Taking Stock of your Culinary LIfe
The one thing every home cook should have in their freezer is a collection of tasty stocks. Chicken and vegetable stocks are the most frequently used in cooking. But, consider yourself lucky if you can get your hands on a large ham hock or leftover bone from that holiday country ham. As the required liquid for making any form of beans or legume dish—lentils, split peas, garbanzos, cannelloni, to name a few—nothing is better than ham broth. (NB: I use the terms stock and broth interchangeably.)
Making stock is easy, economical and nutritious. The simplest stock to make is vegetable. You only need four things: a large pot, water, vegetable scraps and wine. To make fish, chicken, ham or beef stock, you merely add bones to the recipe.
I keep a large plastic container in my freezer where I toss in onion and garlic skins, carrots and potato peelings, celery leaves, parsley stems plus "tired" pieces of vegetables. Almost anything can be used except for Brassicas, that wildly healthy category of vegetables which includes kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. As they impart a bitter, strong tastes, it is best to forgo using them.
There is no real recipe for making stock. Just throw everything in the pot and let is simmer on a low hear for at least two hours. Normally, for every 2 1/2 cups of vegetable trimmings, I add 4-6 cups cold water. If you have some fresh herbs, a bay leaf, or a knob of fresh ginger handy, these can be added too to enrich the stock's flavor. Naturally, a half cup (or more) of wine—white for the vegetable and fish broth and red for beef broth—is a must.
Another trick for making an “instant” stock is to save the liquid from cooking vegetables. This can be put in a container and added to using the "Solera" system to make a blended broth. In general, broths can be kept for up to a week in the refrigerator or frozen for later use for up to six months.
You can also make broth cubes using an ice tray when only a small amount of stock is needed. Keep them in a plastic bag in the freezer for easy use.
Trust me. You will never go back to canned stock once you start making your own broth. Our grandmothers had it right when they made their simple and healthy broths to create those favorite family dishes that we all recollect and salivate over now as adults. You'll see, making broth at home is really an experience in delayed gratification. Furthermore, it elevates a dish from good to great.