JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Friday, January 09, 2009

In praise of stock

Not sure why making stock is such a problem for so many people. It takes moments of your time, and makes everything taste better. So much better, that I got one of my children to eat lentil soup AND ENJOY IT.

There's no doubt that making stock satisfies my inner 40s housewife: when there's no stock in the fridge, I arrange the shopping and eating so that I can make some straightaway. I never freeze it: if there's a glut, then we eat risotto or soup, the two biggest consumers of stock.

Recently, I've been making Fergus Henderson's highly flavoured "trotter gear", a stock made of pork, garlic and wine, very good and cheap to make. But my mainstay is chicken stock, made with the carcass of a roasted chicken, although I sometimes use raw chicken wings. Either way, I use a lot of vegetables, and lots of different ones to give a depth of flavour: peppercorns, herbs from the garden, mushroom stalks - whatever there is.

There's no real recipe - you need to make it a few times to feel your way to the stock you like. But here are some of the things I wish I'd known when I first started to make stock, three decades ago.

  1. Put in plenty of halved onions, but don't peel them - the skins will colour the stock
  2. Use stalks and peelings - my stockpot generally contains parsley and mushroom stalks, carrot peelings, celery leaves. DON'T put in potato in any form, as the starch will cloud the stock
  3. Use loads of vegetables - three or four onions, three or four carrots. Their flavour will shine through, saving you time later when you're making soup or risotto
  4. Put in a handful of whole peppercorns, they add depth of flavour without heat. I'm currently using a mixture of pink, white and black peppercorns.
  5. DON'T put in anything with a very strong flavour, unless you need it in the dish you will make with the stock - I'm thinking of cabbage, cloves, chilli
  6. Don't cover the carcass with water - the stock is always better, always more like to jell if the water comes 2/3rd of the way up.
  7. No need to boil it to death - a gentle simmer for no more than two hours gives you great flavour. Strain it when it's hot, and get it into the fridge as soon as you can. A conical sieve is the best tool here, but I used an ordinary colander for 25 years.
  8. If you've got no stock, use water instead

The more flavours you put into your stockpot, the more flavour there will be in your stock - the less flavour you need to put into your weekday cooking. Frugal food that makes your life easier. The lentil soup I made yesterday was cooked in very strong stock, and tasted of carrots and chicken. Utterly delicious, utterly unsuitable for a vegetarian. But there's a good link below if you'd like to make vegetarian stock.

Things I've made with stock in the past year or so ... apart from dozens of risottos, soups, gravies

Stuffed cabbage
Gravy - try this one with Delia's spiced orange chutney
Stewed broad beans
Braised lettuce
Chicken nosh
Rabbi Blue's meatballs
Braised mixed lentils
Poached barley with herbs

Links to stock on other blogs

How to make stock from chicken's feet
If you don't make your own stock, use water instead
How to make vegetable stocks


Cabbage Tree Farm said...

Thanks for those tips Joanna. I'm fairly new to making my own stock, and have up to now been just collecting vege peelings in a bag in my freezer then I chuck them in my crockpot add some water and leave overnight or 12+ hours. I do freeze it once it's made so I've always got some to use, doesn't take long to defrost in a jug of boiling water. Will follow some of your guidelines from now on to improve on the flavour!
cheers Bridget

Joanna said...

Bridget thanks for this .... LOVE the idea of collecting veg peelings in a freezer bag, you can't have enough veg in your stock, especially if it's a vegetarian one

And I'd definitely use a crockpot if I had one, you can be sure of really gentle heat


Sam said...

I always make stock when we have a roast chicken, unfortunately I never have enough fresh stock and have to resort to OXO cubes!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

And another reason I wish I had a crockpot, a big one. I guess I could do that in my small one - actually that would be very easy and I could do it almost every night I wanted stock the next day.
Absolutely there is just nothing better than homemade stock no matter how simple it is.

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

I completely agree, Joanna. Homemade stock is so much cheaper and tastier than bought stock. And it's a great way of using up ends of veg and the like.

Ed Bruske said...

well that's a very comfy looking stove

Mallika said...

That was a very interesting read. The inner 40s housewife in me loves a good home made stock. I used to freeze it in ice cube trays, but haven't for a while. You might have just inspired me again!

Daphne Gould said...

Oh I love homemade stock. You can't beat it. Now I just make it from the carcass, but I use to use so much I bought chicken backs and made it from them.

Kayla said...


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HowtoBEaCOOLoldLady said...

Liking the idea of keeping the onion skin in. But surely - a stick of celery!

Armen Hareyan said...

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matthew said...

Thanks. My first chicken stock experiment ended rather badly. I'm delighted that this time around, thanks to you and Nigella, the stock is delicious!

Joanna said...

Sam - you'll either have to eat more chicken, or perhaps you should consider making stock from raw chicken wings (in which case you'll need to skim the scum at the beginning)

Tanna, I think a crockpot would be the perfect way to make perfect stock. Now I'm hankering after one

AFof Spag: yes, I like that aspect, although occasionally it goes wrong, if there's too much of one thing

Ed - the stove has improved our lives in every way - the kitchen is now warm, and I am learning to cook to the rhythms of the fire ... recommended, but probably not for an urbanite

Mallika - I've never frozen stock (or anything else apart from water) in ice cube trays ... so I think you've just inspired me :)

Daphne - I SO agree

Getting Stuff Done - yes, I always use celery, but often the leaves rather than a stick - supermarkets tend to cut off the leaves, which is a shame, as they are beautiful AND extra tasty ... a veg box, the farmers' market, the garden

Matthew - thank you so much for bracketing me in such illustrious company :)

Kayla, NCman, thanks for kind words


Sonya said...

Hi there,
It is Summer here in Australia at present, and I am busy collecting the first of the seed from parsley, brassicas, coriander, sunflower and lettuce. I'll keep half, and swap half with the things I didn't get to put in last season. Harvest has begun with zucchini, herbs, cucumber, spuds, and other salanums on the way (tomato, capsicum etc.). The corn is looking lovely. Darn hard with so little water about, but deep, sparse watering in their seedling days have toughened them up.
I happened upon your blog whilst searching for elderflower syrup, and I am loving your cooking notes, and your a kindred commitment to simple, sustainable living.
The reason I am after the syrup recipe is that, here in Australia, we are very careful not to introduce plants that might take over in the bush as noxious weeds, but it wasn't always so, and most weeds these days were once brought as houseplants and garden specimens from England. Whilst seasonal produce, local natives and organic living are always the ideal, it is also true that our public spaces and spare lands are often awash with invasive weeds (one of which, here, is Elder).
Soooo, I have made it my mission this year to find as many recipes as possible that I can use to harvest local weeds (and so take seed, berry and flower out of the food and plant chain)like Elderflower, Sloe plum, wild fennel, wild asparagus, wild olive.

Wish me luck, and many thanks for your Elderflower syrup recipe. I already know three places locally where I might be able to pilfer the weedy ingredient to transform into a delightful gift for someone.

Wow - not really a comment - more like an essay. Sorry. Anyhow, I'll follow along to your blog for a while, if you don't mind