New Year's Eve was a quiet night at home this year and I saw New Year's Day as the perfect opportunity to start reclaiming some control after the haphazard eating of the last few months. The combination of the holidays along with some extended hospital stays for my husband led to a lot of carb loading and "feeling eating" during November and December.(PS My feelings are delicious and usually come with a side of chocolate or cheese...) I can't remember the last time I had seen a green vegetable and my version of 'cooking' had devolved into cereal with milk or a slice of cheese on an English muffin that sometimes might not have made it to the toaster. Things were pretty grim for a while.
It was definitely time to start taking life in hand and the best way to do that is to go back to basics and start with the building blocks of food and flavor - stock! I love the way the house smells when there's a pot of stock bubbling away on the stove top and its even better with two.
A good stock is pretty easy to throw together. It's really just a combination of bones, aromatic vegetables, herbs/spices and water.
The water is actually the tricky part for me - too little and you end up with not enough at the end. Too much and all you get is some tinted water with little flavor. It took me a few tries over the years to get the ratios right, but now I think I 'mostly' have it right. The trick is to keep the bones in your pot covered - don't fill your giant pot to the top unless you've got enough bones and vegetables to keep that flavor going.
For my chicken stock, I used a whole chicken this time - though I've been known to just hang onto carcases in my freezer (backs, wings and necks especially) and when I have enough, I'll roast them in the oven before turning them into stock. In this case, I didn't have anything in the freezer so I went with a whole chicken. I rinsed and cleaned the chicken and it went into a large stock pot with carrots (unpeeled), celery and a large onion - all cut up into large chunks. I covered the chicken and vegetables with cold water and turned the heat up to medium high. I added a small handful of black pepper corns but because we're watching our sodium, left the salt out. You can either add a teaspoon or two at this point, or, you can wait to season whatever magic you end up seasoning with your stock. If I would have remembered at the market, I would have also added some springs of fresh thyme and parsley - but I wasn't that forward thinking so I left it out.
For the beef stock - I roasted the bones in a 400 degree oven before adding them to the pot with the same veggies as the chicken stock plus two whole, peeled garlic cloves and a cup of red wine. Sometimes I'll add a little bit of tomato paste or other tomato product to my beef stock but for this round I kept it simple and just went with a straight brown stock.
I strain my stock through a fine mesh strainer, gently pressing on the solids with the back of a spoon to extract the most flavor from them. Usually, I cool it down on the counter but sometimes it's late and I'm tired and I just want to get it in the fridge so I throw caution to the wind and put the hot stock in the cold fridge. The stock police haven't arrested me yet so I think I'm good. After an overnight chill, the fat will solidify and rise to the top of the stock and you can easily skim it off. I skim off most - not all because fat equals flavor so we want to keep a bit of it in there. I store in tupperware containers in the freezer in various sizes - though if you want to be like one of my favorite aunts - you can store it in a ziploc freezer bag. No seriously - she used to pull out bags of soup before the holidays! It was our favorite thing - and actually makes a lot of sense because you can freeze them flat and they take up much less room in your freezer. The problem is you need the room in your freezer to let them freeze flat and I had too much in and didn't feel like cleaning it out on this round so tupperware it was!
We ended up with three quarts of chicken stock and just shy of three quarts of beef. I used one quart of the beef stock in a slow cooker beef stew that we ate all week and the chicken stock is probably going into a pot pie for this snowy winter day. My goal is to keep our supplies full this winter without having to pick up anything pre-made but we'll see how far I get. For now, I'm going to indulge in the luxury of a full freezer! If you haven't made your own stock before, I highly recommend it. The best part is how amazing your home will smell while it's perking!
Speaking of good smells - time to make use of this snowy Saturday and put up a pot of pumpkin chili! Good thing I've got more chicken stock at the ready!
1 4-5 lb. whole chicken (or 4-5 lbs of chicken parts)
4 large carrots, large dice (peel them if you want or if they need it)
3 large ribs of celery, large dice
1 large onion - large dice
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
5 sprigs of fresh thyme (optional)
5 stems of fresh parsley (optional)
2-3 quarts of cold water
Place all ingredients in a pot and add the water to cover the ingredients. You might not need the whole three quarts. Slowly, bring the mixture up to a boil - skimming off the yucky gray foam and scum that rises to the surface.
After it boils, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for at least two hours - preferably three or four. Remove the chicken, crank the heat up to high and let the stock boil uncovered for about five minutes. Let it cool for a bit, then strain out the solids. You can either put it directly into your storage containers at this point or, put the whole bowl into the fridge, let the fat rise to the top overnight and then skim off the fat in the morning before you store. It's up to you!
4-5 lbs. beef neck bones
3 large carrots, large dice (peel them if you want or if they need it)
2 large ribs of celery, large dice
1 large onion, large dice
2 cloves of garlic - peeled and lightly crushed
1 cup red wine
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
5 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
5 stems fresh parsley (optional)
Roast the bones in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.
Place the bones into a large stock pot with the vegetables, wine and herbs - add water to cover the meat and vegetables. Slowly bring to a boil and skim off any scum or foam that rises to the top.
After it boils, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for three to four hours on a low flame. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes, then pour through a fine mesh strainer. Press the solids with a back of a spoon to extract maximum flavor. Either place it in your storage containers at this point or, place the whole bowl into the fridge and allow the fat to solidify and rise to the top over night. Skim off as much or as little fat as you like, then store in sealed containers.
Both stocks will store for about a week in the refrigerator or up to six months in the freezer. I think...I've never had one in there longer than that!