Stock It Up

My first tip is simple. Learn how to use EVERYTHING!

 

A simple place to put this concept to good use is to make your own soup stock.

If you're into eating meat, then there is no point in wasting good bones.  If you went to the trouble to get good quality, local chicken, then you better take advantage of it by using the whole bird.  If you aren't into meat, then scroll on down a bit because there is plenty to do with veggies too. Anyway, back to the chicken. When I lived in Morocco, I would get a craving for chicken and I would buy a quarter chicken at the open air market.  I won’t go into details about how I selected a bird or how it was displayed on a giant hook dangling from the ceiling.  It was fresh though and the open air did it no harm.  After it was weighed, the butcher would put in two black plastic bags and I was on my way home. 

Now, I didn’t have a refrigerator there and even though the winter had brought my indoor temperature down to 40 degrees, it still felt wrong to have an uncooked chicken sitting on the counter for long.  I began cooking as soon as I could muster the energy.  A day at the open market hunting for vegetables in the cold would tire anybody out.  Anyway, first I would cut the meat from the bones.  I never worried about being too meticulous at this point because a little bit of meat is necessary for a good stock and these bones were certainly destined for stock.  The now boneless meat was sautéed for dinner and the bones were thrown into my one and only pot. 

I’ve never been a fan of complicated recipes so my stock is simple and requires only a few ingredients.  The bones with a little meat are the main one.  Chicken gizzards are not good for stock because they can make it bitter but they can be sautéed separately and frozen for use later on.  Onion is the next ingredient.  Throw in as little or as much as you like.  Dice it, chop it, wack it in half, or throw the whole onion in. The onion skin is even good as it will add a nice golden color to the stock but make sure to cut the roots off if you put a whole onion in.  After that, herbs and spices are the last addition.  Salt is good because it helps all the goodness from the bones dissolve into the stock and I’m a fan of black pepper in anything.  Herbs can be customized to your preferences.  Thyme, rosemary, and sage are all good but I am fan of using basil alone.  I never measure but I’ve never gone wrong with these herbs in any quantity.  Thyme and sage are more potent than basil and sage though so adjust accordingly. 

Once everything is in the pot, add cold water and turn the burner on low.  The pot should be brought to a slow simmer and never reach boiling.  That way you can skim off any impurities.  They will rise to the top when it simmers and won’t get mixed in as they would if the pot was at a full boil.  Simmer for as long as you can stand it.  Anywhere from four to twelve hours is fine, but the longer it goes the better it will be. 

When you are done letting it simmer, pull out the large bones with tongs and strain the rest.  The stock can be used immediately or frozen in containers or ice-cube trays for the future. 

VEGETABLE BROTH

There are two ways to make vegetable broth in my opinion.  One way is to use whole vegetables in the same quantities.  The other way is less predictable, but more my style.  This second way is to save vegetable scraps from other meals and simmer them to make a stock.  The only difference is that the broth will be slightly different each time based on what vegetables you have been eating. 

There are some rules to the types of vegetables or scraps that can be used.  Many vegetables will make the stock bitter or overwhelm the other flavors.  So, do not use eggplant or any vegetable from the Brassicaceae family (such as broccoli, kale, mustard, cabbage, turnips, or cauliflower) unless you intend to make only that kind of soup.  Peas, pods, and green beans should only be used sparingly.  Otherwise, all vegetables and scraps are up for grabs.  If you decide to save scraps don’t forget to save things like sprouted garlic, winter squash skin, tomato tops, carrot tops, onion skin, and regular or sweet potato peelings. 

Once you have a good amount or at least enough to fill 1/3 of the pot you want to use, throw them in a pot or slow cooker, fill it with water, and let it slowly simmer for 3-4 hours or boil for at least 30 minutes.  I can’t tell the difference between simmered and boiled stock; so, take your pick.  The goal is to have well cooked, or mushy vegetables, and a rich flavor.  If it doesn’t have enough flavor, cook it longer.  Strain it when you are done cooking it and use it immediately or freeze it in containers or ice-cube trays.  The ice-cubes are great to have on hand to throw in a stir-fry that needs a little water or any recipe that could use just a small amount of liquid. 

Yum!

 

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