Taking Stock

stocksThis weekend, we had the first real snow in New York City, which is the perfect occasion to stay in, drink tea and enjoy a good book. (As befits the season of reflexion and self-improvement, my pick was Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.) But this snow day was also a good time to cook stock, especially since after the holidays some stock-worthy ingredients had accumulated in the freezer – among them the leftovers from a Christmas duck. As the new year begins, there will be more room in the freezer again and I will have delicious fonds at hand for gravy or the next Rouladen. Bear with me – the process itself is pretty simple and fun!Of course, there are plenty of ready-made stocks available, but I prefer making my own. Concentrated quality stocks can be surprisingly pricey and this way I’m in control of the ingredients. By this, I don’t mean that I want picture-perfect ingredients. In fact, stock is made of what most people nowadays throw out: bones, chicken carcasses, ugly vegetable bits and pieces. But unlike in a store-bought variety, I know where my ingredients are from. And I can add my own preferred aromatics and leave out the salt, which allows me more flexibility when I’m using the stock later on.

But more importantly, cooking your own stock is part of a cycle of good food. It makes you reflect about what you cooked in the past as well as about your culinary future. For unlike the perfection of an Instagram post or the singularity of a Blue Apron meal may imply, cooking is an ongoing activity that weaves through our lives like a red thread. Sometimes, we might need to regain the awareness for this. As I look at the ugly frozen duck carcass and the creepy duck neck from three weeks ago, I appreciate this product a second time – the first time being at a lavish Christmas dinner with friends. Ultimately seeing the jars of the deep-brown flavorful fond at the end of the process invites me think ahead of the new dishes that it will be incorporated in. And it gives me some pleasure to know that I am really using most of the parts of an animal that had been raised for our table.

I know this all sounds like a bit of an ordeal for nothing but a few jars of stock. But it’s not quite that bad, and to make it even less burdensome, I try to cook several kinds at a time. In addition to the duck carcass, I had a second pot of beef bones boiling that I went to get from the store. Here’s the basic recipe for a brown stock I use. The trick is to roast all the ingredients in the oven first to develop a great color and richer flavors.

Brown stock (a.k.a. fond brun), yields about 3 cups of condensed stock. I suggest storing it like that – depending on your intended use, you can always add water again. The ingredient list isn’t super strict, but here’s an idea for where to start:

  • 1 duck carcass (incl. wings, thigh bones, neck), 2 lb of beef bones (for example, a mix of oxtail and other soup bones) or 1-2 chicken carcasses.
  • 1 large onion.
  • 2 carrots.
  • 3 stalks of celery.
  • 1 parsley root – if you have it.
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste.
  • Duck variety: 2 cups of dry red wine, 1 bay leaf, 2 cloves, 5 pepper corns, 2 juniper berries.
  • Beef variety: 1 bay leaf, 2 pieces of allspice, 2 cloves, 5 pepper corns 1 slightly crushed garlic clove.

Step one. Put the bones into a large metal baking pan. If it’s a poultry carcass, cut it into a couple of pieces with a sharp knife. Roast in the oven at 350 Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. Check in every now and then and turn the pieces around if they start getting burned. In the meantime, peel and clean the vegetables, cut onions into quarters, carrots, celery and parsley root into pieces of similar size.

Once the bones start burning, it’s time to take everything out of the oven. I had added the vegetables a little late – they could have used some more browning, but the stock turned out just fine.

Step two. Take the pan with the bones out of the oven, spread tomato paste all over them and throw in the vegetables. Roast for another 60 min until everything is nicely browned. Make sure nothing gets too burned. A little burned is fine though.

Step three. Transfer everything from the baking pan into a large stock pot, put aside. Now put the pan with all the browned pieces stuck to it on the stove. Add two cups of water or wine to the pan and heat up. The pieces will soon come off (also helps with cleaning). Pour everything into the stock pot, add spices and enough water to cover everything and bring to a boil. Turn the temperature to very low, cover it and let it simmer for 3 hours. Make sure the water only moves a little bit. Otherwise, you get a very dreggy stock. If there’s foam on top, skim it every now and then.

Step four. This may be the only annoying moment. Take the pot off the stove and let cool for 15 min. Put a cheesecloth into a strainer and strain the stock into a large bowl. Then transfer the stock back into your pot and let cool over night. Put it in the fridge or outside to cool it completely.

After the stock has been refrigerated for a bit, the fat can be scraped off and discarded easily.

Step five. Your probably noticed that there was a lot of fat on top of your stock, and it shouldn’t be there. But once it cools down, it hardens and it is now very easy to “scrape” it off with a spoon and discard. Finally, boil the remaining stock down to 3 cups.

Storing. You can put the stock in jars and keep it in the fridge for a couple of weeks. Or you freeze it in small containers or in an ice cube tray. The latter is supposedly a hot kitchen trick, because it allows you to easily portion the stock for later use. I have never encountered needing only a tablespoon or two of stock, so I don’t do this. But who knows, maybe it makes perfect sense to you.


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