Thursday, December 26, 2013

Homemade Slow-Cooker Stock

I have been on this wintery kick of making my own homemade stock.  It's gotten to the point where I collect bones from everyone (in as non-creepy a way possible, but there really isn't a non-creepy way of asking someone, "Hey, can I have your bones to put in my freezer?").

However, for a few weeks I was saving bones of all types, and keeping my vegetable odds-and-ends in a Ziploc bag (onion tops and bottoms, celery leaves/hearts, carrot ends... even a few potato peels, apple cores and bell pepper stems).  Pounds of that shit was piling up in my freezer.  And the Stock Project?  Not getting off the ground because I am never hanging around my house long enough to babysit a boiling pot of bones for a few hours.

Enter the Crock Pot.  The working woman's best friend.

For a couple days, I went about loading up my slow cooker with the bones & veggie bits and letting them go all day or overnight in the crock pot on high.  The result is a very clear, not cloudy or gelatinous, broth.  By some accounts you can let it cook for days on end, but I found that after 24 hours it seemed about right and any longer than that you have to keep replacing the liquid as it boils away.

Now I have a freezer fully stocked (ha) with chicken, beef, and lamb stock.  Now onto Project: Soup.

Poultry, beef, lamb, pork or ham bones or carcass (don't throw away that stripped Thanksgiving turkey just yet!)
Celery hearts/leaves, carrot greens, onion skins, apple cores, potato peels, scallion ends, bell pepper skins, and the bits and pieces thereof (be sure to use mostly aromatics, as cruciferous or strong-tasting vegetables like asparagus, broccoli or cauliflower can overpower the flavor and will not yield a basic stock)
A splash of vinegar or lemon juice (acid is supposed to pull the minerals out of the bones, but there are differing schools of thought on this)
Pieces of tomato or tomato paste (only if you want a richer, less clear stock, but the tomato is also acidic, see above note)
Whole black peppercorns, bay leaf or other herbs and herb stems (optional)

Optional first step: roast the bones and vegetables (not the herbs) in the oven until browned.  This will result in a stock with a darker color and richer flavor.  This can be helpful if you have uncooked bones from your butcher, etc.  I've gotten quite a few frozen, uncooked bones from my parents who own cattle, and in this case I would definitely recommend roasting the bones for improved flavor in the end result.  If you're using leftover bones from food you've already roasted, this step won't really do anything to your bones but may add flavor to your vegetables.

Whether you've pre-roasted or not: Set all your stock ingredients in the bottom of a crock pot.  Fill with tap water, just until bones are covered.  (After a few tries I found it easiest to measure the water using the container I planned to store the finished stock in.  Just don't fill it all the way up, or else it will expand and lift the lid right off.)

Set crock pot on high and let it run all day and/or overnight.  Check after 12 hours and add more water if needed to keep bones submerged.  When the stock is rich and dark in color, turn the pot off and allow to cool.

Place a strainer over the top of the large freezer-safe container you used to measure the water.  Using a slotted spoon, discard the bones and large vegetable pieces.  Strain the liquid into the container and refrigerate or freeze for later use. I recommend leaving the stock unsalted.  You can always add salt later when you are seasoning whatever dish you are using the stock for, but if you are adding it to something already salty, better to leave it out beforehand.
If you are preparing several kinds of stock at once, don't forget to label them :)  Enjoy!

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