Life, photos but not the universe

Stock – Mel, you probably don’t want to read this one

Some time during the last few years I read and enjoyed two autobiographies  about cooking;  Cooks Confidential by Anthony Bourdain and Toast by Nigel Slater.

I’m tempted to imagine that the fact that both of them sound like first class sh*ts is somehow related to the fact that I find their cooking and recipes absolutely delectable – and quite reliable.

Bourdain has written detective novels but I’m not tempted to read them.  The F*** You style which is entertaining and unusual in a book about cookery will be merely hackneyed and irritating in a crime novel.  However, I was enchanted to come across a chapter in an SF novel by Jonathan Courtney Grimwood which was clearly lifted direct from Cooks Confidential and merely embellished with appropriate criminal and futuristic elements thrown in to make it fit with the rest of the book.  Pacey stuff.

My favourite Bourdain recipe is for stock.  A good stock is a wonderful, cheap and simple thing to have in the freezer.  Barney’s favourite is for confit of duck (and cassoulet, which uses it) and which we are cooking now.  One of the side benefits of confiting duck is that you end up with lovely bits and pieces and carcasses to use for stock.

So here is a discussion on, rather than a recipe for, making stock, heavily laced with references to Bourdain’s book.  It is not however, about making a classic, clear, gourmet style stock but an easy, earthy and quite cloudy one.

Meat Stock. 

Use bones and meat.  So if you’re using the leftover chicken or game carcass, throw in the wings whole.  If it’s a raw carcass that you’ve taken the breasts and legs off, roast it  for half an hour to give the stock a bit of colour and to concentrate the flavour. 

Similarly you can buy beef or veal bones to make stock and they can be roasted.  Add any discarded fatty/grisly/sinewy  bits too.  A bit of really cheap stewing steak thrown into the mix makes a nice stock quite wonderfully beefy and tasty.

Put the roasted bones and bits of meat in a pan which is deep enough for them to be just covered with water.  If it’s a chicken carcase, break it up into little bits.  If it’s beef or veal, get the butcher to cut the bones into short lengths.  Don’t put  in a big mound of loosely piled bones with all the pointy bits sticking out,  make it all really small and pack it in densely and then just cover with water.  You don’t want a huge pan of hot water which vaguely remembers it once belonged to a chicken or a beef.  You want a richly flavoured stock which shouts chicken, beef, MEAT at you when you taste it. On the same principle, don’t add anything, not veg, not seasoning not nuffin.  At this stage, you want to extract the flavour you have in your meat and bones and left over bits – this isn’t the time to add flavours.

Cover and simmer this for anything from ½ to 1 hour.  I mean simmer – not boil.  Anthony Bourdain is positively rabid on the subject!  Don’t – Boil – Simmer!  Very gently so you can just see an occasional bubble roll sleepily to the surface and then disappear.  (I’ve no idea why this is important but the stock does taste better if it’s made slowly)

After this time, the liquid should taste of the animal.  When it does taste of the animal, strain it.   Don’t overcook, I’m told it gets a nasty sour taste if you do.  So keep tasting it.

Now proper cooks always skim off the scum (so do I if I can be bothered), leave the stock to cool a bit and then remove the fat and strain it through muslin.  I just use it as it comes.  The next stage is to reduce what you have and if you want, to add flavours.  Herbs, garlic, veg, (carrots and celery are standby for this).  But not salt – you’re going to reduce it by at least half.  Meat already contains quite a lot of salt and it might be very salty indeed if you add any now. 

So you put it in a saucepan, uncovered and simmer it till it has reduced by at least half.  Again, it’s the taste that tells you when you’ve cooked it enough.  And again- SIMMER – don’t boil.  About an hour?

When it’s reduced a lot and tastes absolutely gorgeously meaty and slightly gluey, cool, strain again (if you’re making the classic, clear thing) and either freeze or store in the fridge or whatever.

I did once read a recipe for veg stock for which you could use all the peelings and scrapings and trimmings from your veg.  The two things that didn’t work were that most of my bits were onion and leek and that the onions and leeks had to wait a long time before I had any other bits to add to them – I didn’t fancy potato peelings in my stock somehow.  

The result was bitter and oniony and not very nice.  But I do make stock with asparagus trimmings.

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