Saturday, January 29, 2011

How to make your own stock, for cheap.

I once was online looking at how people make their own stock at home. There is something to be said that most recipes these days require broth, and though I've found there really is no flavor difference in stock or broth, the price is still too much. I once made a grocery list and was shocked when I realized I needed something like 6-8 cups of broth. That's just outrageous! So as I said, I was looking online to see how people made stock and was very disappointed in the result. Once I did the math, I found it would be cheaper to just buy broth.

Then one day I read a post by what I thought was a pure genius. I read it again and again, then decided that THIS was the answer I was looking for and I couldn't help but wonder why I never thought about it myself!

But first...

If you're a safety food nut, or a germaphobe, then just stop reading right now. I myself am a nurse and have been for over 20 years, so you can't tell me anything I don't already know and guess what? It still doesn't change my opinion.

If you're willing to try something different, then I should at least put up a disclaimer. That is, use common sense. Remember that you should research, for yourself, the safety of anything and not just believe what you read online, including my very own posts. In other words, decide for yourself after you've done your own research.

So all that said, let me continue...

As I said, I saw a post. The lady said she kept a large gallon size bag in the freezer. After she was done chopping off the tops of onions, peppers and so forth, she would toss those "scraps" in the bag. When the bag was full, she'd throw the bag contents in a pot, along with some meat (chicken or beef), and make a good stock. That was the best tip I ever heard!

I began to think about that and I even took it a step further. I now keep other bags of trimmed chicken and trimmed beef pieces. That is, all the fat and gristle that I trim off, I put in the beef or chicken bag. Now before you roll your eyes telling me how much fat I'm putting into my stock, don't forget that the final step is to refrigerate your stock and skim off the fat, which always floats to the top. This way, I'm saving the flavor, but not the fat.

In the end, it's not costing me anything, except for perhaps the water itself. These are all things I would have just thrown out, or if I had composting bin, I perhaps would have used it as compost. However this is just as beneficial for me and I don't have a bin.

All that said, one important factor is to know your vegetables well. Believe it or not, some stems and leaves are poisonous. It is said that tomato leaves are poisonous. Some dispute it, but I am not going to take a chance, thank you very much. So... tomato tops, for example, are out.

Now I have been successful at this for months and use the resulting stock all the time. I would say that we eat it probably at least every other day. We have yet to get sick at all. Not even a cold. I'm not saying that this prevents cold because my point is that obviously there is nothing here that has caused us to become ill.

I do have some tips though that I want to share, for getting the most out of this frugal idea. I'll follow that with how it is actually done in further detail.
  • Depending on the store, carrot tops can sometimes be less than appealing. If they look grody, then skip it. However just trim off the yuck part, and slice it where you normally would.
  • If you have vegetables that need to be cooked before they go bad, and you are absolutely certain you'll not get around to cooking them, then go ahead and toss them in the bag. 
  • I grow my own basil and rosemary. When I use them in my normal dishes, I toss the leftover stems in the bag. You can do this with any (safe, remember the tomatoes) leftover fresh herbs too.
  • With the exception of the fresh herbs that you know will go to waste anyway, do not add any spices or herbs to your stock. I know this is probably blasphemy to some, but you will end up adding herbs, suitable to the dish it will be used in, anyway. There is no sense in wasting it on the stock here because you're really after the vegetable and meat flavor.
  • Don't limit yourself to just chicken or beef stock. If you don't have enough chicken or beef when your vegetable bag is full, remember that vegetable stock is just as tasty and can be used in place of chicken or beef.
So how do you do it anyway? It's just so easy!
  1. Label a gallon sized freezer bag Vegetables for Stock.
  2. Label a quart sized freezer bag Chicken (or Beef) Pieces for Stock.
  3. When your vegetable bag is full, place the frozen vegetables and meat in a large pot.
  4. Cover them with water.
  5. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer.
  6. Cover and simmer at least 2 hours, but more is just fine.
  7. When you feel it's been enough time, rapidly boil it uncovered until half the liquid is gone.
  8. Put another large pot in your sink.
  9. Place several layers of cheesecloth (there is now reusable cheesecloth to be had online) over a colander and slowly pour your stock over it.
  10. You may wish to strain it this way several more times just to be sure.
  11. Allow it to cool, then refrigerate overnight.
  12. The next day, carefully lift the fat off of the stock.
That's it!

Now there is storage. For that, I have one more tip I wish to share, which you may find helpful. I have a bazillion plastic freezer/microwave containers.
  1. I pour the stock into 2-cup containers and freeze overnight. 
  2. The next day, I dip them in hot water for about 3 seconds and then pop out the frozen block.
  3. I wrap it with foil, then place them in a one-gallon zip storage bag which is labeled, "Broth 2-cup Pkgs, UON." UON means "unless otherwise noted" and is usually for the last pouring of stock. Most often I will have slightly less than 2 cups at the end, so after I freeze it, I just label that bag with how much is in there. 

Note: Writing directly on foil is okay, just don't write on plastic unless there is a special spot made for that.

All of this for a minimal amount. I even save all the bags and reuse them. The only part that is not reusable, not easily that is, are the foil wrappers when I use a block of stock.

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