Degree of difficulty: easy, easy, easy
Time: 5 minutes prep, 4 to 5 hours to cook down, a bit of time to freeze into cubes
Serves: many, in a kaleidoscope of possibilities
Credit Zack for forcing--yes, forcing--me into making homemade stock. I can't emphasize enough what a major difference this makes in soups and quick pan sauces. At the risk of sounding a weensy bit dramatic, it is life-changing.
I had enrolled in a cooking class around the corner from my apartment on 85th Street in Manhattan before Mike and I were married. Of course, one of the first things they teach you is how to make stock. Beef stock, using carmelized roasted beef bones, chicken stock with the picked-over carcass and veggies. It's the backbone of any decent restaurant, and they've got industrial-size stock pots going every single day. Those stocks are key ingredients in what the French call their Mother Sauces, the classic sauces like Veloute (made with chicken stock) and Sauce Espagnole (basic brown sauce) that evolve into an array of other sauces with the addition of an ingredient or two.
Well, being young and completely inexperienced in culinary pursuits, I didn't trust the cooking school's recipe. Made it several times according to plan but it just didn't taste like much so I gave up on the idea.
Until Zack insisted a few years ago.
What I've learned since then is that by cooking it down to a concentrated stock (and by not adding salt), you are guaranteed a deepness, a richness of flavor that is unmatched with canned stock. (The salt is added as a finishing touch in a sauce or soup...)
If you're using this as a base for soup, you can freeze a big quantity in a plastic container and defrost it when you're ready to make the soup. But for adding just a little to pan sauces, it's great to have it frozen into cubes. I find it takes about 7 cubes of frozen stock to make a fabulous pan sauce for 2 to 4 people.
The ice cube tray sounds fussy, but it's worth the effort. So save your bones--throw them in the freezer until you're ready to stay home one afternoon and make stock. You don't have to watch it--just be in the house for safety reasons.
Thank you Zack. Forever, thank you.
Classic Homemade Chicken Stock
2 chicken carcasses
2 stalks celery
Handful of baby carrots, or two regular carrots, peeled and diced
In two large stock pots, cover the chicken carcasses completely with cold water. Bring to a rapid boil, skim the yucky stuff (foam and grease) off the top and reduce heat to medium.
Chop the veggies into a rough dice and set aside.
Now go do other things: laundry, rake leaves, read a book, watch the OSU game. Occasionally walk by the stove and skim any grease off the top of the stock.
After maybe four hours, add half the chopped veggies in one stock pot and half in the other.
Cook for another hour.
Drain the contents of each stock pot through a colander, pressing down on the solids to get every last drop of goodness. Discard the solids, strain the liquid (mesh strainer)one more time and return it to the stove.
Reduce a bit (30 to 45 minutes) over medium heat, then cool a bit.
Freeze it in batches in ice cube trays. When frozen, remove cubes to a freezer-proof baggie or container for easy use in the future.
Feel all proud, because you've just done your homework for a dozen amazing meals!
Suggested soundtrack: Jill Scott's "Lovely Day"