According to the EPA’s site, recycling is “the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products.” To make stock, you collect and process bones and veggie scraps that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turn them into a new product – a flavorful liquid that makes soups, sauces and rehydrated grains more delicious.
So be a good person. Do your part. Make some stock.
Start at least a month before you plan to make the stuff (sorry, this isn’t a recipe you read today and make tonight; boo hoo). I make poultry stock, saving chicken, duck and turkey carcasses (both cooked and raw), labeled, in gallon freezer bags until I have a big enough supply to make stock. Don’t forget to save rotisserie chicken carcasses — they’re bones, too!
Lots of gastronome types (especially French-trained ones) will tell you to peel and chop your stock veggies (AKA mirepoix — 2 parts onion, 1 part carrot, 1 part celery) into large dice. Good for them. I don’t do that. If you think of stock as recycling, which it really, really is, then that’s just downright wasteful. This is especially true if you’re like me and have a large supply of beautiful, organic vegetable peelings leftover from using your CSA veggies to make actual dishes out of those “mirepoix” components. So I save my onion skins, dark green leek tops, carrot and parsnip peelings, celery tops and thyme and parsley stems in freezer bags much like I do with the birds.
I don’t put a lot of those celery tops in my stock, though, because I’m not nuts about celery. So I don’t want everything I make with my stock to taste like a bunch of celery. But I really like onions, and I really like thyme, so those two are well-represented in my own particular flavorful liquid. So make your stock yours. Remember, it’s supposed to be a flavorful liquid, so that’s what you’re going for — not some snooty French version of liquid perfection. That being said, avoid anything that will make your stock cloudy, oddly colored or funny tasting. Examples are as follows: potatoes, beets, asparagus.
Another important point about stock is that it should be unsalted. You use stock as a base for other dishes that will be, at least to some degree, reduced. So if it’s salted, you reduce the amount of liquid but the amount of salt stays the same. Unless you want your soups, sauces and risottos to be inedibly salty, don’t salt your stock. Enough chatter, let’s recycle.
Fill up your biggest pot (or a couple of big pots) with your bones. Fill the pots with cold water, then bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat.
A bunch of gross, foamy goo will rise to the top of the water. Skim that off with a fine mesh strainer and discard. Reduce the heat to keep the water just below a simmer, with just the suggestion of bubbles around the side of the pot. Try to keep the bones fully submerged. If they’re not covered in the liquid, they’re not giving up their delicious flavors.
Let just the bones almost simmer for about 6 hours. Then add your veggie scraps, herb stems and a couple of tablespoons of whole peppercorns. Continue to cook the stock 1 to 2 more hours.
It’s nice to have a multipot (All-Clad makes a nice, reasonably-priced one, shown above) so you can get the biggest pieces of veg and bone out before straining. If you can’t simmer your stock with a strainer insert, no worries, move along to the next step, but transfer biggest bones and pieces of carcass to trash before attempting to strain.
Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a container large enough to hold the liquid. Don’t press on the bones. Toss the bones and veggies.
Strain stock once more through a fine sieve (or cheesecloth if you’re particularly obsessive about culinary perfection) into quart-sized containers, leaving about an inch of space at the top.
Ideally, you’d cool the containers in an ice bath, then cool completely in the fridge, then remove the fat that rises to the top and discard it, then freeze the stock. I don’t do that. I just cool it in an ice bath and freeze it. If you thaw it in the fridge overnight, you can easily remove the fat after it thaws. You can call me lazy if you want, but before you do, remember that I make homemade stock.
Label and freeze.
Stock doesn’t hold up well in the fridge — maybe two days max. Apparently you can boil the refrigerated stock, cool it and put it back in the fridge for another day. I know zero people who do that. It keeps quite well frozen, 3 months in a refrigerator’s freezer or 6 months in a chest freezer. So make enough to keep you happily flavoring polentas, risottos, soups and sauces for awhile.