Taking stock

In my post yesterday about making minestrone, I mentioned that I made my own stock. And I do, as much as I can. I’m not sure that it’s the amazing thickened gelatinous gloop that proper chefs produce, but mine is good enough to provide a tasty base for my winter soups, stews and sauces.

If I was paleo, I’d call my stock a “bone broth” since this is really what it is. A bunch of bones (still with some meat on), cooked with water, vegetable off cuts and herbs. It’s a brilliant way to use up a leftover chicken carcass, the ends off onions, carrots and celery, you can even throw in that last bit of wine left in the bottle.

In a pinch (that is, when I don’t have any cooked bones lying around) I have made this with raw chicken carcasses from the butcher, but I don’t think it tastes as good. The roasted bones add more depth of flavour. I remember reading a Nigella Lawson recipe preface, which talked about her stealing the bones from her dinner guests plates to use in stock. I don’t think I’ve ever gone quite that far, but you know, needs must….

Keep in mind that the stock is a base for a dish, not the dish itself. While it needs good flavour, you will add a great deal more than just stock to your soups and stews, so there’s loads of opportunity to add flavour later. I don’t bother to season my stock with salt and pepper but wait until the whole meal I am preparing is almost complete.

Here’s all you need to know about stock:

  • Use whatever leftover bones you have available. This includes duck bones, ham bones, chicken, lamb or beef. Make sure they still have a bit of meat on them
  • In a large pot, add enough water to cover the bones. You can keep topping up the water if it gets too low during the cooking process
  • If you want to add wine, I’d put that in the pot first (before anything else), bring to the boil and cook off the alcohol. You probably only need about a cup
  • Throw in a roughly chopped carrot, onion, a stick or so of celery, and a clove or two of squashed garlic. Looking at the photo above, I’ve also used some off cuts from a bulb of fennel. Don’t bother to skin anything or take the leaves off the celery
  • Herbs should complement the meat you’re using ideally, but a bayleaf, a sprig of thyme and parsley goes well with most things. You can also add spices, such as cloves, fennel seeds, peppercorns, cumin or coriander seeds.
  • If you want to use stock in an oriental recipe, keep the vegetables as above, but consider adding ginger, star anise and maybe coriander stalks.
  • Bring everything to the boil, then reduce the heat to simmer, cover and cook slowly for at least an hour. I have been known to keep stock cooking all day, just topping up the water as needed.
  • Skim any scum or fat from the top, strain into a large container and either freeze or set aside for immediate use. Stock will keep for about 6 months in the freezer and for 3 days in the fridge.

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