Friday, March 6, 2009

Stock answer.

Science Guy asked me: "So what's the trick to making chicken (or beef) stock? Is it just a subset of the chicken soup recipe? Also please mention recommended storage methods (freezing, canning, etc.)"

Basically, you follow the first steps in making chicken soup. After straining, you're done. Refrigerate in a tightly sealed container for up to a week, or put into airtight containers and freeze up to a year. I've heard lots of TV "chefs" recommend putting it into ice-cube trays so you can "pop one out whenever you need" stock, but I don't recommend that, as they'll absorb odors from other foods in the freezer, and even the fridge. Canning works, but it must be done right. You need ball jars, canning tongs, time and patience. Here's a good article to help you figure out if canning's for you.

Canning will definitely let you keep your stock, but unless you're making gallons of soup (or 800 pounds of pesto), I don't think it's worth the trouble. Of course, if you're making pickles or sauerkraut (coming soon to a blog near you!), it's definitely worth the effort to can them.

I was going to publish this beef stock article in two days (happy birthday, Dad), but what the hell. Strike while the iron's hot, I say.

To make beef stock, start with 5 to 10 pounds of soup bones. Go to a butcher and ask for them. You can get shin bones (also called shank), knuckles (which are actually the knees), neck bones, or even oxtails (though these are loaded with collagen and make a very gelatinous stock). The important part is that there should be some meat and connective tissue on the bones, and they should be loaded with marrow. Roast the bones in a 325-degree oven for between half an hour to an hour. You want them to toast, not burn. If you smell meat cooking, that's good. If you smell meat burning, that's bad; remove the roasting pan from the oven and turn the heat down to 300, returning the pan after 10 minutes. Cut an entire head of garlic in half across the axis, not along it (see pic above), cut 4 onions (with skins on) in half along the axis, chop 4 carrots, and either 3 celery stalks, or one small celery root (celeriac); a rough chop is good here. I recommend roasting the vegetables as well as the bones, letting them caramelize to a fairly deep brown. (Alternatively, you can cook them in your stock pot in olive oil until they're brown, but that adds fat to the stock, and takes much more effort to ensure that the veggies don't burn.)

When the bones and veggies are roasted, place them into a stock pot, and cover with water. About 1-1/2 gallons should be right. You can substitute a bottle of white wine for some of the water, if you'd like. Add 3 bay leaves, 12 whole black peppercorns, 4 juniper berries, parsley, and, if you've used organic carrots with the tops intact, the carrot greens (yeah, they're edible, and they're delicious), and a lemon that you've scrubbed and cut in half. Again, no salt. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer. Let it simmer, covered, for 6 to 8 hours, putting the lid ajar for the last hour. Strain through a colander, and discard the vegetables. Put the stock in the fridge to chill for 4 hours. This will allow the fat to come to the surface.

Meanwhile, eat those bones! Gnaw the meat, sinew, and tendons off of them! Get a long, thin spoon (or a butter knife), and dig the marrow out of them. Spread that on bread that's been toasted and rubbed with a cut clove of garlic, and sprinkle with a dusting of chopped parsley, and a pinch of sea salt. Oh, man, my mouth is watering!

OK, now that snack time is over, remove the stock from the fridge and gently skim the fat from the surface with a ladle. You've now got to reheat the stock to a simmer, and strain it twice through a double layer of cheesecloth. Chill again, and skim again. Reheat to a simmer, and strain one final time through a double layer of cheesecloth (instead of cheesecloth, you could use a clean kitchen's a link for a great source of flour sack towels). You're now ready to store the stock. Can, freeze, or refrigerate, and use in place of canned or boxed stock. Of course, you can continue to simmer the stock for hours and hours, reducing it to whatever consistency you desire. I once made a lamb stock that I reduced until there was about a quart of thick, gelatinous goodness left (from 2 gallons of liquid). I used a spoonful of that reduction to thicken and smooth out sauces. I kept it in the fridge, in a sealed ball jar, and it lasted for about 2 years. The same can be done with beef stock.

Making stock, while time consuming, isn't particularly difficult. I think that the resulting product is worth every minute of effort.


  1. Awesome.

    And without overstating things, I really appreciate the blog. I've long been the best cook in my family. I'm not afraid to experiment, fail, and try it again a different way the next time. One of the benefits of being the youngest child, I think. But in the past few years, with the demands of life, I've done less experimenting/discovering and more of just cranking out something I know everyone will eat when its my night to cook.

    I'll try to make the stock. And I'll try to make the chicken soup, scallopini and bean soup too.

    I'll try it all. And while I know the local B&N is full of cookbooks with the same (or similar) advice, it's much, much cooler learning from a guy who seems like he lives next door.

  2. Jesus, Larry, that really means a lot to me. I really appreciate your comments, questions and support.