Suzi's Blog

Making, not Taking, Stock: Homemade Stock for Risotto, Soup, Gravy and More

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Today is Monday. Time to prepare for Friday.

Friday is stock day at Cooking by the Book. During the week, our cooking events, where guests participate in a fully hands-on cooking program, produce meals for 100-200 people. While I believe in all-dessert meals, Suzen is for balance. She does offer dessert, but also soup or salad and side dishes featuring vegetables. Throughout the week, vegetables come and go under the knife here.

What to do with the scraps? Like most Manhantanites, we do not compost our scarps. And we don’t do it upstate either. As weekenders there, it’s too hard to manage compost on a part time basis. Plus, the bears, the  possums, and the raccoons are not compost friendly.

So, we save the scraps during the week. Left over celery, onions, carrots and other vegetable discards are carefully stashed. On Friday, a large stockpot is filled  with water — cold water — and a few pounds of vegetable scraps are added. How much water? Enough to just cover any bones if we are using them. Enough to float all the vegetables. The mixture is simmered for a few hours, then carefully strained, cooled and frozen.

Are we making stock or broth? Technically, a stock has some animal bone components while a broth is made purely from vegetables alone. These days, people tend to slur the difference and then just refer to it all as a stock. There’s a major difference, because stock with animal bone components has collagen from those bones. During the cooking process, the collagen breaks down and becomes gelatin. That gelatin generates a wonderful mouth feel.

If there is enough gelatin, then in the cooling process the liquid can actually gel. That’s why the cans of “stock” you get at the grocery store are much more like broths, because they are still liquid there on the shelf. If they contained the amount of gel you produce at home, the can would be filled with a solid, not a liquid. In our picture above, we have a heavy simmer and, yes, there are bubbles, but not a boil.

If there are bones available, from chicken or beef, then we do add them to the pot to form a real stock, not just a broth. The cooking time should vary with the contents: two hours for pure vegetables, three hours or more for chicken bones, and six hours or more for larger bones.

To keep the stock as clear as possible, just let it simmer. Don’t let it boil because then “pieces” are going to circulate through the liquid and make it cloudy. If you don’t stir, the pieces either float on top and can be skimmed off or they settle to the bottom where they can stay as you carefully remove the liquid after cooking..

What do we do with all this stuff — I’m talking several quarts a week.

First and foremost, there is risotto. Suzen and I have become risotto fans and learned a key lesson: nothing contributes more to great risotto than great stock. Yes, you can buy better rice. But you can only buy good stock. Great stock? That comes from doing some homework. The stock is a base for gravy or for soups. Defrost some homemade turkey stock, add noodles and you have heaven.

Making stock requires time, not precise culinary talent. So, if you are a beginner, then this is the place to start. Your immediate success will be a confidence builder.

Photo Information: Canon T2i with 18-55mm lens, shot at F/5.0 for 1/50 second with ISO 1250.

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