After the hullabaloo of the holidays, January can be a bit of a let down. As a January birthday girl has frequently said to me, everyone is broke and on a diet during the first month of the new year. After New Year’s Day, festive holidays are scarce on the ground so we may as well make our own reasons to celebrate. We do have visionary Martin Luther King Jr to honor and he is included in this link to some famous January-born Americans:
There are two general schools of thought on making stock. One is what I’ll call The Best Ingredients method and the other might be called The Garbage method. Though you might surmise which one I favor by my titles, surprisingly, I have a foot in both camps. By now, readers probably know that in my baking, I spare no expense on ingredients. The best butter, the beautiful garnishes, the imported chocolates all show up in my cookies and cakes. But daily cooking is another matter. A little frugality is generally the order of the day with getting dinner on the table. To this end, The Garbage method of stock-making appeals. The tops and tails of vegetables trimmed for another meal go right into the stock pot, wasting nothing. The bones from that Costco roaster chicken go into the pot. Even the skins of yellow onions can be added for an extra golden color in chicken stock. The only caveat is to add no cruciferous vegetables, i.e. no stinky ones such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or cabbage. As you are preparing dinner, toss the vegetable scraps and bones into a zip-top freezer bag and store in the freezer until you are ready to make stock.
The Best Ingredient method, as the name implies, means you start with the freshest, finest ingredients you can find. I’ll chose this method when I’ll be serving the finished soup at a party or when I sell stock to friends, as I have been known to do. Homemade stock is like money in the bank. It’s your secret weapon. It means you can be 30 minutes away from homemade soup at all times. It makes you a cooking rock star with almost no effort. Who doesn’t want that?
Kathleen’s Homemade Stock Instructions
Add to a 5 quart or larger stockpot, Dutch oven, or any large pot these vegetables:
- Peeled garlic cloves, 3 or more
- Onions, 1 or 2, quartered
- Celery with leaves, several stalks, cut into big pieces
- Carrots, 3 or 4, cut into big pieces
- Italian parsley, a big handful or half a bunch
- Thyme, a few fresh twigs or a few pinches of dried
- Peppercorns, I tend to just open the pepper mill and pour out some in the palm of my hand
- Optional but yummy, some mushrooms or mushroom stems
Roasted chicken or turkey carcass. For beef stock, add beef bones and a blob of tomato paste. (I keep a tube of very concentrated tomato paste on hand, found at Trader Joe’s.)
Add enough water to cover, or mostly cover the ingredients, not more than 2 or 3 quarts.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn heat down to a low simmer and cook for 2 hours or more. If you like paying attention and hanging around the stove (nice on a cold day,) you can skim the scum that rises to the top and discard it. Or, you can ignore it entirely for two hours, no problem. The stock is done when it tastes like stock rather than lightly flavored water. The longer you cook stock, the more concentrated it will become. In classical French cooking, stock is boiled down to a few tablespoons of ultra-concentrated demi-glace, true culinary gold. But for our purposes, cooked down to delicious liquid stock is fine.
Strain stock through a mesh colander into a clean pot or bowl. You may have to do this in batches, depending on the size of your colander. For clearer stock, line the colander with cheesecloth. Discard solids. (Yes, it’s done its job, you don’t need it anymore. If you feel better about it, you can pick through it and nibble on the parts that you are interested in. The discarding of all the ingredients is hard for some of the frugal cooks among us, and I think that’s why The Garbage method appeals to them.)
Add salt to taste, remembering you may not want it overly salty if you will be adding it to unknown ingredients. But some salt is advisable.
Chill stock until fat solidifies on top. At this point, you can remove the fat, if you so choose. I’ll leave it up to you how much, if any, fat to leave in.
Divide into freezable containers, leaving lots of head space, as stock expands greatly when frozen. I use wide mouth canning jars in quart or half quart sizes or plastic containers with lids. Always mark the contents and date on containers and use within one year.
Now that you have gorgeous homemade stock on hand, you can make soup anytime.
Mexican-ish Corn Chowder
This is my version of a Pinterest soup recipe that used cheese to create the thick texture of the chowder. I originally made the soup for friends who can’t have lots of cheese, so I modified the recipe. You could certainly add cheese back in or offer shredded cheese as one of the toppings. The best change I made, though, was swapping out canned green chilies for my go-to tomatillo salsa, Herdez Salsa Verde. It has a much brighter flavor than plain green chilies. It’s also delicious as a table salsa with tortilla chips. It’s a pantry staple.
- 1 tablespoon oil, vegetable or canola
- 1 small onion, in small dice
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped finely
- 3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 to 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 cups half and half
- 1 jar (16 ounce) Herdez Salsa Verde, or similar
- 1 can (14 ounce) creamed corn
- 1 can (14 ounce) diced tomatoes, drained
- Salt to taste
- 2 cups shredded cooked chicken or cooked shrimp
Lime wedges, chopped cilantro, diced avocado, shredded cheese, hot sauce
Makes: soup for about four
Equipment: 4 or 5 quart sauce pan or stock pot
- Heat oil in sauce pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook to soften, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes. Add garlic, jalapeno, and cumin. Cook for a few more minutes.
- Stir in chicken stock, half and half, salsa verde, creamed corn, and drained tomatoes. When mixture is hot, add chicken or shrimp. Taste for salt and add if needed. Heat until chicken or shrimp is hot.
- Serve immediately in pre-warmed soup bowls, passing bowls of garnishes.