And… we’re back! The boxes have (mostly) been unpacked, the Ikea furniture has been erected, and many, many arguments over who was putting what together the wrong way have been had. The hibernating tortoise in the garden has not yet been discovered, but it can only be a matter of time.
To warm the house, massed ranks of parents and in-laws descended this weekend, and a great deal of celebratory roast chicken was consumed. On Monday morning, I found two entangled chicken carcasses lurking in the bottom of the fridge like the skeleton of a dejected Skeksis, and decided that the only thing to do was to make stock.*
Now, I’m not going to write a lengthy panegyric about the benefits of stock-making: that has already been done, far more eloquently than I could, by Rose Prince in The New English Kitchen.** All I will say is that stock makes sense. If you have bones left over from a roast, some chops or from any similar dish, dig out your largest pot and some odds and ends from the bottom of the fridge, and get boiling. Chicken, turkey, duck, lamb, pheasant… They all work well, though rabbit, I am told, is not worth bothering with: for some reason, its little bones do not yield any flavour. Stock-making may seem like a bit of a faff, and you may think it’s easier just to chuck the bones in the bin, but it’s the perfect solution for your leftovers, both from the point of view of taste and of economics. Stock-making costs very little (you only need a handful of veg in addition to the bones from the meat you have already bought, and you can generally get away with using things which might be getting a little elderly for eating on their own), it takes almost no effort, and it means you are half-way towards your next meal, whether that be soup, stew, risotto or even, in the case of one particularly delicious brew, a cup of golden chicken broth which was just too good not to be drunk on its own.
Above, you can see my stock-in-progress from the weekend: the chicken carcass is in the large pyrex dish (I stripped all the remaining meat off before adding it to the pot), while the scaly wingtips and mysterious bits of gristle rejected before the bird was carved are in the striped blue bowl alongside. I also have a couple of leeks, two carrots (one of which is somewhat tatty but still serviceable) and an onion, all of which were chopped an added to the stock-pot, together with the little dishful of left-over pan juices. My personal rule with stock is that you mustn’t be too proud or too fussy: bits of skin and cartilage can all be thrown in to good effect, and I’m not above putting a bowl on the table during dinner to collect people’s gnawed bones. After all, it’s all going to be cooked for hours: I don’t think you want to worry about some prior nibbling. On a similar note, you may want to hunt around in your local market or butcher’s shop for a boiling fowl (the Holy Grail for chicken soup makers) or for bags of chicken or turkey necks (yes, you really can buy them by the bag): you can generally pick up enough necks for a good-sized pot of stock for a mere couple of pounds. As always, don’t overlook the cheaper cuts!
Back to my stock: once the chickens had been stripped of their remaining meat and dismembered, the vegetables were roughly chopped, and the whole lot was cooked for about two hours over a low heat (add enough water to almost-but-not-quite cover the pot contents, bring to the boil, then cover and simmer). In this case, the stock was used with the remaining meat, some Forestiere mushrooms, chopped parsley and cream to make a simple, comforting risotto. Generally, risotto made with home-made stock is a bit of a winner: it’s simple, cheap, and the various flavours of stocks from different meats work well with a range of vegetables. I have, for example, made a rather tasty wild mushroom risotto with stock made from lamb bones mixed with the soaking liquor from the dried mushrooms. I’d never have thought of the combination if we hadn’t had those bones left over from the previous day’s lamb chops, which shows just how serendipitous a process making and using fresh stock can be.
“But what about soup?” I hear you ask.*** Soup, would, of course, be the most obvious next step. I was going to carry on to give a few soup recipes and ideas, but I’m aware that this post would be in danger of turning into a screed to rival À la recherche du temps perdu, in length if not in literary merit, if I did. The Dissertation upon Soup will, therefore, be coming soon. In the meantime, get your bones on the boil and brew yourself up a pot of delicious goodness.
*I do not, of course, suggest you make stock out of an actual Skeksis, unless you like soup made out of pure evil…
**There’s a whole chapter on stock in this, which really makes it My Kind of Cookery Book. If you ignore the couple of paragraphs on roadkill, which I know made my sister-in-law hide her copy at the back of the bookcase in disgust, it’s actually a very useful addition to your library: lots of thrifty kitchen tips and recipes for the wobbly, knobbly bits of a whole range of animals.
***Well, it’s either you, or the voices in my head are trying to put a cookery book together.