Stocks, whether poultry, beef, fish, pork, or even vegetable, add depth to dishes. They add a soulful, umami flavor that, while not a secret, are often an overlooked addition to dishes when we’re pressed for time.
While there may be some packaged or canned stocks and broths out there that are decent, you can’t fake the real thing. It’s the reason that top notch restaurant kitchens make stocks on a regular basis as part of their routine. There’s no substitute for real, well made stock.
It can, however, be a bit time consuming. Even if you make a quick stock, and boil it vigorously for 30 minutes, that 30 minutes can easily turn a weekday meal that you were hoping to have prepared in 20, 30, or 40 minutes, into an hour or more.
For some of us, that might be okay, but many of us are busy during the week, and while we like to cook well, and eat well, we don’t always have that kind of time to prepare weekday meals.
With a bit of planning, it’s possible to have stocks on hand throughout the week, that taste great and can elevate your weekday meals.
The key is to get in the habit of making stocks with bones, shells, and vegetable scraps from your weekend meals. Also, if you’re not already in the habit of buying whole poultry, beef and pork with bones, whole fish (when practical), etc, this is a good habit to get into, as those bones, and waste pieces become the base for your stocks.
Making your stock also becomes more manageable when you make it part of an existing meal prep.
For instance, if you’re roasting a chicken for a weekend dinner, add the carcass, neck bone, and any other bones that were left on your chopping block after carving it, to a pot of water. Then, bring it to a boil while you eat, simmer it while you clean up, then let it cool completely before refrigerating it (an ice bath can help cool it quickly).
It’s really easy to incorporate this into your weekend meal routine, and once it does become routine for you, it’s almost as if your stock prep is on autopilot. It becomes very easy, and then you can reap the benefits during the week.
Also, at the simplest level, you can just add bones, meat trimmings, and appropriate vegetable scraps to the pot, to make your stock. Or, if you want to spend a little more time you could add additional vegetables and herbs (beyond what you used in your meal) to expand the flavor, but that’s not necessary. The point here is to get the base flavor into your stock, then you can expand the flavors when adding the stock to other dishes.
It’s also a good idea to keep the stock simple and middle-of-the-road so that you have the flexibility to take it in different directions when you use it in other dishes.
When your stock is finished and cooled, you can store it in the refrigerator to use over the next several days, or you could freeze it easily for weeks.
If you decide to freeze it, a good approach is to freeze it in ice cube trays. Once the cubes are frozen, you can then remove them from the trays and store them in freezer bags. This method gives you a lot of flexibility, and allows you to pull out different portion sizes depending on the dish.
Getting in a good routine of creating stocks on a regular basis is good cooking. It’s resourceful and respectful to the animal, and it’s a great addition that will elevate your dishes – weekday or otherwise.