Experiments in Stock

Good broth resurrects the dead. –South American Proverb

Homemade stock is one of a few kitchen staples that is as important to your nutritional needs as it is to your culinary prowess.  Sauces and soups based on genuine bone broth are not only rich and uniquely satisfying, they are basically nutritional gold.  There are hydrophilic colloids in stock that aid digestion and absorption of nutrients.  While it doesn’t provide a complete protein, it acts as a “protein sparer,” meaning that the proteins we do eat are utilized more.  If you can’t afford to eat much meat, making and using bone stock will help you get the most out of what you do eat.  The reputation of the healing power of stock is known around the world.  When I complained to my acupuncturist about frequent colds, she recommended that I start making bone stock to boost my immune system.

I’ve tried making stock from scratch before, but it has never gone particularly well.  The first time I tried beef stock it was watery with a smell so unappetizing I never worked up the courage to taste it.  I poured it all down the sink and called it a bust.  Since then I’ve been too intimidated (and lazy) to try again.  Which is really too bad because I use a lot of store-bought stock in my cooking–lots of sauces and since living in a cold climate, many more soups.  Not only is boxed broth expensive (of course I’m compelled to get Organic, free-range meat broths), the flavor is weak and it is totally lacking in that most important of stock qualities, body.  Body is that luscious mouth-feel you get with perfectly slow-cooked ribs or a rich French wine sauce, and it comes from the dissolution of collagen into gelatin in water over many hours of low-temperature cooking.  Alton Brown did a Good Eats episode on stock, which provides great information on the technique and science behind stock making.

However, I followed the recipe from Nourishing Traditions for my beef stock, plus a tip picked up from Julia Child’s “The French Chef.”  Sally Fallon reckons that you should use different types of beef bones to get a good stock–knuckle and marrow bones for their collagen and rib or neck bones for their meaty flavor.  My butcher was able to sell me some scrap rib bones and a pig’s foot (Julia’s suggestion for when a calves foot proves hard to find).  I roasted the rib bones at 450 degrees until well browned, then added them to the pot with the foot (actually, I never touched the foot, my very very nice friend put it in the pot for me), 2 quartered onions, 2 carrots, 1/2 a cup of vinegar, and enough cold water to cover it all.  Apparently the vinegar helps draw out calcium, magnesium, and potassium from the bones.

After letting it sit in the cold water for an hour, bring it up to a boil and skim off any scum that bubbles up.  Once it’s pretty much scum-free, reduce the heat and keep it covered and simmering for at least 12 hours and up to 72 hours (mine simmered for about 28 hours).  Add a bunch of parsley 10 minutes before you turn off the heat.

Strain it through a colander lined with cheesecloth or something similar, cover it, and let it cool a bit before putting it in the fridge over night.  If you put 8 quarts of piping hot liquid in your fridge, it will warm up the whole fridge rather than quickly cool your stock.  The next day any fat will have solidified on the top and is easily removed.  If you’ve done a really good job the stock should be thicker, even Jello-like.  If it isn’t (or if you want to save space in your freezer), you can put the stock back on the stove and reduce it until it reaches the desired consistency or concentration.  It will last about 5 days in the fridge and several months in the freezer.  I recommend labeling the type of stock and date made so when you find some in the back of the freezer you don’t have to strain yourself trying to remember what on earth it is, or whether it’s still good.

This broth was not like the last one–when pouring it out into little plastic to-go containers for freezing, I was delighted by the syrupy consistency and deep color.  I put about half in the freezer and the used the other half for various dishes I planned to make that week.  Now, a month later, I’m eating the last of my beef stock for lunch.  This month I’ve somehow managed to dodge a stomach virus and all the colds that have been circulating around work continuously.  I credit the regular intake of broth (because it sure as hell isn’t the lack of sleep, stressful job, and questionable eating habits).

Today I’m going to the butcher to pick up a few chicken backs to round out the parts I’ve been saving in the freezer.  Tonight I try my hand at chicken stock.  It is now a personal goal to never be without homemade stock on hand.  At least until this cursed cold season is over.

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