May 23, 2005

Taking Stock

...and, resultantly, making stock.

I have a pretty good freezer attached to my fridge. Unlike its immediate predecessor, it keeps ice cream frozen solid (very solid, in fact) without creating that partially melted and refrozen, crystaline sludge that looks like part of the set from the ice caves of Hoth. The freezer also has a rack, which is eminently sensible and makes searching for things much less precarious than it otherwise would be.

I generally try to put bags of "stash" items in the narrow, below-the-rack space, which fits perfectly a re-sealable tortilla bag crammed with burritos, a couple of ziploc bags of gyoza, and currently some adorable little scoops of baked falafel. The above-the-rack space is larger, and allows me to stack containers of frozen soup, cooked beans in their liquid, leftover curry, and all manner of yummy things that I might need - applesauce, frozen corn, leftover pasta sauce, IQF shrimp.

In and around the towers of freezer cartons, are an assortment of bags containing things that no one in their right mind would consider food in their current state: chicken carcasses that were picked almost clean, and meaty ham bones. These things are something of a secret weapon in good home cooking, because they make delicious stock that has a multitude of uses.

When I get a bonus day off, such as today, without too long a chore list of things that I need to do outside of the house, I like to round up some of the bones from the fridge and put them to use.

Right now, I am simmering a ham bone with bay leaves, brown mustard seed, a few slices of onion, some parsley sprigs, and a clove of garlic that has been sliced almost-through in about six places. There was a certain amount of meat scraps still clinging to the bone from where I wearied of divesting it before chucking it into the freezer, but that's okay because it now can give its all to the stock.

Ham stock is quite gelatinous by nature, and also can be very fatty. You don't want to be making it the same day you are using it, because it benefits immeasurably from standing around for a while so that the fat can rise to the surface, solidify in the fridge, and be scraped off and either a) discarded or b) made into some dish that requires pork fat. I generally choose option a because I don't do a lot of cooking with pork fat, and the amount rendered in the soup process is significant in terms of stock, but not in terms of what would be needed for a lot of southern cooking. I suppose, if I were truly living up to my pioneer stock ancestors, I would simply scrape it into another container and save it to make biscuits, but mostly I can't be bothered. Besides, I already have mugs of goose fat and chicken schmalz in the freezer.

It doesn't take long to make a good ham stock. It mostly minds itself while you take care of other things, simmering gently on the stove for an hour or two, filling the house with its hammy scent. It makes me want to make split-pea soup right now, but I have other things planned for the afternoon and I am looking forward to having a supply of ham stock waiting for me in my freezer the next time I make Jambalaya or a simple risotto.

Today, it's ham stock. If I get the rest of my day sorted out and am still feeling ambitious, I might drag out the two sets of chicken bones, and make chicken stock, too.

No comments: