Making the Perfect Soup Stock

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No, we aren't talking about Wall Street "stock".

A great soup, sauce, or gravy begins with a great "stock", that is, beef, pork, chicken, or vegetables simmered in water so that the water becomes intensely flavored. The best restaurants make their own stocks, and that is one of the secrets of their success. You can add a lot of quality and flavor to your home cooked meals if you make your own stocks. You can also save a lot of money too.

Leftovers are fine! Use leftover chicken, or the "less favorable" pieces like backs and necks, leftover veggies, leftover roast, trimmings from vegetables (like potato skins), and bones. You can freeze leftovers and thaw them when ready to make stock. If the frozen leftovers (meats, bones, etc.) have already been cooked, you don't need to roast them first as they are already cooked. These recipes can be adapted based on what you have on hand. If you have doubts about a particular vegetable, cook it by itself in some water and see how it tastes.

Soup Bones: if you ask at the meat market for soup bones, you will get bones with meat attached and they are more expensive. Ask for bones for your dog, you'll probably get them for free or they will be very cheap. When roasting the bones in the oven, DO NOT LET THEM TURN BLACK! You want a nice brown, NOT black. If they burn, trim the burned part off or get more bones and start again as burned bones will make the stock bitter. You can also ask for "beef trimmings", which will be bits of meat and fat, if you use trimmings (or stew meat, which some people do but that cut is more expensive), add it to the roasting pan when you put the bones in the oven. Be sure to deglaze the roasting pan and pour all of the small bits and pieces into the stock pot. (This means pouring a little water into the bottom of the hot roasting pan, and use a spatula to move it back and forth so all the little tasty bits of meat and fat come lose and thus pour easily into the stock pot. These bits and pieces are called the "fond" and they are full of flavor.)

Veggies. An alternative to roasting the carrots and onions is to dice them and then saute them in butter or olive oil until they caramelize (turn a bit brown). This is also achieved by roasting them with the bones. The point of this is to add rich and robust flavors to the beef stock. Add the celery towards the end of the saute process as celery has so much water it doesn't caramelize very well. Don't use vegetables in the cabbage family (cabbage, broccoli, kale, turnips, cauliflower) Don't use ground or powdered herbs, use whole peppercorns rather than ground black pepper.

Stock Cooking Notes: The best pots for making stock are tall and narrow. Meat stocks benefit from long, slow cooking (5 to 8 hours or longer at least, I simmer my beef stocks overnight for 12 hours or so), vegetable stocks are done in an hour. Always skim off any scum that rises to the top during the cooking process. You don't want the stock to boil at this stage, when the bones, meat, and vegetables are in the pot, just a slow simmer. Resist the urge to stir it. When the stock is finished, strain it to remove any bits and pieces. Refrigerate it overnight, and remove the fat the next day. If desired, at this point it can be further reduced by boiling until it's consistency is sort of like a bouillon cube that has been mixed with a small amount of water. This is called a demi-glace. Since stock making can be quite a production, make more than you will need and freeze it for later. It would be easy to make stock for a month in one day.

Rules of Thumb for Ingredients:

+ 1 pound of bones/meat for each 2 quarts of water.

+ Onions, carrots, celery, at a ratio of 2-1-1. That is, for every two parts of onions, you want 1 part each of carrots and celery. For a 16-20 quart batch of stock, start with 3 pounds of onions, and 1 pound each of celery and carrots, you will lose some weight when you peel and chop the onions so you will end up with about 2 pounds of chopped onions, 1 pound of chopped celery, and 1 pound of chopped carrots - a ratio of 2-1-1. If you are making less, reduce the veggies accordingly. This does not need to be precisely measured, stock is very forgiving.

+ Tomato paste - for a large 16-20 quart batch, you can add a small can of tomato paste to enrich the color.

Chicken Soup Stock

If you are going to back a small batch, say 4 quarts, of chicken stock, you'll want:

2 pounds of chicken (which could be backs and necks, or even chicken feet)
3/4 pound onions (about 2-3 onions)
1/4 pound each celery and carrots (this would be about 2 carrots and a couple of ribs of celery).

For a large batch (16 quarts), you'll want:

8 pounds chicken
3 pounds onions
1 pound each of carrots and celery

Peel onions before chopping. Chop the vegetables in large pieces, do not include the leaves from the celery (they can be bitter). Put the ingredients in a soup pot and cover with water. Simmer for 1 hour. Skim off any scum or froth that rises to the top, also any fat.. Note that "simmer" is not a rapid boil. Generally, I turn the heat up high when I start, but when bubbles start to form, I turn the heat down. If you are using whole chickens, at the one-hour point remove the chicken from the water and take out the breast meat and use it for another recipe. It's also a good time to remove the skin. Or if you're using backs/necks, chicken leftovers, etc., just let it continue to cook. Turn it down low and simmer it overnight, or if you are in a hurry, at least 4 hours. Always resist the urge to stir. If you are simmering it overnight, rather than all day when you can watch it, make sure there is plenty of water in the pot. When finished, strain and use immediately, or refrigerate until the fat congeals at the top, remove the fat and freeze the stock for use later.

The recipe directions above make a "white" stock, which is a light color. If you want a darker poultry stock, with deeper flavors, roast the chicken pieces and vegetables first, and add some tomato paste to the simmering stock.

After Thanksgiving and Christmas, use the bones from your turkey to make a brown turkey stock.

Beef Stock

If you are going to back a small batch, say 4 quarts, of beef or buffalo or pork stock, you'll want:

2 pounds of bones with meat attached
3/4 pound onions (about 2-3 onions)
1/4 pound each celery and carrots (this would be about 2 carrots and a couple of ribs of celery).

For a large batch (16 quarts), you'll want:

8 pounds of bones with meat
3 pounds onions
1 pound each of carrots and celery

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (230 degrees C). Slice onion. Chop scrubbed celery and carrots into 1-inch chunks. In a large shallow roasting pan place soup bones, onion, and carrots. Bake, uncovered until the bones are well browned, turning occasionally. Drain off fat. This can be messy in the pan, so line the pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper to facilitate the clean-up. Place the browned bones, onion, and carrots in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Put the empty roasting pan on a burner and add about a cup water and move it around with a spoon or spatula in order to "deglaze" the pan, pour this and any little bits and pieces of meat or vegetables into the soup pot. If you want to know, these bits and pieces are called "fond" and add LOTS of flavor.

If you plan to add some tomato paste, for a nice flavor burst "paint" the roast bones with the tomato paste before adding them to the stock pot.

Turn the heat on high until bubbles start to form. Reduce heat immediately. Cover and simmer for at least 8 hours, you can go as long as 12 (all day or overnight). Skim any scum that rises up. Beef stocks make more froth and scum than poultry stocks, so you will need to skim it often for the first couple of hours. Adding the vegetables at the beginning of the simmering process will enhance the flavor of the vegetables in the stock. The carrots will give it a sweeter taste. If you want a less sweet stock, or want the flavor of the vegetables to be more subdued, add them later in the cooking.

When finished cooking, strain the stock. If you are not using it immediately, refrigerate it and remove the fat that congeals at the top. Freeze it in meal-size portions (2 to 4 cups) for use as needed.

After removing the fat, you can reduce the stock (make it thicker and stronger so that you use less when cooking). This also reduces the amount of room in the freezer required for storage.

What to do with the meat and poultry left from making stock:

Save the bits and pieces of meat left from your stock-making adventure. They can be used in casseroles, soups, meat pies, or any dish that calls from some chopped meat. Adding some heat helps boost the flavor. Also, your dog and cat will love the snacks. Waste not, want not! If you've made a lot of stock, and the meat leftovers are more than you can handle in a day or two, freeze the remainder in meal size portions for use later.

Salt.

No, we didn't add any salt. And you shouldn't either. Add salt when you use the stock in its final dish, don't add salt to the stock while it is cooking.

Basic Vegetable Stock

1 tbsp olive oil |1 large onion | 2 large carrots |1 bunch green onions, chopped | 8 cloves garlic, minced |8 sprigs fresh parsley | 6 sprigs fresh thyme | 2 bay leaves |1 teaspoon salt |2 quarts water | 2 stalks celery | 8 peppercorns

Chop scrubbed vegetables into 1-inch chunks. The greater the surface area, the more quickly vegetables will yield their flavor. Heat oil in a soup pot. Add onion, celery, carrots, scallions, garlic, parsley, thyme, and bay leaves. Cook over high heat for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Strain. Feed the vegetables to your worms or compost. Other ingredients to consider: mushrooms, eggplant, asparagus (butt ends), corn cobs, bell peppers, pea pods, chard (stems and leaves), celery root parings, marjoram (stems and leaves), basil, potato parings . . . Get the idea?

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