Thursday, April 21, 2011

Basic soup stock

Do you ever find yourself at home in the evenings with nothing to do? No? Well turn off the TV, then. NOW you have spare time, don't you? Why not spend that time doing something really good for yourself, like making stock? (Don't worry about missing the latest episode of House. Here's the plot: Someone comes in with a mysterious illness. The team thinks it's one thing and give them treatment, the treatment makes it worse. House deduces that the patient is lying about something. Someone on the team is somehow emotionally involved with this case and disagrees. More treatments, the patient keeps getting worse. They break into the patient's house. The patient's lie is found out through a family member or friend. They still can't cure him/her. Something happens in House's life to set off an epiphany. The patient is cured.)

Why make stock? I realize that stock is really cheap in the grocery store, but it's also full of salt, preservatives and sometimes the dreaded MSG. When I'm cooking something, I save all of the bones (yes, ALL of them. My freezer looks like a fricking crypt) in a large freezer bag. When the bag gets pretty full, I get started. You can also do the same thing with veggies and fresh herbs that are almost on their way out. They won't retain their texture, but they will retain their taste.

Cooking time: 1 hour
Working time: 30-40 minutes

1-2 Onions, roughly chopped
5 cloves Garlic, peeled and smashed
2 Celery, roughly chopped
2 Carrots, scrubbed and roughly chopped (I don't bother peeling for stock)
Leftover meat and/or bones (unless you're making veggie stock)

1-2 Bay leaf
10 or so whole peppercorns
Salt to taste

Optional: You can add other herbs depending on the flavour that you want. Thyme and rosemary go well with poultry and pork. If you want to make it sort of Thai style, you can also add in ginger, star anise and cinammon sticks. Otherwise, you can keep it simple and use the stock as a base for a variety of stuff.

Let's do it!
Place the meat/bones into the pot and pour in enough water to cover the meat. Bring to a boil and take it down to a simmer. Watch the soup and skim off any oil and gray/brown sludge from the surface. My mom bought me this oil/sludge skimmer from an Asian grocery store, and it works very well for this job. Keep watching and keep skimming until it's all gone. This should take maybe 20 minutes. Feel free to walk away for a few minutes at a time to watch your precious House on PVR.

Toss in the veggies and herbs, and more water if needed to cover everything. Put a lid on it and let simmer for half an hour to an hour. Apparently, at this point veggies no longer impart flavour, so it's time to get it all out. I usually take a large, fine meshed drum sieve and place it in another soup pot. Then I ladle all the meat and veggies out of the soup and into the sieve. (You only need to try pouring everything in the sieve from the pot once to figure out how bad of an idea that is) Press down to extract all the liquid. Toss out the meat and veggies. Pour the rest of the liquid in the pot through the sieve to get any small fragments, herbs, etc.

Simmer the stock uncovered until it cooks down to a concentration of flavour you like. Season with salt and let cool. If there's fat on top, skim it, but I usually find that the initial skimming gets everything out.

Quick tip: A lazy way to skim fat is to put the stock in the fridge overnight. The fat will all rise to the surface and congeal, where you can easily spoon it off. Remember, never pour fat down the drain. We pour it into a jar, and when the jar is full, pour that into a bag (always double or triple bag) and throw it in the garbage. Congealed fat will really mess up your plumbing.

At this point, I'll pour some of the stock into small freezer bags and sterilized 500ml mason jars (and do all the stuff you need to do to preserve soup). The ones in the mason jars will last a couple of weeks in the fridge, and the freezer bagged ones last a few months in the freezer, though I usually go through it all within a couple of months, particularly if I'm on an instant noodle kick.

There you have it! A delicious, healthful stock that you can use for soups, risotto, gravy, stews, etc. without all the sodium and crap in the grocery store ones!

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