I had no idea that the most valuable lesson I would learn about cooking would also be one of the simplest. Stock is the base for so many soups, sauces, braises and other dishes and from what I've read of Rulhman's experience at CIA, it's the first thing you learn at culinary school. You probably know how much you rely on it because of the number of containers of stock you go through, but do you know how easy it is to make at home? I had heard countless times from cookbooks and TV Chefs how important it is to make your own stock and what a difference it makes in flavor, but had never really taken them seriously. That's not to say I didn't believe them, just that I didn't think it was realistic for someone with a full-time job to make their own stock. How wrong I was.
It turns out that with a little bit of prep work, you can have stock made in an afternoon with most of that time being spent on unmonitored simmering. Even better, that one afternoon can provide you with enough stock to stick in the freezer to last a few months (as long as you're not making vast amounts of soup). If the idea of butchering a chicken at home is off-putting or if you're interested in making beef stock, talk to your local butcher about buying bones for stock. In most cases, they'll be happy to oblige.
Please keep in mind that this recipe is simply a guide. The water will vary according to how many bones you have and the aromatics should be adjusted to your personal taste. Since this is another piece to my short rib recipe with all local ingredients, I made sure that all of my vegetables were California grown by going to my farmers' market. I also took the time to search out fresh California bay leaves, as well as cage-free, locally raised chickens, etc. Don't feel like you have to go to those lengths if you're not as excited about cooking locally as I am!
Bones from two chickens
3 litres of water
2 onions, quartered
3 carrots, cut into 2-3 sections
3 celery stalks with leaves attached if you've got them, cut into 2-3 sections
3 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
4 peppercornsThe chicken bones should be relatively clean. Place them in the bottom of a large stock pot and cover with water. Add the onions, carrots and celery. I leave the leaves on my celery to act as a distiller. I have no idea if it actually works, but I get the sense that they help to soak up impurities that would otherwise need to be skimmed off as the stock simmers. Bring the mixture just to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer. Cook for 4 - 5 hours, checking the pot every 30 - 60 minutes to make sure it has not come up to a boil. All you want is a gentle simmer. Wrap the bay leaves, thyme and peppercorns in cheesecloth and add them to the stock for the last 30 minutes.
After 4 - 5 hours of simmering, drain the stock and discard the vegetables and bones. At this point you can either painstakingly skim the surface to remove fat, or you can pour cooled stock into storage containers and place them in the fridge. After a few hours the fat will have risen to the top and solidified and you can simply scoop it out. Freeze whatever stock you aren't going to use within a few days. After defrosting, I always bring my stock up to a boil before using. Enjoy!