Open our freezer door, and you will always find three things: a box of lime ice pops, an emergency Tombstone pizza and an endless supply of old yogurt tubs filled with homemade stock.
That stock keeps us from breaking out the pizza because it always and forever gives me the motivation to cook real food. We currently have chicken stock, fish stock and ham stock. I go through more chicken stock than anything else because it tastes good in, well, chicken, but also any other kind of sea or land creature. Or vegetables. Or risotto.
In fact, risotto made with real chicken stock, white wine, onions and Parmesan holds that comfort-food spot in my heart that many reserve for macaroni and cheese.
But back to that stock, which in all likelihood came from a roasted chicken. It may even have come from a supermarket rotisserie chicken. I know chicken bones are a gift for the taste buds, so I never let them go to waste. Dinner leftovers get scooped into the pressure cooker with whatever carrots, celery and onion I can scrounge from the fridge, as well as some dried thyme, bay leaf and parsley. I turn it off after an hour, let it sit overnight to cool, and then strain and freeze it as my children eat breakfast and try to avert their eyes.
Yet, the best chicken stock, I think, comes from raw bones. So once in a blue moon, I’ll load up on necks and backs, buy some nice fresh thyme and leeks to add to the pot and replenish the snap-and-seal container supply.
This becomes my Sunday afternoon project. I like to first bring the bones to a quick boil to rid them of their bloody bits and whatever else releases that bubble bath of scum that floats to the top of the pot. I dump it before adding the vegetables, aromatics and fresh water. I usually get a couple of big pots going and let them cook the old-fashioned way — simmering away for three hours. I’ll strain the stock right away and ice it down in a pot in the kitchen sink, which I’ve plugged and filled with water and the contents of the freezer’s ice maker. Stock day is also clean-out-the-ice maker day.
About once I year I source flatfish bones, which make the best seafood stock, and throw together a quick pot with lots of leeks, garlic, onions, celery, thyme, bay leaves and a good half bottle of cheap white wine thrown in with the water. Fish stock is ready after a mere 30 minutes of simmering, and it makes the house smell so great you’ll reconsider the word “fishy.”
But far more frequently I make mussels for dinner and keep their liquor. Or I simmer off shrimp shells with wine and water. It all ends up first in the freezer and eventually in a fish stew with lots of garlic, tomatoes, saffron and Pernod.
Last week I got a prosciutto bone from Pine Street Market in Avondale Estates, which came with the hoof still attached. My dog nearly turned feral at the sight of it, and my kids shrieked, but I’ll tell you what: That bone made an incredibly thick, gelatinous stock that, after it chilled, you could bounce a penny on. We had bean soup one night, collard greens the next.
This all sounds so virtuous and organized, but let me make one thing clear: I am a supremely lazy cook. I like nothing better than throwing together whatever is in the fridge into a pot and letting it do its business. But the presence of good stock means, say, the difference between broiled chicken and smothered chicken, or between pasta with jarred tomato sauce and risotto. It means soup in 30 minutes.
Stock is the engine that keeps a kitchen moving. It keeps you using those dried beans, those potatoes, those weird little dried noodles you once received in a gift bag and have never used.
Good stock in the freezer makes you want to cook.
-by John Kessler for the Food & More blog