Thursday, April 2, 2009

There’s stock and then there’s…

A few months ago, in a post on soup, I mentioned making stock and gave my basic recipe. What I didn’t mention, was that I was relatively new to stock-making. What I didn’t know was that I was a novice.

Let me explain: I always knew how cheap, easy, and delicious home-made stock is, but somehow I never got into the habit. Every time I looked at the price on the boxes or cans of chicken broth as I tossed them into my cart, I would shudder. And I’d curse myself when I forgot to get enough of those and ended up with water and bullion cubes as my soup base. Somehow, the simplicity of just making my own stock took a long time to sink in. It shouldn’t have. I grew up with pots of stock simmering in the big cast iron pot on the back of the stove all winter and jars of it defrosting in the sink all summer. Was I grossed out by skimming the fat off the top of a cooled jar before taking it down to the freezer? Did I somehow mistake how long the pot boiled for how much work it took to make the stock? Luckily, whatever it was that I had to get over, I’ve finally gotten over.

Having an extra freezer started the change: there might be someplace good to store 2 or 4 cup containers. And not having a compost pile left me staring in a different way at carrot peels and leek ends. That’s where I was the last time I wrote about stock. In the meantime I’ve discovered, not all stock is the same. In fact, you can set up different stocks that will be ideal for different soups. I now have a whole array of stocks that not only make my soups rich and fully home-made, but deliciously distinct and perfectly paired from start to finish.

All of my stocks have a similar base:

Left-over meat: chicken is the easiest because the carcass is always left over and untouched after a whole roast chicken. I’ve started to keep the different meats separate because they each have a distinct flavor and because of friends who stay away from various specific meats.
Celery tops and ends
Left over onion bits (I’ve read that onion skin can make a stock bitter, but I have not had that experience)
Carrot tops, bottoms, and skin
The bottoms and tops of any kind of green (kale bottoms, carrot tops…)
A garlic clove

Then the real fun begins…

Italian stock: add a hunk of parmesan or romano cheese, the hard rind works perfectly, and some basil and parsley

French stock: add a bouquet garni (thyme, rosemary, parsley, oregano) and leek tops

Mexican stock: add a dried chile, mexican oregano, cilantro, and a little cumin

Asian stock: add a dried Chinese red pepper, ginger, green onion tops and bottoms, and one star anise

One exception: beef broth made only from the water left over from boiled flank steak or skirt steak that I later use in various Mexican dishes. The simplicity of this stock is wonderful.

For any and every stock, simmer on low heat 1-4 hours or cook in a crock pot on low 4-8 hours.

In the past week, I’ve made two scrumptious soups using these different bases

Looks Like Spring Soup

2 cups beef stock
2 cups French stock
4 carrots, roughly diced
2 cups chopped parsley
2 cups frozen or fresh lima beans
1 cup orzo

Bring stocks to a boil. Add carrots and cook about 10 minutes. Add lima beans and parsley and cook 10 more minutes. Add orzo and cook 10 more minutes.

Mexican chicken soup with corn
4 cups Mexican stock
½ pound chicken breast, cut into small squares
1 jar or can of diced tomatoes
1 jar or can of green salsa (tomatillos, cilantro, jalapenos, onion)
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 cups chopped cilantro
½ onion
2-3 limes

Sauté the chicken in the bottom of a soup pot. Add in stock, tomatoes, green salsa, and juice of one lime. Bring to a boil, then simmer 30 minutes. Add corn and cilantro and cook 10 minutes more. Meanwhile, finely chop ½ onion. Set out small bowls with chopped onion, remaining cilantro, and remaining lime(s) cut into quarters--after hot soup is poured into bowls, people add these in as condiments. Serve with corn tortillas.

Crock Pot Variation: put chicken, stock, tomatoes, green salsa, and juice of one line in crock pot. Cook on low 4-8 hours. Proceed as above.

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