Monday, December 31, 2012

New Years Resolution: Take Stock, Make Stock

If there is one cooking resolution you can make, and one that's easy to keep, it making stock, regularly. I'm not talking about the big-production stuff that leaves you with gallons of beautiful stock, I'm talking about gathering up the bits and pieces, once a week or so. Using that ham bone, or mushrooms or shrimp shells and making a small quantity of flavorful, rich liquid that will raise any dish you use it in a hundred notches. In this new year make stock, instead of buying that awful stuff in the boxes off the market shelves. A quart of decent stock is the start of a beautiful soup or a sauce, and the backbone of almost any braised dish you can think of. A container in the fridge or freezer is like money in the bank.

When I look at something (food), I try to think what the highest and best use of it will be. Yes, shrimp scampi will be fabulous, but there will be shrimp stock made from the shells, that'll bee cooked down and concentrated to add to the sauce. It has to be the highest and best use of ALL of it, or it doesn't meet my criteria. I don't believe in wasting a bit, if there is something good to be gained from it.

What's left of our Christmas ham bone after making
 some glorious ham stock for soup.
I just made two quarts of ham stock from the meaty bone from our Christmas ham.   One is already in a pot of bean soup, and the other will likely be frozen for when the snow flies, and I hanker for a bowl of homemade, hot, soul satisfying pea soup. It's not rocket science; it's a handful of aromatics like onion, garlic, celery and carrot, a few bay leaves and peppercorns and enough water to cover the whole mess in the pot. I use just a smidge of salt, too in everything but the hambone stock, as that generally is salty enough. Boil it until the bones or scraps are looking used up. An hour will do, usually. Strain and put it into the freezer or fridge. Done. No real recipe

Take stock in your crisper drawer. Wilty greens, half tomatoes, spare mushrooms and celery are all fair game for the stock pot. Half a bunch of parsley? Sure. Potatoes, or just the peelings, onions garlic shallots? Toss 'em in. If you keep all the vegetable scraps you produce in a week (except for broccoli, brussels sprouts or any other overly strong vegetable) and then at the end, cover them with water and boil, you'll have a delicious base to start the meals for the upcoming week. The remains from all-vegetable concoctions can certainly be composted after all is said and done.

We were talking about how many ways we've managed to ruin garbage disposers, and Chuck mentioned that before he met me, he'd regularly ruin his disposer with shrimp shells, but now that I freeze them to use in shrimp stock (along with my collection of lobster shells) that's one less disaster in his life. Another benefit. I have two smallish turkey legs bought cheap at the market this week, that will go swim with all my vegetable trimmings from Christmas, plus some extra garlic and onion. One more quart or so of liquid gold, with a bonus for the dog: boiled turkey.

I would like you to resolve to be a better cook, and not waste any more goodness from your precious food. Use every last bit, and take stock, make stock. make that resolution and have a happy, healthy and delicious New Year.

My friend Amy wanted a recipe for ham stock this morning, and I told her there was no real recipe, so here's my no-real-recipe, for Amy.

Throw the hambone (with some meat) into a pot and cover it with water. Toss in an onion, a carrot and some celery. I don't peel the onion or the carrot, just wash since I buy organic. Add a couple of bay leaves and 5-6 peppercorns.NO salt as the ham may have plenty. Taste later. Bring to a boil, skim off any scum and cook until the tendons fall off the bone Fish out all the solids and cook it down to around 2 quarts. Freeze in cubes or small containers. I use about 1 quart to a pound of dried beans when I make soup...

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