The loss of my brother-in-law, Greg, was an unfortunate casualty of divorce. I miss him very much. He is an intellectual, a patron the of the arts, an entrepreneur, a father, a honky-tonk piano player, a wine appreciator and a damn fine cook.
While the brood of children, my sisters, husbands and assorted friends gathered to socialize in their Calgary home, I preferred to pull up a stool in the kitchen. Greg would pour me a glass of something special, always a cut above what was being served in the living room. He would cook, now and then making a comment about politics or about the dish. Mostly though, it was an easy silence and feast for the senses.
The first thing I learned from Greg was about Champagne, but the best thing I learned was about making stock. That it is so easy to make and that nothing compares to making dishes with stock suited to your own taste. Keep in mind that stock is not a formula. Each batch will be unique depending on the ingredients, but all yummy.
Making stock is uber easy, but must be attended to in the first half hour and not forgotten on the stove. A great time to make stock is when the kids are in bed and you can freeze frame True Detectives or your other favourite show to skim the foam.
Tip 1. Don’t throw away cooked bones or carcasses, instead remove as much fat as you can and throw into large, separately labeled, zippered baggies in your freezer. I have bags for turkey, chicken, lamb [including gnawed lamb chops] bones, and seafood including lobster and shrimp shells.
Tip 2. Keep a couple of carrots and a celery rib/leaves on hand in the fridge. You can wrap them very tightly in tinfoil to stay fresher.
Tip 3. Do not add salt. That addition is for what you are ultimately using the stock for.
Tip 4. Invest in a skimming ladle from Pampered Chef. I got one in 2013 and can’t remember how I stocked without it.
Instructions: Put a medium to large sized stock pot beside your cutting board, compost pail and chopping knife. With the fat/skin removed put the meat/bones you have chosen to stock into the pot.
Cover the meat/bones with cold water one to three inches above the bones. Turn on to simmer.
Add two bay leaves, 10-12 peppercorns, two chopped carrots and half stalk of celery/leaves and a smidgeon of chili flakes.
Tip 5: Sometimes you might try adding dried mushrooms or other starchy veggies like cabbage or turnips, but do so sparingly. Experiment.
Tip 6: If you are going to add other seasoning, stick with whole herbs. For example, cumin seeds not ground cumin.
As it simmers, not boils, use a spoon to keep skimming the foam in the first half hour. It’s annoying, but doing this during the initial stages of cooking is key to a good clear stock.
Keep simmering until the stock reaches the intensity you desire. For example, I usually simmer it down till one to two thirds of the water has cooked off. This intensity makes for varied uses in gravy, soup or stock for paella and risotto, for example.
Turn off the stove and let the stock cool till you can safely drain it into a large bowl through a sieve or cheesecloth. You can further reduce the fat content by putting the stock overnight in the fridge and skim off the fat in the morning, or when completely cool you can bag and freeze it immediately.
Tip 7. Use a Sharpie to label the bag because once frozen it’s hard to tell the difference between different kinds of stock or leftover gravy.
Tip 8. Sometimes it’s nice to have stock divided into small sized bags for quick interventions. For example, your husband or child is sick and you want to make a small portion of chicken soup!
I made a pseudo-Bouillabaisse with frozen left over BBQ salmon fillets and ten cups of poultry stock. It was amazing and likely never to be repeated.