A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My first batch of stock since 1991

In my Joy of Cooking phase — this was before I got interested in Indian and other Asian cuisines, and when I was young enough to not think twice before dousing at least one dish in every meal with a cup of heavy cream — I was in the habit of cooking up big batches of stock.  I was living in Germany then, a first lieutenant with quite a lot of disposable income and no family to spend it on, so I'm sure I was finishing off these batches of stock with wines that I couldn't even BEGIN to afford to drink now.  <sigh>  Oh, to be young and have more money than I know what to do with.

Actually, I was more or less miserable back then, having ROTC-ed myself into a 4-year stint in the Army — can you imagine any worse fit between person and career field?  The Army couldn't either.  In those pre-Don'-t-Ask-Don't-Tell days, I was asked.  Twice.  (Anticipating the coming policy, I chose NOT to tell.  I'm precocious that way.)  And was officially reprimanded once by my commander on the advice of HIS commander for. . .wait for it. . .wearing too much gel in my hair.  Bless their hearts; nothing in their military training had prepared them for dealing with an "alternative" soldier like me.

What I'm getting at is that I am at this current point in my life — middle 40's (OK, late middle) — happier than I've ever been.  Even if I have to shop from the wine remnants.  (Which is actually more fun, now that I think about it, with the added frisson of getting something luxurious for less than market price.)

One of the things making me happy today is this jar of homemade (wine-less) stock, made this morning mostly from items from my inaugural frozen stock-pile:
What will I become — soup? gravy? flavored rice?
This project really was too easy NOT to do on a regular basis.  And making stock is so much fun.  It's a little like alchemy; you're turning what could've been trash into a nourishing, delicious food.  One of the best things about making stock is that every batch is different.  I am a big advocate of variety for variety's sake, rarely making the same recipe twice without variation and always on the lookout for a new wine, restaurant, chocolate, or variety of lettuce.  Thus, my great affinity for stock.

Here's how I turned trash into treasure in under 3 hours on a Saturday morning before heading off to the gym:

Step 1: I dumped the contents of my frozen stock-pile into a big pot.  I didn't have that much accumulated, so I didn't have to drag out the huge stockpot from beneath the counter; I just used my regular 4-quart pot.
Step 2: I tossed in this single marrow bone.  It had been bought for the dogs — I'd asked the butcher to cut a bigger bone in half since my dogs are small, and he somehow thought I'd want just one of the halves.  I didn't notice this until getting home with my groceries.  2 dogs sharing 1 bone is not a pretty picture, so into the stockpot it went.  Sorry, Freddy & Willy!
Step 3: I added bits of this and that I found in the fridge, rescuing some things that would soon have been growing fuzz: some carrot, a few stalks of celery with the leaves, a half of a green pepper, a sweet potato that had gone soft in places (these spots cut out), and a tiny striped Chiogga beet.
Step 4: I added these herbs and other flavoring ingredients to the pot: some fresh thyme, a couple of bay leaves, some coarsely chopped-up garlic cloves, a handful of raisins, and some peppercorns and cloves.
Step 5: I added filtered water to cover the ingredients and tossed in a little Himalayan pink salt (the gorgeous color of which did not reproduce well in this picture).  Then I turned the flame on high and brought the pot to a boil.
It occurred to me while the pot was coming to a boil that I had some greens, the stems of which could go into the stock, so I chopped these up and added them (red kale and mustard greens).  Take note of my ergonomic, angled-handle chef's knife — it's puts much less strain on the wrist of the chopping hand.  
Once the pot was boiling, I turned it down to simmer and partially covered the pot with its lid, to allow the steam to escape and the stock to cook down.  I let it cook this way for about 2 hours, then poured it through a strainer.  I mashed the ingredients in the strainer with a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible before discarding the veggies and the bone.  You can also use cheesecloth to strain your stock, particularly if you want a very clear broth.

I'll let you know what becomes of Batch #1!  In the meantime, I'd love to hear from seasoned stock-cookers: What do you like to put into your stock?  Is there anything you tend to avoid putting in?  In what creative ways do you use the stock you've made?

[Note to readers: I have been setting down the step-by-step instructions for my recipes as captions to the photos, hoping that everyone is able to read them on their various browsers.  Please let me know if you are not able to see the pictures and/or captions on your computer.  Thank you.]


  1. Very cool. I like to make chicken stock and beef stock from my remnants but I think I'll start adding left-over veggies to it too!

  2. I throw whatever I have into stock. Sometimes I freeze the stock in ice cubes trays. Once it's frozen I put the cubes in freezer bags so I can use a cube or two in stir fry and things that need a little stock but not much.

    Now I'm going to have to go in search of a knife like that! My wrist is feeling sore this week.

    I enjoyed your army story. I almost ROTC-ed myself into it too.

  3. Love this info! Thanks! I am no adventurous with my stock-making, or cooking at all, really, and you're helping me come out of my culinary shell. I did ROTC myself into 4 years of Army service (I actually did enjoy it) in Germany. Your story makes my heart break. I think they're slowly moving in a better direction, at least.

  4. Click here to go to my chef's knife at Amazon. I have had mine for about 3 years now, and it's serving me well. It's well constructed and keeps a sharp edge.

  5. I usually make my stock from leftover poultry bones like rotisserie chicken or turkey carcasses. Like you, I save up the bones in the freezer until I have enough for a batch.

    Then I'll add in celery, carrots, onions, peppercorns, bay leaf. I should start saving up my vegetable trimmings too. Typically, I'll wrap it all into cheesecloth, which makes it a lot easier to remove all the solid bits after cooking.

    Since I got a pressure cooker, that's usually how I cook the stock, really speeds up the process. After straining off the solids, I let the liquid cool in the fridge and remove the fat. If I'm not going to use it right away, I portion it into 1-2 cup containers and freeze it till I need it.

  6. I just use what I've saved up. Carrot peelings, onion pieces, steak bones, chicken backs and necks. I prefer to make smaller batches because it is easier to store and use up. I use the stock in everything - soup, rice, gravies - whatever needs a little something. It just tastes so much better than canned. And it's FREE

  7. Usually, my stock turns into soup that very day. I just can't resist the smell of it. And that day is usually a Friday or Saturday, so there's easy grazing all weekend.

  8. Interesting, how our cooking schedules differ. I do my whirlwind of food prep on the weekends for easy grazing throughout the week. I'm just glad we both have some time for cooking!

  9. I really need to do this. It's not like I don't have the freezer space. I think next time my husband empties one of his ice cream tubs (yes, tubs!), I'm claiming said tub for scraps. Too bad I bought him non-tub containers this week. Better for the environment, not so good for my new plans.

  10. I would never have thought to throw raisins or a sweet potato in a stock! I assume the final product will be sweet, but maybe just a hint? You will have to let me know. And I am also in love with that knife! Too bad I will have to wait until I return back home (June!) for any new kitchen stuff, but it will be a nice welcome home gift to myself ;)

  11. Your stock looks very rich, Michael! I never thought about using wine. What a great idea! Regarding your four year stint in the military, it probably seemed like a grand idea at the time, and it did provide you with the opportunity to "see the world". Trying to find the positive in what was probably a miserable time in your life.

  12. Have you tried making stock in your slow cooker? After a Sunday roast, I pop the meat bones back into the oven for 20 mins or so, to brown up, then into the crock pot with some water, veggies, peppercorns and bay leaves and cook on slow overnight for 8 hours. Then my partner and I argue over who gets to use the stock to make Monday supper...