Friday, November 15, 2013

Stocks Are Rising

Yes, the market is up today, but I am not talking about those kind of stocks. I am talking about homemade chicken, turkey or vegetable stock. I cannot emphasize enough how much better fresh stock is compared to the canned or boxed stuff they sell in the grocery store. It is about one hundred million times better.  I wish I could invite each of you over to my house to do a taste test. Seriously! But, I can't. The fire marshal said he'd get a court order if I tried that again. So, you are going to have to trust me.

I know it is a generally accepted practice to use Swanson Chicken Broth to make soup, sauces, or to add to your Thanksgiving stuffing. However, whatever you are making will be vastly better with homemade stock. Even some of the "better" brands such as Pacific Free-Range Chicken Broth just can't compete with homemade.

You will see that many times the words "broth" and "stock" get used somewhat interchangeably. And that is kind-of alright, since usually you can interchange them in recipes. The main difference between the two comes down to the ratio of meat and bones that are simmered. Broths result from simmering mainly meat, sometimes on a few bones. Stocks are simmered bones, sometimes with a little meat on them. So the short version: broth from meat, stock from bones. 

The result is that stocks will be more full bodied, both in flavor and in texture. When they cool, you will see that they thicken considerably from the natural gelatin in the bones. But it really is all on the same spectrum, like Fifty Shades of Grey ...

So how do you go about making your own stock. Well first of all, it is easy and there is a lot of leeway. You can add carrots and celery ... or not. You can add a bay leaf and peppercorns ... or not. You can simmer it for 2 1/2, or 3 hours, or 4 hours. You can even make it in a crock pot.

I usually just pick a Sunday afternoon that I am going to be around the house anyway, and make it in my stock pot which you can borrow if you want (and are willing to pay shipping and handling -ed.).  Here's what you need:

1) Approximately 4 lbs of chicken, or turkey, wings.
2) Approximately 16 cups (4 quarts) of water.
3) 1 large yellow onion quartered.
4) 2 garlic cloves, unpeeled.
5) Optional--3 medium carrots, washed and cut into 2 inch pieces.
6) Optional--6 medium celery ribs, washed and cut into 2 inch pieces.
7) Optional--2 bay leaves.
8) Optional--1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns.

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Place everything in your large stock pot and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, and simmer for approximately 3 hours. Periodically skim off any foam or particles that accumulate on the surface. When you're done simmering, allow it to cool to room temperature. Pour it through a fine sieve, or a strainer lined with a couple of layers of cheesecloth. 

There are a lot of recipes for vegetable stock out there. Some of them have you add cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli or chard. I don't recommend that, since these vegetables have a high sulfur content and can turn bitter. I also think adding mushrooms, and caramelizing the vegetables before you add the water are important components. So when I make vegetable stock, I follow this excellent method described at Simply Recipes.

After whatever stock you are making is cooled and strained, go ahead and divide it up into smaller storage containers. It will keep in the fridge for 3 days, or the freezer for up to 3 months.  You can even freeze it in ice cube trays, and then transfer it to a Ziploc bag. Each ice cube is about 2 tablespoons, which means you will already have pre-measured amounts to add to sauces or other recipes as needed. 

I am telling you here and now, if you do nothing else this holiday season, make your own stock. Make a big huge batch of it, and then freeze it to use through the winter. You could even pass out containers of it as Christmas presents. Your friends will love you. Well, I would love you.  So make some stock this weekend. And tell me about it, I'd love to hear what kind of stock you made, how it turned out, and any questions that popped up along the way.

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