The following is an excerpt from “The Locavore’s Kitchen” by Marilou K. Suszko. The excerpt is from Chapter 3: Fall. To find out more about the recipes in “The Locavore’s Kitchen” and the importance of eating local, read this interview with author Marilou Suszko.
Making Your Own Flavorful Stocks
In the locavore’s kitchen, scraps, “throwaways,” humble vegetables, and lesser cuts of poultry and meat can be the beginning of something wonderful like chicken, vegetable, or meat stock, the gold standard of cooking. It is one of the most economical and versatile ingredients you can keep on hand in the refrigerator or freezer, and it has the power to make or break a soup, a sauce, or a stew–a pretty big responsibility for something that comes from such humble beginnings.
The secret to success is in coaxing as much flavor from the key ingredients as you can. It doesn’t always mean that those ingredients are the best, most expensive cuts of meat or the fresh vegetables in the refrigerator. They are actually the less desirable cuts, the bones and the vegetables that are not rotting, but have seen better days–prime choice for highly flavored stock. Carrot peelings, celery leaves, the tops of green onions, and leeks that look as if they will never amount to anything add plenty of flavor to stocks.
Wonderfully rich and flavorful, stocks can be made fresh with vegetables that define the season and will be reflected in the finished stock: chard leaves and spring onions sweeten a stock made in the spring; summer’s tomatoes add color and acid in summer soups; and you’ll love what the stringy interiors and seeds from squash will do for stocks simmered in the fall. Try adding any of these stocks to the cooking water for rice or beans and see what a difference they make. To brighter the flavor of chicken and vegetable stock, add a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon.
The difference between great and mediocre stock has a lot to do with what goes into it. If you’ve already made friends with a farmer who raises pastured poultry, you’re one step closer to a great stock. Ask him or her for necks, backs, wings, or bones saved from butchered chickens or save the bones from recipes calling for the bones to be removed or the carcass from a whole roasted chicken. “Stockpile” smaller amounts in freezer bags in the freezer until you have enough for making stock. Chicken bones are full of flavor and body and create a rich, almost creamy, stock.
For some people, carrot peelings, celery leaves, corncobs, and mushroom stems are either trash or compost. It’s the same dilemma with vegetables that may be a little past their prime, like celery that’s a bit limp or tomatoes not pretty enough for a salad. The resourceful cook–the locavore–knows that these are the makings of a magnificent vegetable stock, a great base for soups that feature other vegetables, like the Cabbage and Mushroom Soup or the flavorful liquid that enhances dishes such as the creamy Pumpkin Risotto in “The Locavore’s Kitchen.” Made correctly, rich and highly flavored, vegetable stock can often be used as a substitute for chicken stock and is helpful for converting some dishes to vegetarian options. Lighter and sweeter than meatbased stocks, it does its job quietly, but deliciously, in the background when the focus is on stronger flavors.
The heartiest, most assertive of all meat stocks, whether beef, veal, or lamb, are crafted not from meat or bones alone but from meaty bones like shank cuts. Look for the cuts that have a balanced ratio of bone to meat. You can make an even fuller-flavored stock by roasting the bones (meat removed) before adding them to the stock. Simply arrange them on a baking sheet and roast in a 400°F oven until the bones begin to brown. Blood on the bones can make a stock cloudy, so soak them in cold water for 30 minutes before roasting or using raw.
Chilled finished stocks can be frozen in a number of increments. Freeze one- or two-tablespoon-size portions in ice cube trays. When solid, transfer to freezer bags. Store larger quantities in freezer containers with tight-fitting lids, leaving an inch of headspace for expansion. An efficient way to store 4 to 8 cups of stock is in gallon-size freezer bags with sturdy zip-lock seals. After adding the stock, press out as much air as possible before sealing. Test the seal to make sure the bag is completely closed and no liquid is leaking out. Label the contents and place these bags flat on a sturdy baking sheet in the freezer until frozen solid. Remove and stack flat in the freezer.