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Stock options

Pork stock on the stove

Pork stock on the stove

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

33 comments Add your comment

Homo Sapien

September 26th, 2011
9:05 am

I realize the nature of your employment with ajc.com, and obviously, I realize the title of your blog is Food and More, but seriously, do you actually think anyone who reads your blog, or has any interest in value of made from scratch home-cooked meals as opposed to processed or pre-cooked fare needs to be mentored as it relates to the hows and whys of keeping some homemade stock on hand? Americans, for the most part are wasteful, consumption driven, eat whatever corporate America is selling, drones. As such, perhaps you might share a recipe such as the smothered chicken or risotto to which you refer. For example, yesterday I grabbed what I expect to be the last of the roma tomatoes, eggplant, jalapenos and bell peppers from my garden and whipped up a wonderful vegan chili – and I am a confirmed omnivore. Can’t give you a recipe because I didn’t use one. just dumped everything into a cast iron Dutch oven, added cumin, black pepper, salt, chili powder and paprika; and simmered for an hour.

Monster

September 26th, 2011
9:42 am

That is one of the most puzzling comments I have ever read.

F&B Guy

September 26th, 2011
9:42 am

John,
I appreciate the stock options story. Like you, I am a lazy cook and this story has inspired me to get back in the kitchen and work on creating some great stock for the future.
Thanks for the motivation!

get a life.....

September 26th, 2011
9:47 am

Homo needs to get a life……
Whether I agree or not, I always find something interesting in Mr. Kessler’s articles. It is “food writing” not Rachal Ray. Stocks are one of the building blocks of cooking, more people SHOULD be reading about making them and picking up tips for using them. I know what I am doing in the kitchen (culinary school, restaurant biz, and so on…) but am always open to others ideas and thoughts on cooking. Maybe those less involved with cooking will be inspired to load up their freezer with homemade stock and enjoy the difference between homemade and a can of Swansons. Thanks Mr. K

Rodney

September 26th, 2011
10:17 am

I admit to buying stock instead of making my own (albeit, good, natural stock – not Swanson’s).

I LOVE the courage it takes to admit to an “emergency Tombstone pizza” in the freezer. I, too, can admit to having an emergency frozen something – chicken tenders (Trader Joe’s). :)

John, your risotto is my risotto (excepting I add a little heavy cream right at the end) – love it.

On Back Order

September 26th, 2011
10:20 am

John, care to share any tips on where you are able to find those chicken necks and backs you “load up on”. The typical supermarket is no-go for these and even my usual go to places eg Buford Highway Farmers Market are dissapointing in that department. I usually end up using a bag of frozen drums from Costco.

John Kessler

September 26th, 2011
10:39 am

Pretty sure I’ve gotten them at the Dekalb Farmers Market….also, I think, the Gwinnett Farmers Market. And, seriously, if I can convince one or two overworked people to take that carcass from a Walmart roast chicken and those droopy carrots and celery sticks in the fridge and throw them in a stockpot, then I think that’s the most valuable kind of post I can make on this blog. This week I roasted off a turkey breast for my kid’s lunch sandwiches and used the rib cage to make a nice, little stock. I’m thinking barley soup this week. :)

JoeV

September 26th, 2011
11:08 am

@Homo Sapien

You are an elitist pig. What if John is able to convince even ONE person to try something new and fresh in their kitchen? Isn’t that enough?

Really though, you just wanted to congratulate yourself for dumping a bunch of “stuff” into a Dutch oven thus claiming defeat against the corporate bourgeoisie.

Great article

September 26th, 2011
11:15 am

John, terrific article and it’s motivating this guy to get back to his roots and fill the freezer with some real stock. Thanks for the great reminder.

Homo Sapien-you’re a moron

No thanks

September 26th, 2011
11:37 am

Looks like a severed arm straight out of the morgue.

carla roqs

September 26th, 2011
11:58 am

wow. john, i too make stock, prob because my mother keeps a ready supply of different types in the freezer, just as you do. if i comment or not, i generally enjoy your blogs and jon’s and gene’s. this one is cool, ’cause some people do not realize they can take the leftover turkey carcass and make soup, or the left over ham bone and cook their greens or dried beans with it. for the record, i would also love to get your recipe for risotta. and ummmm, have you spoken with your wife about, ummmm, you know? #love a cooking man.

Grasshopper

September 26th, 2011
12:16 pm

A lesson in roasting bone marrow one day, a tome on the benefits of chicken stock the next.

Are John and company preparing us for an upcoming holocaust? Is it a slow week in the restaurant world? Or have expense accounts just got the end-of-month blues?

BBQgeek

September 26th, 2011
12:44 pm

One quick point – you might want to consider going for a quick chilldown on the stock as opposed to leaving it out all night. This subject got rigorously debated on Michael Ruhlman’s blog. Ultimately, the food scientists won out the debate over whether all bacteria would be killed off when the stock is reheated. Your method does open the door slightly to the chance of contagions getting a chance to take a foothold overnight. Just my scardy-pants two cents….

Kirk

September 26th, 2011
1:19 pm

Some people have a stock pot that sits on the stove top all week long and add leftovers to it each night.Of course you reheat each day to kill the bad guys. You strain and freeze the contents on the weekend. Nobody ever dies or gets sick lol.

indigo

September 26th, 2011
1:33 pm

Rather than trying to save left over bones or look for necks and backs, I think it is much easier for folks to simply use a whole chicken to make the stock. Not really wasteful since you can use the poached chicken. The cookbook says 20 minutes, but I usually cook the chicken for 50 minutes or so before removing from heat, letting chicken cool, then removing from bone, and returning bones and skin back for long simmering to finish the stock. Added onion, celery, carrots, thyme, black pepper, bay leaf at beginning along with chicken.

After refrigeration, the fat rises to top, solidifies, and can be skimmed off. I presume chicken fat pretty unhealthy, but wonder if Kessler ever uses it as in traditional Jewish chopped liver recipe.

I'm Hungry

September 26th, 2011
3:44 pm

When I first saw the graphic at the top I said to myself, “What is that?”. After reading your blog I know now that it is the piggy’s hoof !! A bit macabre but I like it. It took guts to post that.

I agree with Indigo as far as chicken stock goes. Homemade stock is so much more flavorful than canned or boxed and you control the salt.

I have been unable to find suitable beef bones for stock-making,

I have had success with cooking shrimp shells with aromatics for a long time. The shrimp stock seems more aromatic than flavorful but it is worth the trouble.

Thanks to the author for the article and for the readers for their thoughtful comments.

Oh, yeah. I’m hungry.

I'm Hungry

September 26th, 2011
3:47 pm

Just as a side note Honey Baked hams sells their ham bones for $5. I doubt there is any meat on them. But save your holiday ham bone as nothing makes a better pot of beans than one of those bone when it DOES have some meat on it.

Oh, yeah. I’m hungry.

Grasshopper

September 26th, 2011
4:05 pm

My previous sounded like I was complaining about these types of posts. I’m not! Keep up the good work; these are entertaining diversions from the usual reviews.

BBQgeek

September 26th, 2011
5:22 pm

I expected to get called out by a reader (Eric). So here is a link to the story in its entirety – http://ruhlman.com/2011/08/stock-clarifications/ . To quote the most famous living food scientist, Harold McGee, “Boiling does kill any bacteria active at the time, including E. coli and salmonella. But a number of survivalist species of bacteria are able to form inactive seedlike spores. These dormant spores are commonly found in farmland soils, in dust, on animals and field-grown vegetables and grains. And the spores can survive boiling temperatures.

After a food is cooked and its temperature drops below 130 degrees, these spores germinate and begin to grow, multiply and produce toxins. One such spore-forming bacterium is Clostridium botulinum, which can grow in the oxygen-poor depths of a stockpot, and whose neurotoxin causes botulism. ”

Leaving a stock pot out all week or overnight is just not worth the perceived time saved. Quick chill is the only way to go.

Art

September 26th, 2011
6:16 pm

Gotta love stock! But… have to ask… what kind of lime pops do you like?

PJ

September 26th, 2011
7:40 pm

A great tip I got once was to set up a freezer baggie for all my leftover bones, veggies, etc., then make stock when I had enough saved. It works great to help use those parts of the veggies you typically don’t eat, like celery leaves, carrot tops, onion ends and more. I love pulling out my baggie, dumping its contents into a pot of water, adding some herbs/spices & ending up with 11-12 cups of delicious stock.

John Kessler

September 26th, 2011
11:39 pm

Art: Edy’s!

Homo Sapien

September 27th, 2011
7:20 am

OK folks, my point was; it seems a bit odd to me, one who has cooked for myself since early adult to have to be reminded or educated as to the importance of stocks. For example; during the holidays I use the turkey neckbon to make the stock for my gravy, and I use the stock in my homemade cornbread and pecan stuffing. “Disposing” of the carcass in a stock pout with carrots, onions, celery and spices is as much a holiday tradition as leftover turkey sandwiches. JoeV, “elitest pig”? I think you have me confused with BBQgeek. First off; I roast my own chicken (I don’t buy Kroger). Secondly, I was not “congratulating myself” for making chili. I was merely suggesting that trial and error is part of kitchen life; and if one’s “error” is to eschew stocks, or to fail to realize the value of a turkey carcass, neckbones or fish remnants; well perhaps maybe the Tombstone pizza rolls is as good as it gets. I need to “get a life”? Seriously, at’s alll sewage in 24 hours.

Mark

September 27th, 2011
8:14 am

@Homo: impressive. Those are two of the most self-congratulatory, and simultaneously, illogical posts I’ve read in months.

So, you’re way too sophisticated (cooked for yourself since adulthood-well, aren’t we special?) to learn about stocks? I guess novices like Thomas Keller, who obsesses over stock and spends pages in his cookbooks on the topic, just don’t have your “education.”

Anyway, I am off to study more carefully some of these wonderful non sequiturs:
“Americans are drones who eat what corporate America tells them to, therefore I made vegan chili!!” Huh?

“If you don’t realize the value of fish remains, then Tombstone pizza rolls are as good as it gets.” Hey, but don’t call me elitist!

“I make home made stock and my world famous vegan chili, but “seriously, at’s (sic) all sewage in 24 hours.” Umm, then why waste the time on the stock….

But yeah. that logic stuff IS highly overrated.

Sheila

September 27th, 2011
8:36 am

I love keeping stock on hand, but have wondered how long can it be kept in the freezer? Also, do you ever roast beef bones with vegetables to make beef stock?

RK

September 27th, 2011
9:42 am

Egullet has a good primer on making stock…

I’ve made chicken stock many times, and beef stock once, but never used anything other than mirepoix and animal parts. Any opinions, pro or con, on adding herbs?

PJ: carrot tops can make a great pesto.

carla roqs

September 27th, 2011
9:56 am

hi rk: i do not use herbs unless i am doing something specific with that pot of stock. if i am just making a straight chicken, beef or other stock, i do not use herbs because i need to take the stock broth out of the freezer and use in in anything/everything.

Homo Sapien

September 27th, 2011
12:45 pm

Mark,

@Homo: impressive. Those are two of the most self-congratulatory, and simultaneously, illogical posts I’ve read in months.

I really think you need to work on your self-esteem, or more accurately your need to evaluate and diganose the musings of other bloggers. Tell me my friend, do you actually rank bloggers’ posts over the course of the year?

So, you’re way too sophisticated (cooked for yourself since adulthood-well, aren’t we special?) to learn about stocks? I guess novices like Thomas Keller, who obsesses over stock and spends pages in his cookbooks on the topic, just don’t have your “education.”

Not at all sophisticated, which is my point. In fact, I am more of a “use everything” person – I grind up bones and use them to stoke my compost bin.

Anyway, I am off to study more carefully some of these wonderful non sequiturs:
“Americans are drones who eat what corporate America tells them to, therefore I made vegan chili!!” Huh?

You can scratch your head all you like, but it’s true. I suppose the folks who read this blog are looking to liberate themselves from this sad fact, so for that faux pas, I apologize.

“If you don’t realize the value of fish remains, then Tombstone pizza rolls are as good as it gets.” Hey, but don’t call me elitist!

Again, it’s true. It has never been my goal to become “elite” in the kitchen. It’s about trial and error, remember; and I was simply considering people who never had the gumption to experiment in the kitchen; especially with something as basic as stock. Ergo, methinks you are demonstrating a covert form of culinary elitism in your weak attempt to label me as an elitist.

“I make home made stock and my world famous vegan chili, but “seriously, at’s (sic) all sewage in 24 hours.” Umm, then why waste the time on the stock….

Because it’s the right think to do. See above about using everthing. It’s better for your, and truth be told, homemade foods contain more nutrients, which are absorbed by the body, as opposed to the additives, dyes, and fillers contained in many processed foods. And to be clear, I never described my vegan chili as “world famous” (I used the word wonderful). I simply noted that I whipped it up on a whim, sans recipe and it turned out OK.

Have you ever seen the film Stripes? Lighten up, Francis.
But yeah. that logic stuff IS highly overrated.

John Kessler

September 27th, 2011
1:27 pm

Back on topic, folks, pretty please, with scapulas and tibias on top?

Homo Sapien

September 27th, 2011
1:42 pm

JK, OK then, since you mentioned collards, I am a Yankee. I prefer collards cooked with ham hocks, honey, etc. My wife prefers them stir fried or sauteedl like Brocoli Rabe, Swiss Chard or Spinach. My question is; is the “stock” produced my way known as “pot liquor” or “pot licker”? I have seen both spellings. I call it “Georgia Green Tea.

Dee

September 27th, 2011
2:19 pm

The butchers at my (midtown) Whole Foods and Publix often have chicken necks and backs that they don’t put out in the display case. Just ask. Dekalb Farmer’s Market always has them (and feet), and if you call ahead and ask the head butcher, they sometimes have–or will cut for you–some veal bones for veal stock.

Mark

September 27th, 2011
7:40 pm

Sorry John: I’ll clam up!

And, Homo, you actually did make sense in second post. I think we’re actually similar in many beliefs.

carla roqs

September 29th, 2011
9:37 am

@mark, that is scary. @ dee……..ummmmm, what do you cook with chicken feet? @homo– honey in your collards? interesting. my mom puts sugar in hers and the greens are fine. if i were to use honey or sugar in my greens, it would be a hot mess. and… i think it is pot likker (liquor). def not pot licker, nice try though