Friday, August 29, 2008

Homemade Stock Tips for Busy People

I have two tips about making homemade vegetable and meat stocks for busy people based on things that our family does.

Before I share them you may ask why bother making homemade stocks? Well there are numerous reasons. One of these may be more important to you than the other or maybe they all appeal to you. The first is that if you use raw vegetables and cook from scratch, you already have the scraps and left over foods on hand. To be not wasteful and to save money, you can use them to make your own stocks. Second, the flavor of homemade stocks can be superior to store bought stocks. Third, if the sodium levels in store bought canned stocks bother you, you can make lower sodium stocks from scratch at home. If you use organic vegetables and meats, you can have free stock made at home versus paying higher prices for organic prepared stocks in the store (if you can even find them). Making stock from scratch at home only costs you the energy you use to cook it on your stovetop. Making homemade stock is using resources more fully and being less wasteful. Lastly if you like to know where your food comes from and if you want to avoid factory made foods making stocks from scratch will appeal to you.

Making Stocks from Scratch

The first tip I heard on cooking television shows in the early 1990s, I don’t recall if it was one or both of these chefs, one was The Frugal Gourmet (Jeff Smith) and the other was New Orleans Chef Paul Prudhomme. The tip that one or both gave was that when making stocks you don’t have to use just the choice pieces of vegetables, but you can use all the scraps. At first that idea grossed me out as I used to think that only the choicest parts of a vegetable should be used, but I am over it now. I used to think that those scraps should be thrown away, but I was wrong!

So the first thing is that when you are cooking you can use the onion peels and ends, carrot ends and peels, celery leaves and scraps. You can use other vegetables also if you want those flavors of foods in your stocks (mushrooms, green onions, scallions, garlic, whatever you want). Note: You do not ever use the spoiled parts of foods, and do not use moldy foods!

The second tip I came up with myself and have been doing for years. That is to freeze the scraps in gallon zip top plastic freezer bags and collect them to use for later. For example if I peel carrot sticks and celery to eat raw I will throw the scraps into a bag and freeze it. On another day I take other scraps and add those to the same bag.

When we have a chicken carcass left over from a roast or beef bones, I freeze those also. I don’t always have time to whip up a stock right when we finish eating a roasted chicken.

When I have enough stuff to make a stock, and when I have time, I use the frozen stuff to make a stock.

Now if you are having a big cooking day and are cutting up a lot of fresh vegetables and you have time to make a vegetable stock at the same time, go for it. However if you use fresh produce regularly, such as at each meal or for snack foods, you don’t necessarily have time to be making stocks constantly or you don’t have enough of all the ingredients to make a big batch of stock.

This tip also works well for people whose ovens heat up the kitchen in the summer months, and you want to avoid that excess heat. Just imagine saving your summer produce scraps for a cool autumn or winter day when you have the time and desire to make a big pot of stock or a homemade soup! How great is that?

Making the Vegetable Stock

First I put lots of water in a big pot and add in the frozen vegetables. I add a little salt and fresh ground black pepper. I boil it like crazy until I think most of the flavor is out, that could be two hours. Using a strainer or my chinois, I take the cooked vegetable scraps out. I then have vegetable stock.

(I compost, so I take those cooked vegetable scraps and add them to my compost pile.)

Making a meat-based stock

If I am going to make a meat stock and if I am going to use some of the meat on those bones for a soup base I first do the vegetable stock step. After straining out the vegetable scraps I then add the meat in and cook it to reduce it. When all the meat has fallen off the bones and it seems that it has reduced enough I remove it from the heat. Usually I have that simmering for a few hours on my stovetop. I skim off the scum periodically and discard it. After cooling down a bit in the room, I refrigerate it. A top layer of fat accumulates on it and when it is cold that is easy to remove and discard (that will make for a lower fat and less greasy stock or soup).

The reason I make my meat scraps in two steps (first make the vegetable stock then add meat for meat stock) is twofold. First I take those vegetable scraps and put them in the compost. I do not put meat in the compost. Second sometimes I want to use the meat pieces for the soup. It is easier to get all those vegetable scraps out and to not have to deal with them when sorting through all the stuff for usable pieces of meat for a soup.

When making homemade chicken soup, depending on how much meat was on the carcass, if there is not much I just use my chinois to get rid of all the solids and I am left with a clear meat broth. If I had a lot of meat on that carcass I would use the chinois to separate the solids. I would then hand pick through the solids to get out choice pieces of meat to use. Sometimes that is not worth the time and energy. Other times if you are being very frugal this may be worth the effort. It is something you have to decide for yourself.

I also taste the stock to see if I think it needs salt or pepper or if it seems to have a dominant taste (not enough onion or something). I then make a note of this for when the time comes to use it, so I can balance out the soup’s flavor by adding more onion or whatever it needs.

Sometimes when I have the fresh stock I will choose to make it immediately into a large batch of homemade soup. I would just follow my recipe for the soup adding in choice pieces of the vegetables and meat. I usually made huge batches of homemade soup then freeze them in one or two serving size containers to eat later.

Other times if I want to keep the stock just for stock I divide it into plastic freezable containers in sizes that I usually use (i.e. one pint size) and then I freeze the stock.

Everything that I freeze is labeled and dated. I don’t always have freezer tape so sometimes I use masking tape instead, a permanent marker and note the contents and the date.

I have an upright freezer. I store all the stocks and soups on one shelf. The freezer is organized by category so that I don’t end up having to sort through chunks of frozen meat to find marinara sauce or a chicken stock or a soup. It just makes it easier to know that one shelf is all pasta sauces, one shelf is stocks and soups, one shelf has raw meats, one shelf has breads, one shelf is frozen vegetables and fruits, so on and so forth.

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1 comment:

diane said...

Thanks for the great tips! I will give them a try.