Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wait! Don't Throw that Out!: A Guide to Homemade Stock

If my mom had a cooking show or book, it'd be called something like "The Frugal Gourmet" or "From-Scratch Cooking for Everyone". I was raised on meals made completely from scratch - I didn't even know that you could buy pre-made cookie dough until I was like 12. My mom is full of awesome cooking ideas that have been tried and tested in the 20+ years she's cooked for our family. Many of her ideas are from trial and error, others are old-fashioned methods, and some were experiments done during super-tight financial times. So, needless to say, my mom is an awesome resource for me. I thought I'd share one classic Mom tip just in time for Thanksgiving: how to make your own stock.

I'm not sure how many people are familiar with this technique of making stock, but it has been my experience that whenever I tell anyone that I do this, they act as if they've never heard of it. It's super-easy and very economical. I use chicken stock in a bunch of recipes and a 32-oz. box of it costs like $2.00. Yeah, that's not a lot of money, but compared to how much it costs to make your own, two bucks is a rip off. This technique reminds me of something the pioneers or people during the Depression did to use every bit of something before throwing it away. Plus, like I said, it requires minimal effort.

Once I've gotten all the meat off (see previous post), I put all the bones and skin into the really big, 8-quart pot I usually cook jam in. I fill the pot with water until the water level is just a few inches above all the bones and stuff. Then I start throwing certain things in for the flavor, which is actually pretty fun. You can add whatever you want, depending on what kind of flavor you want your stock to have - you can give it an ethnic flair using certain regional spices. As for me, I stick with a more traditional, versatile flavor. This part of the recipe makes me feel all uninhibited, like some gourmet chef who concocts all her own recipes, or better yet, it kind of makes me feel a like witch making some kind of weird brew. Anyway, I throw in a few carrots that I've broken in half or into thirds (depending on size), some celery (also broken into pieces, along with the leafy parts on the top), an onion (cut into big chunks), and two or three cloves of garlic. Next, I put in a variety of seasonings: a bunch of kosher salt, some whole peppercorns, sage, rosemary, thyme, and a few bay leaves.

Then you just let the pot cook on the stove for a few hours, stirring every once in a while, until the water has evaporated enough to leave you with a more concentrated, flavorful stock. You can tell if it's ready when you taste it - if it tastes too watery, just let it simmer a little longer until you like it. Not so complicated. Once it's all done, I strain the stock and let it cool. Once cooled, I put it in freezer bags in one-cup and two-cup portions. That way, whenever I need stock, I pull the amount I need out of the freezer, run the bag under or soak it in some hot water, and then use it in my recipe. That's it. Plus, the best part (besides the frugal part) of making things like this is that you know exactly what's in it - you don't have to worry about weird additives, like MSG, or unpronounceable preservatives. (Update: I don't use plastic freezer bags anymore -- I use glass jars. It works great, so long as you leave a little extra space unfilled in the jar so the liquid can expand.)

Last year, I used a 10-lb. turkey and got about twenty cups of stock. Just twenty cups of stock, if you buy it at the store in $2.00 32-oz. boxes, would cost about $10.00 - which is almost how much that turkey cost in the first place. Not only do you have all the meat for many meals, you get all that stock for cooking. And that's how it pays for itself. For a little work and just some time (the thing I like is that you can do other things while it's cooking - it's not something you have to watch), you will save yourself money by using the part of the Thanksgiving turkey you'd probably would have thrown away. Plus, you'll feel all smart and frugal while you're at it.

Happy Thanksgiving!


~Coley said...

I love not wasting anything! I'm a vegetarian, so the chicken part doesn't apply to me. But if I have any sub-prime veggies, or ends of onions that would normally go in the trash, I put them in a container in the freezer. Then when it gets full, I make my own veggie stock. I also use pulp from juicing veggies. Great tip about separating it into smaller portions! I wish I had more glass containers, I don't like to use plastic bags.

Heather said...

Thanks for the comment! I like the idea of saving scraps in the freezer -- I started doing that last year (I wrote about veg stock in another post). And I should do an update on this post -- I don't even use plastic bags for freezing stock anymore; I use glass jars and it works great (so long as you leave a little extra room for the liquid to expand).

Morgan Dragonwillow said...

I found my way to you from your post on The Green Phone Booth, How Empty Milk Jugs Changed My Garden (which I found on Pinterest-talk about longevity). I am enjoying your tips, especially on being frugal. I love saving money, cooking from scratch, and gardening. I am using your Milk Jug tips today and tomorrow with about a dozen gallon sized water bottles. I can't wait to see the abundance in my small garden. I will be sharing the excess with our community garden. Thank you for sharing all of your great tips!

Heather said...

@Morgan Dragonwillow -- I'm so glad! Your comment just made my day! :)

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