Friday, 20 March 2015

Making Stock

Making stock. 

I think, if you are going to pay good money for a nice roast, best to get every single scrap of value from it.

There are many, many recipes on the interweb about making stock, some more involved than others but, really, do any of us have the time or energy to dedicate to making gourmet stock?   I certainly don't want to spend my Saturday afternoons standing over a pot of stock, do you?   Thank goodness for the crockpot! 

Stock in a crockpot is actually super easy to make and will save you from having to buy little pots of over-salted, meat flavoured stuff.  Sure, store bought stock is much more convenient but the whole point is to not waste anything, right?    Not to mention, homemade stock has less salt, preservative and god knows what else. 

Just out of curiosity...Why don't we have a closer look at store-bought stock?   

Let's look at a very popular brand of cube stock available at every major grocery retailer. 
24 cubes for £2.20. 
1 cube will make 100ml of stock. 
100ml of stock has almost 1GRAM of salt! 
That translates to 16% of your daily salt intake in just the stock alone. 

This means that one little box contains almost 5 teaspoons of salt.
Salt. Bad.
Now, let's look at the ingredient list: 
Wheat Flour (with added Calcium, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Salt, Maize Starch, Yeast Extract, Flavour Enhancers (Monosodium Glutamate, Disodium Guanylate), Colour (Ammonia Caramel), Beef Fat (4.5%), Autolysed Yeast Extract, Dried Beef Bonestock, Flavourings, Sugar, Acidity Regulator (Lactic Acid), Onion Powder

Do you see it??  MSG.   Not to mention a load of other things I'm not sure I want in my stock.  

So let's do it ourselves, shall we?  

The first thing to know is stock doesn't have to be made in one particular way every time.  There is no set recipe and this means you can play around with flavours and find one you like.  I usually keep a mental list of ingredients which *could* be used in a stock then just chuck in whatever I have on hand when the time comes.    Less stressful !!

That said,  there are a few "must haves" for a basic meat stock. 
  • Bones - obviously.  
  • Cold water - makes a difference  
  • Carrots, Onions and Celery - as a base
  • Mixed Herbs or bouquet garni 
  • Salt & Pepper
These basic ingredients can be thrown in a slow-cooker and left to simmer.  Some hours later, you will have the stock mostly done.  Strain, skim the fat and boil the bejesus out of it  to reduce and voila - you have stock.   Good stock will turn to jelly when cooled so if that happens... YAY!  You did it!

If you'd like to see what I normally do.. read below.   Don't forget to check out the end of the recipe for clever storage ideas.

You need:
1 Large Carrot
1 Large bit of celery
1 medium onion
Splash of white wine or tomato paste
1. Throw ingredients in a crock pot and cover with cold water. 
Rough chop 1 celery stick and 1 large carrot.  Quarter an onion and chuck that in. 
(Don't bother peeling the veg, just make sure they are clean because you are going to take them out later anyway.)

Throw in 1-2 bay leaves and a bouquet garni, if you have it.  If not, just chuck in a tsp or two of your favourite herbs.  (Tip: I find adding a little cumin amps up the flavour so try starting with a good pinch and see what happens.) 

Add some sort of acid.  It's not essential so don't worry if you don't have any. 
However, if you do and you want rich brown stock, try adding a tablespoon of tomato paste.   If you want a lighter stock or if you are making fish stock, use a splash or two of white wine. 
Season lightly with sea salt and black pepper.  If you feel fancy, just throw some whole black peppercorns in.
(you will adjust the salt/pepper to taste later)
Turn the crockpot on high and leave it for a good 3-4 hours, minimum, or you can leave it on Low overnight. 


If you are making stock from fowl or shellfish,  give your bones a little bash with the meat mallet or rolling pin.  Cover with a towel or cling film first to prevent meat flying everywhere. 

Don't go all Rocky Balboa on it either, killer.  If you beat it too much you may shatter the bones which will leave very sharp, tiny shards in your food and this definitely won't get you invited back to the family pot-luck.

If you happen to be thinking "hmmm... tiny shards of bone could kill people...."  AND you happen to have a family pot-luck dinner coming up;
"I don't know you and I have no idea what you are talking about."
If going with the stovetop method, you will do the same except don't let the water boil!  Just let it simmer gently. 
I used to boil the crap out of the bones, thinking I was going to have some lovely soup for lunch only to find my soup ended up looking and tasting like old dishwater.   But not anymore - hah haaa!! 
When it's finished, you should have a nice rich colour and it will smell awesome.


2.  Strain liquid, Skim the fat and harvest the meat.
Strain the stock, putting the liquid into a saucepan, and set aside to cool a bit.    You will need to skim the excess fat before you reduce it. 

While it's cooling, pick through the bones to get the good meat chunks out.  These can be put back into the finished stock to make soup or used for pies, goulash, pasta salad, given to the dog or cat.  Point being, don't waste it.  It's still good, tasty meat.  Use it!
Go back to your liquid and skim the excess fat from the top and get rid.   Throw the bones and veg in the bin.  (You can compost the veg if you like but not the bones... it's up to you if you want to increase the PITA Factor and separate the two for composting.)


3. Reduce liquid, adjust seasoning
Once skimmed, boil vigorously until the liquid has reduced by half or more depending on how strong you want your stock.   Have a quick taste, adjust the seasoning or reduce further if needed. 
Take off the heat and let cool.

Now,  this is the clever part.  

4. Storage
Unless you are going to make soup straight away... you will need to keep the stock preserved and handy for when you need it.   You are also not going to need all of this stock at once.  So, pour into ice cube trays and pop it into the freezer.  When it's frozen, you can pop out the cubes and store in freezer bags until you need it.   

If you don't have any free ice cube trays, try freezing the (cooled!) stock using one half of a plastic egg carton.   Once frozen, pop out and store in freezer bags.  Remember to use the plastic ones, not the cardboard ones.  ;o) 



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