The Importance of Stock

(to steal a title from Keller)

I recently acquired a chest freezer.  Christey and her mother are big garage-sale-hunters on the weekends, and I had asked Christey to keep an eye out for a chest freezer, but she only recently mentioned it to her mother, who just happened to have had a freezer she wasn't using.

Perfect for stock!

I'm going to do a stock post soon, but in the meantime, here's a sneak preview.

Sauces are my favorite culinary field.  And many, many good sauces (as Escoffier or Peterson will tell you) begin with stock.  There are those who say (like Escoffier and, to some extent, Ruhlman) that, in essence, no sauce that requires stock will work without the best stock you can get.   Any problem within the stock, and it will be amplified with the sauce.

I agree with that when it comes to a lot of sauces.  Using store bought canned stock, base, or (ugh) bullion cubes might make a half-assed sauce, but there's no substitute for a handcrafted stock.  Mostly, it's because of the reduction -- many sauces reduce the stock from half, all the way down to a sec (or, a thick, bubbling glaze left on the bottom of the pan).  A salt-stabilized, industrial stock of bones full of gristle and blood and bits of bad meat left clinging to everything will taste even more salty and gristly and gnarly when reduced.

So, a little over a year ago, as a challenge, I started making my own stock, and freezing it in little one-cup plastic containers.

It's really not too hard.  When I'm at the store, there are occasional sales on veal bones or beef bones.  When making shrimp meals, I save the shells (and heads if I can find shrimp with heads) and freeze them in ziplocks.  After a meal of roasted chicken, I freeze the carcasses in ziplocks.  The last few lobster dishes, I've saved the shells and bodies in ziplocks.

Once I have a whole bunch of ziplocks, I spend a Saturday simmering a vat of shells/bones, some shallot/celery/carrot, skim-skim-skim, strain-strain-strain, then save in the single-cup serving containers.  As Bourdain says, it makes the house smell good.  I use a sharpie to initial each container so I know what is in each.  Since I re-use them, some containers have a lot of cross-outs.

I have found, though, that this eats up a lot of freezer space in a normal kitchen freezer.  Not just in the stock itself, but also with the freezer bags of bones and carcasses and shells, waiting until critical mass to make some stock.

Thus, the need for a freezer chest.  When I got one, I was happy, and Christey snapped the pic above as I was emptying out the kitchen freezer and moving the containers to move out to the garage.

From left to right: shrimp stock (from shells and heads), beef stock (marrow bones), two rows of lobster stock (all those lobster recipes a couple months ago), a whole mess of chicken stock (when in doubt, use chicken stock, and bones from roasted chickens make great stock) and the little chicken stocks in front are actually 1/2 cup portions.  The DG is some veal/red wine demi-glace I made in a three-day epic reduction that I will probably duplicate and document at some point (a tablespoon in a sauce is an amazing burst of flavor), and finally, the last cup of lamb stock I made from some shanks a few months back.  I need to find more lamb bones.

In a good, cold freezer, stock will last indefinitely.  A couple tips:  simmer very gently, be vigilant in skimming off the crap that rises to the top, and never ever add any salt.

It's pretty surprising how easy it is, and how much it throws sauces (or even cooking a pot of rice) into another dimension of amazing.

This quick post was generated as filler after a combo of events reduced our post-level lately.  I got hit with a pretty annoying summer cold this last week (sniffling and hacking into cuisine isn't all that fun), plus school's summer vacation with four kids tends to reduce the energy level when it comes to dreaming up meals and setting up lighting and photo-angles in the kitchen.  However, Christey and I have been talking over some interesting flavor concepts and recipes, so we'll hopefully be back to a couple posts a week the next few weeks.

Fried Grouper Sandwich, with Cajun Aioli

Flat Iron Vaca Frita Grande with Red Onion Mojo