Thursday, March 7, 2013

Taking Stock

Where I live we are on the backside of winter. Nonetheless Old Man Winter has graced us with another, and hopefully last dare I say for fear of jinxing it, snowstorm. The peaceful blanket of white makes everything still and quiet allowing me a moment to take stock of the past few months and dream of spring, the garden, and warm weather ahead. But until it arrives I long for soup to warm my body and soul.

One of the first things I learned to make as a young bride was soup stock. I watched Julia Child roast bones for her version and read my husband's The Campus Survival Cookbook written by Jacqueline Wood & Joelyn Scott Gilchrist given to him by his grandmother. It seemed an easy and satisfying task.

I used to joke that I could get several meals out of one chicken. I would roast the chicken with vegetables to feed us a few meals. When the chicken was gone I would boil the bones with left-over vegetables, if any, and add a few additional vegetables to make a nice, rich stock. Then I would make soup with the stock. One chicken went a long way.

Over the years I have made soup for a lot of people usually to rave reviews. When asked what the secret is I tell them it is the homemade stock. I know you can buy ready-made stock and some are pretty good, but nothing beats homemade. It really does make a difference in what you are cooking whether it be soup or sauce. Homemade stock just adds so much more flavor.

As I learned from my first try it isn't hard to make stock. It only takes some time most of which is unsupervised, except for occasionally checking the simmering pot on the stove. You don't need to measure anything or be precise. Just roast some bones and vegetables, simmer gently for a few hours, strain, and voila.

You can make stock without bones and use just vegetables, but for a thick, rich stock that turns gelatinous when cold you need bones. There is no need to peel the vegetables. The nutrients are closest to the skin. Just make sure they are clean. Once you chill the stock in the refrigerator it is easy to remove the fat as it will rise to the top. I rewarm the stock to make it liquid and then store in smaller containers for easy use. Freeze some in ice cube trays, then store in freezer bags to keep handy when making a sauce or stir fry or you just need a little. Store in larger containers for soups and stews.

While the stock is gently simmering you will have time to peruse the garden catalogs that arrive this time of year. I am eager to spend time with the new White Flower Farm catalog. Making stock just takes patience while it comes to fruition. Just like the garden patiently waits for the frozen earth to thaw under a late winter snow. The two little snow-covered mounds in the photo above are snowdrops, appropriately named. They are blooming or were before the snowfall.

Once you get in the habit of making your own stock you won't be satisfied with any other kind. I often leave family gatherings with whatever bones are left from our meal. My favorite is the grilled turkey carcass my brother-in-law sends home with me after Thanksgiving dinner at their home. It makes the absolute best stock. It is liquid gold. You can take stock in that.

Soup Stock

bones, chicken, turkey, or beef depending upon what kind of stock you want to make
2 large carrots
1 large onion or some leeks
1 celery stalk
a few cloves of garlic
a few whole peppercorns
a big splash of vinegar

Don't be concerned about the vinegar. It draws the calcium out of the bones which is what makes it like gelatin. The smell and taste will cook out. You will never know it is there.

I don't salt my stock. I prefer to add salt later to whatever I am cooking. Feel free to add it if you desire.

Roast bones in a 350℉ (175℃) oven for 30-40 minutes until brown. You can also roast the vegetables for a more intensive flavored stock. If roasting both, use one pan for the bones and one pan for the vegetables. Put the bones on the top rack in the oven and the vegetables on the bottom rack. Put roasted bones and vegetables in a stock pot large enough to hold everything or add the raw vegetables if you did not roast them. Add water to cover contents. Add garlic, peppercorns, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover with a lid. Allow stock to simmer gently at least 2 hours and preferably 4-5 hours. Let cool for a while then strain through a fine mesh sieve. Cover and refrigerate. The fat will rise to the top. Once cold it is easy to remove and discard. Store stock in the refrigerator for short-term use. To store longer than a week, store in the freezer.

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