procedure, but rather, as a household practice, chicken stock is part of our family’s routine. First you need a bird, or more specifically, a carcass. Being the holidays, there ought be plenty of turkeys, for instance, to go around. Once or twice a month we purchase a broiler from Rakowski Farms and use this meat and stock throughout many of the weeks’ meals.

Once the bird is cooked, and we roast a whole chicken, and the meat largely removed, situate the carcass on the bottom of a stock pot—arguably the most important tool in the kitchen, next to fire. Per McGee, add cold water. How much depends on the size of the bird, but at least halfway. Heat the mixture to a boil and skim off coagulated proteins before adding additional ingredients. These ought to include, at the least, a couple tablespoons of vinegar or wine to help break things down (this will cook off), carrots, celery, and onions. For spices, leave out the salt. This way you can always salt your ensuing recipes to taste. Instead, add a few bay leaves, black peppercorns, fresh parsley, fresh or dried sage, and a spring of fresh thyme. Continue to simmer, uncovered, all day. Use your discretion, but the longer the better. If you reduce the volume too much, you are producing fumet or demi-glaze that can later, however, be reconstituted with water. 

When you are satisfied with your stock, it's time to prepare it for storage (if you are not using immediately for the split pea soup recipe I give below). To do this, pour the contents of the stock pot through a colander into a large mixing bowl or other storage container to cool. I recommend utilizing the back porch so as not to warm your fridge. Once chilled, you will notice two things. First, the fat will have risen and hardened on top. You can scrape this off and discard, or cook with it if you are using duck. Second, in this cooled state, the stock will resemble straw-colored jello, thickened from the gelatin. To store, I recommend scooping into gallon freezer bags and flattening these on their sides for easy stacking, or keeping in the fridge if you plan to cook within the week. Frozen stock keeps for months, so mark your containers with dates and rotate. Keeping stock on hand will help you make this into a part of your own cooking and eating routine.

Chicken Stock 

    • One or more chicken, turkey, or game bird carcasses, trimmed of fat but heavy on skin and trimmings
    • Celery, carrots, onions, scrubbed and coarsely chopped
    • Bay leaves, peppercorns, fresh or dried sage, fresh thyme, fresh parsley
    • Cold water at least half way up the pot 
Split Pea Soup 

    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • Large finely chopped onion
    • 2 minced garlic cloves
    • 7 cups chicken stock
    • Large smoked ham hock
    • 1 slice of smoked pork/ham
    • 1 pound split green peas
    • Fresh thyme sprigs
    • Bay leaves
    • 2 carrots, peel and cubed
    • 1 celery rib, cubed
    • Black pepper 
In a dutch oven (preferably cast iron), warm the butter, saute the onions and then add garlic and cook for no more than an additional minute while stirring. Next, add remaining ingredients, but leave out the carrots and celery. Raise to a boil, then simmer 45 minutes until peas are tender, but not mush. Next, remove the pork steak, and using a fork, shred and store this in a tupperware to keep from drying out. Add the celery and carrots. Cook for additional 30 minutes then remove the bone, bay leaves, and sprigs, and add back in the shredded meat. Season with salt and pepper if need be.

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