I don’t like overcomplicated recipes or techniques in the kitchen, but I have been trying to “return to my roots,” so to speak when it comes to the ingredients that go into what we eat. While I still have my moments and just stop at the grocery store for canned tomatoes or a loaf of bread instead of making my own, I do try to make my own if at all possible because then I know exactly what went into it – and it just tastes better (and it’s radical!). I think, like much of anything, the reward is in the trying, not the perfecting. An easy foray into cooking from scratch is to make your own soup stock.
We pretty much live on soups around here throughout the year, but especially during the colder months (will spring ever get here?), so we go through stock by the gallons. There are tons of different versions for homemade stock, and it’s really hard to screw up, so you really can’t go wrong. When I first started making stock, I used Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything (which would probably be my desert-island cookbook if I had to pick just one).
Now I mostly just wing it based on what I have on hand. At Whole Foods on Tuesdays, they have rotisserie chickens on special for $5.99 (the chickens are from an Amish farm in northern Indiana that raises their chickens reasonably well…I would prefer a little more free roaming, but that’s a post for another day). I work on Tuesdays at the office, so, if I’m on top of things, I’ll make something on Monday that will have leftovers for Tuesday. When that doesn’t happen, Grant sometimes stops to get a $5.99 rotisserie chicken for us on his way home. He’s great and gets all of the meat off of the bird, so we’ll make tacos or chicken salad or any number of other easy chicken dishes.
I save the carcasses (eww…I know, that’s a gross word, but that’s what it is!) in a big container I keep in our freezer. As I cook other things throughout the week/month, I add to that container with the bottoms and peels of celery, carrots, onions, potatoes, etc. (pretty much any vegetable cuttings besides strong leafy greens, turnips or beets). Making your own stock is a great way to get some extra mileage out of your vegetable cuttings that you would otherwise be composting. Once the container gets full, it’s time to make stock again.
I dump all of those frozen leftover ingredients in a big stock pot (leaving out the chicken bones if I want veggie stock) and add in water – usually about 4 cups of water for every cup of vegetables/meat bones (I’ve also used pork, turkey and beef bones for stock-making, all of which are delicious. Post-Thanksgiving turkey stock is my favorite!) and some seasonings, usually several cloves of garlic, salt and pepper, oregano, tarragon and maybe a bay leaf. I bring the whole thing to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for at least an hour. If I’m hurting for space in the freezer, I simmer it for about another hour, which creates “stock concentrate” instead of regular stock. I just have to add water to the final dish when using the concentrate version.
If I’m in a big hurry, I let it cool and freeze it as is, but if I have some extra time, I strain it in batches through some cheesecloth before freezing it. I typically freeze the stock in mostly four cup batches because that seems to work best for many of our recipes, but I always add a few two cup batches too for those smaller jobs.
Try it for yourself and let me know how it goes!