amazing and cool shit, lovely things, potentially useful information, things I love

…stock…

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It is, likely, evident that I’m not a complete purist when it comes to cooking. I’m fascinated with some aspects – simple ideas in some areas and deep science in others – which I twist and bend to my whim, imagination or circumstance. I think everyone should venture in this direction someday, somehow – it’s the lifeblood of creativity and the one thing that ultimately keeps everything else from devolving into something dogmatic or kitsch. At least when it comes to creating ingredients you use.

I am fixated on this, in part, because the only thing I really took away from a 5 year architecture program was a single and constant question posed by a professor that sticks with me to this day – ‘What is the essence?’, he’d ask… For him it was about design and architecture, but it applies to almost everything and it’s the litmus test for any sort of simplicity in any design. I revere things that are knowable while composed of the least number of anything. The least bit of lines, corners, dots… There’s a lovely and intimate interface with things that strike you as being complete yet almost invisible all at the same moment. I’m fixated in part because sometimes the ‘essence’ is scientific and deep, and sometimes it’s a simple relationship of a few things like a proportion of liquid to dry…

I collect bones as I come across them – this last month I had a healthy yield – a few femurs from hams I cured, a few ribs from a roast of beef, chicken and duck carcasses that made up intervening meals. I collect fresh bones and store them in the freezer, ones that have been cooked once, roasted usually, wind up in the fridge until I make them into stock. It’s an ‘everything’ stock – the only thing I wouldn’t put in here is any sort of seafood shell or fish bone as the flavor of it would completely overwhelm everything else.

This is probably tantamount to some culinary sin, because most books and chefs make one sort of stock at a time; roasting veal bones for veal stock for example, or using duck or chicken bones exclusively for a duck or chicken stock. I’m not a purist – the more I cook and collect bones I realize it’s not a service to command a home cook to procure bones you don’t have laying around to make a stock, nor to recommend that you must make 3 or 4 different ones to be ‘true’ to any particular recipe. Am I devolving the art of cuisine? I really don’t think so, but I’m sure someone somewhere would disagree.

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Stock is easy when you stop looking at cookbooks and see it for what it is – a liquor of the bones – which is about like steeping tea leaves. I’ve added a couple of quartered onions, some celery and carrots to the bones – just enough to cover the whole lot on top.

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And then I top it with cold water. I don’t measure this, or weigh bones, or have a specific amount of liquid to bone by gallon to pound as some do. I just cover it with water…

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Finally, I just set it in an oven at 175 degrees (fahrenheit). I leave it there for about 24 hours. You never want to boil a stock and it’s easy to do, even have it come to an ungainly simmer at the lowest temperature on the stove top. Landing it in the oven for a day at a temperature below boiling, it’s impossible for it to ever get too hot, and you never have to worry about it.

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I cool it down, first by simply turning off the oven, then by immersing the pot into a sink of cold water for an hour. I wrap a bit of cheesecloth around one half of the pot to strain it slightly (since I don’t own a chinois) and keep the bones and mirepoix from pouring out while transferring it to a 6 quart container…

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I almost always wind up with exactly a gallon, and it’s enough stock to last me for a month. It’s about the length of time that it takes to procure some more bones, a couple of more duck carcasses and then I do it all over again…

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