Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Basics – Beef Stock

I am a grocery shopping fool, I admit that freely. But one thing I rarely buy is any kind of stock or broth. Why? Because it is so darn easy to make. And cheap, too.

If you’ve never done this, I highly recommend giving it a try. As much soup as I make over the fall and winter months, I go through a LOT of stock. At roughly $2.50 a box, it adds up. Especially when you need 2-3 boxed for a crock pot of soup.

So here’s what I have learned over the years.

Whenever you cook meat (chicken, beef, turkey, whatever) save the bones and extra bits of meat. Roast a chicken, save the carcass. T-bone steaks? Don’t you dare throw those bones out. Turkey? If you don’t use the neck for gravy, pop it in the freezer. Yep, keep a gallon size Ziploc bag in your freezer and just keep adding to it as you accumulate tidbits. I usually tend to throw in a package of soup bones from my freezer as well, just for extra meaty flavor.

Same goes for veggies. You know that bag of carrots in your vegetable drawer that is going dry on you? Stick the whole thing in the freezer. Is your fridge too cold and froze your celery? Add it to the carrots. I even save the ends and peels of onions I chop for other dishes. Garlic that has started growing sprouts, etc....

Then, when you have a bag full of veggies, and a bag or two of bones, you are ready to make stock.

Dump all of your salvaged leftovers into the biggest stock pot you own. Add in an onion or two (quartered, no need to peel) and a head of garlic, sliced horizontally. Toss in some herbs and whole peppercorns. I like making stock in the summer, just because I have a garden full of fresh herbs I can toss in. In my case this weekend, I had a fist full of chives, rosemary, sage, and oregano.Then, fill the pot with water, as full as you can. There is really no recipe for stock, you just use what you have. The only trick is to not add too much water for the amount of food you have in the pot. Start by covering the solids and go maybe another inch or two. Remember, you can always add more water if its too strong, but you can't add flavor if it is too weak.Bring this hodge-podge to a boil, and then reduce the heat and let it simmer for awhile. Like a couple of hours. Basically, you’re sucking the life-blood out of all the bones and veggies, so just let the sucker cook. I think I left mine on for 2-3 hours. If you have a smaller pot than my 20 quart giant, it may not take as long.

Taste the liquid occasionally to make sure you’re getting enough flavor, and feel free to add more herbs or seasonings as necessary. Once you think the concoction is where you want it, turn the heat off and strain off the solids.Then, separate the fat from the liquid either by using a gravy separator, or letting the stock chill and peeling off the layer of fat. I use the first method, since my pot is too big to fit in my fridge. Now, that being said, you don’t have to skim off the fat completely. A little fat gives the stock some flavor, but use your own judgement.

If you’re picky (and I am not) you can strain your stock through cheesecloth or a clean tea towel to strain off any impurities (also known in my house as floaties, or sludge). Personally, I get the biggest stuff out of it, and then leave the rest, because it is also known as “flavor”.

Then, you are done! All you have to do is funnel the stock into jars or other containers (I like the large Glad-lock containers. They hold 4 cups of liquid and the lid screws on tight.) and pop your stock in the freezer. Unless you plan on using a large quantity at one time, I recommend using containers that hold no more than 4-6 cups, otherwise you’ll be defrosting too big a quantity to use at one time. You’re set for soup season!Some people tell me that making stock is too intimidating or time consuming. I will agree, making your own stock does take time, but it is really a hand off process. If you’re going to be at home on a weekend day, all you have to do is pop it on the stove and let it go. Best of all, it is made almost entirely of items you would otherwise have thrown away. Our grandparents had it right – why throw something away that you can use again?


girlichef said...

You are so right!...and I'm exactly the same way. I can spend forever grocery shopping =) Making your own stock is a beautiful thing...I'd love it if you'd link up to the Two for Tuesday REAL food event over at my place...this totally fits the bill!!

MonkeyGirl said...

I hate the grocery store - it is the most evil place on earth! But if I keep seeing all of these wonderful things you cook - I might have to go more than once or twice a month!

Your leftovers look better than somethings I have tried to cook!

Kim said...

I have to admit that I almost never make my own stock but I really want to start! I loved some of your ideas/tips for using scraps and things that I would otherwise be throwing away.

Great post, Beth!

girlichef said...

Yay Beth! Thanks for linking up!!