In his latest book Ratio, Michael Ruhlman makes a very strong argument for passing on the store-bought stuff and making your own stock at home. He says (and then repeats again and again), "So much of great cooking and soulful dishes begins with stock, the extraction, distillation, and concentration of flavor." It's true. We know it's true. So why don't we do it?
I'm pretty sure the answer is "habit." Even though many of us roast whole chickens almost monthly, it's just not part of our routine to make stock from the bones. Thinking about devoting a whole afternoon to simmering, cooling, and packaging stock for the freezer feels laborious and far less exciting than, well, anything else we could be doing.
After some soul-searching, I'm finally ready to admit that I've been making excuses and it's time to settle into a regular routine of making my own stock. Here are some key tips and reminders I'm using to get myself motivated:
• Stock is just as good from one chicken as it is from several: Until now, I'd been telling myself that it wasn't worth making stock unless I made a lot of it - meaning from several chicken carcasses at once. I'd been keeping bones frozen in the freezer until I'd theoretically collected enough for a batch of stock, but where I would usually forget about them for months.
Ruhlman points out that stock is just another ratio. You can make a small batch from just one chicken carcass, covered with water, and some aromatics thrown in.
• Break it into several days: It's much easier for me - and probably for a lot of us - to find small chunks of free time rather than a whole afternoon. After a chicken dinner, the carcass can go in the fridge and stock can be made any time in the next few days. I can also refrigerate the finished stock for a day or two until I find time to break it into smaller containers for the freezer.
• Stock doesn't require a lot of attention: I keep thinking that I have to devote a whole afternoon to babysitting a pot of simmering stock. But really, once the initial prep work is done, the pot can sit on a back burner (or even at low heat in the oven) without a lot of supervision. I still have to be in the house to keep an eye on things, but I can do other things with my afternoon.
• Homemade stock is more economical: We're all watching our budgets these days, and the fact that I can make something from scraps that would normally cost upwards of $2.00 a quart is nothing short of kitchen alchemy. I'm curious to see if the number of chickens I roast will give me the amount of stock I usually need, but even saving a few dollars a month will be welcome.
And now we'd love to hear from you. If you already make homemade stock, how do you fit it into your routine? And if don't, what do you think prevents you from doing it?
Related: Tip from Fine Cooking: Make Stock in a Pasta Strainer
(Image: Flickr member Merelymel13 licensed under Creative Commons)