Pork stock

Not an instance of absolutely great planning, but here I am as the thermometer hits the 90s making pork stock.  Well…I never said that I was the greatest planner in the world–strawberry ice cream and stock-making in the kitchen all at one time.  My favorite meat supplier (Meadow Lane Farm, Louisburg NC)  had great meaty pork neck-bones at the market this past Saturday so I had to bring some home–so despite the heat it’s stock-making time.

These are very meaty bones, so I’ll have some meat to use after the stock is finished.  Since there is so much meat on these bones, and I want to use it, I’m not doing the quick stock–but rather the stove-top method (now you’re sure I’m not great at planning, right?).  But when you have the opportunity to get pork neck-bones, you take it.  Meadow Lane farms is doing more pork (as well as beef) so next time I can plan to do this is cold weather.  (I’m glad I’ll have more access to pork…love that “other white meat”.)

Basic Stove-top Pork (or Meat) Stock


  • about 4 pounds meaty pork neck bones
  • 2 medium onions, chunked up
  • 2 medium carrots, chunked
  • 3 bay leaves (dried ones)
  • about 2-3 teaspoons salt
  • Rinse the bones well.  If you feel that there is any old, or “off” odor, or they’re very bloody, blanch quickly in one change of water.
  • Add aromatics–onions, carrots, and bay leaves
  • Add water to cover.
  • Bring to a boil quickly, and then reduce to keep a bare simmer, and leave for about  2 or 3 hours.  Test after about 2 hours–when the meat is fork-tender and “fallin’ off the bone” (a country expression that means really tender), remove from heat.
  • Strain to remove bones/meat and aromatics.
  • Cool stock quickly in an ice bath, stirring frequently to help cool evenly;  then freeze or refrigerate. (Do not put the hot stock in the freezer or refrigerator as it will (1) warm up the refrigerator and affect everything in it, and (2) it does not cool evenly and quickly so that you could have bacterial growth.)
  • When the bones are cool enough to handle, remove the meat and save for another use.
I want a neutral white stock, so I’m not roasting bones.  The meat from making this stock may be a bit less flavorful than had it not been used to make stock, but it will still be good to use for  eating.  I don’t add celery to my stock unless I’m making stock for a specific recipe that needs it.  Carrots and onions, and bay leaves provide some sweetness and depth.  Because I may want to use the stock in a recipe calling for reducing it, I don’t add much salt; I do add a little, because I think that helps develop flavor of the stock as it cooks.   (Salt is for more than just making things taste salty!)  The meat and the stock will both likely need to have additional salt added to taste, but now I have stock that I can use in a reduction sauce if I wish. 

There was a bit of cursing in the kitchen as I removed the meat from the bones because I tried to do it before they had cooled quite enough, but for my efforts (sweaty through they were) I have bit over a gallon of pork stock that is cooling in the refrigerator to be de-fatted.

I have about a pound of very tender, succulent pork to use for another purpose, maybe a chili verde since the garden is rife with green chili peppers.  The meat recovered after making stock is not as flavorful as it would be had I cooked it primarily to use  just the meat, but it’s certainly great for a dish that is supplemented with herbs and spices like that.  I could also use it in hot and sour soup, or posole.

My active cooking time was about 45 minutes from setting the stockpot on the stove to washing the stock pot.  That includes the time to remove the meat from the neck bones!  Although not the ideal time of the year to make stock–it’s well worth the effort.  (Have to have some priorities–right?)  In the winter, I’d have put the pot in the oven for the cooking time, but I thought that, perhaps, the stove-top (very low simmer) would be a bit cooler way to do this. (No, I’m NOT planning to check that out any time soon!)

Storage containers

One of the perennial problems with liking to improvise, and wanting to have a well-stocked pantry is that one person uses things more slowly than you would cooking for a family of four.  I think that it’s important to store supplies carefully in closed containers rather than bags or boxes which can let some interesting beasties into your staple supplies.  For years, I carefully cleaned and saved glass jars and their lids.  Great solution?  Well–until the lid loses its seal.

Then what do you do?  My solution was to buy some Mason  canning jars (Ball or Kerr) with wide mouths, in the pint and quart sizes.  They are inexpensive, and lids are  no longer a problem.  The same lids fit all the jars, so I’m not standing around with a jar full of something and trying to find a lid to fit.  The rings last, and last–a bit like the Energizer bunny–and you can replace the seals as needed!  I think that my kitchen shelves even look rather nice…but then I kind of like a homey look.

If your pantry space is cramped,  the wide-mouth jars stack well!  Another advantage of the wide-mouth jars is that a 1/4-cup dry measuring cup will fit through the mouth of the jar easily–so you can dip and measure from the easily. Got to store that 10-pounds of rice that was such a great price?  Well the same lids will fit the half-gallon jars.

With some minimal additional equipment you can even put food by in these same jars–just be sure that you have new lids  if you’re going to use them for long-term preserving of foods.

Keep it cool

Cleaning out the is refrigerator is such a drag!  For those of us cooking for one, it is often triggered by that appalling smell that greets us when we open the door of the refrigerator to get the milk for morning coffee.  It is the harbinger of the lost leftover or the bunch of beautiful leafy green stuff (now transformed into juicy, olive-drab color in the crisper because it was simply too much to use?  How do we avoid this kind of waste?

I’ve always disliked wasting food; I’ve also always had a dislike of most leftovers—they usually taste leftover!  Admittedly there are thing better on the second day—but that does not make them leftovers that I dislike.  It’s true leftover leftovers that I dislike so I’ve always looked for ways not to have them.  Frequently, that involves sharing the pot of soup with a friend and putting some in the freezer, because I am constitutionally incapable of making a small pot of soup!  Most of my neighbors understand about my “food crises”.

The implications of my dislike of leftovers and having too large a quantity of something was brought home to me recently when I was reading about sustainable agriculture.  In Just Food by James E. McWilliams was a discussion of the carbon footprint of food.  We typically think in “food-miles”, but he introduced the concept of “life-cycle assessment” which looked at the energy consumption of food production from seed to its appearance on the table.  There were some startling statistics there—the greatest energy consumption, according the studies cited by this author, is in production, not transportation.  What really hit me was the studies on food waste:  1.28 pounds per day per typical household (p. 28).  So?  I know I’m not a typical household, just me and the cat, but I had to wonder about the amount of waste from my food use. (Admittedly, the cat usually leaves the bits of carrot and onion from her tiny part of the beef stew, but let’s not get too picky here.)  I am interested in environmental responsibility, carbon footprint; so I need to waste less food.  How can I do that?

Assuming that I cannot buy smaller quantities, I obviously must be more efficient in my use of whatever quantity I purchase.  So I need to do some “prep”, not just put what I don’t use into a plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator.  There are two primary causes of spoilage (changes in texture and flavor that make food inedible):  microbial action, and the plant’s own enzymes (On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee, p. 166).  Obviously just simple refrigeration is not enough for my rate of usage–in order to prolong the viability, I need to protect against microbial action and against the action of enzymes.  That would suggest at least blanching the extra green stuff (or any other color veggies) before I refrigerate or freeze them.  Not anything too time consuming in that.

Blanching is a simple technique: In this process, food is simply immersed in boiling water for a short period (depending on thickness) and then plunged into ice water.  This is enough to kill surface microbes and to inactivate enzymes, so my green stuff should stay edible longer.  The down side of that is it may be an extra step–I certainly don’t want that.  Cooking also achieves these ends–so maybe I can sauté my greens in some basic way that will allow me multiple uses and eliminate the extra step (and energy expenditure) and still preserve them; however, despite the cooking, the food still needs to be treated as a “leftover” (not eaten within two hours of cooking) and safety precautions for “leftovers” observed.  The rule of thumb seems to be 4 days for things like cooked meats, chicken, et cetera; if it smells off, don’t eat it even if it’s less than four days.  Lots of additional information is available from some of the links above.

Toscano kale, or other greens can be sautéed quickly with some basic seasonings, for example, a mild olive oil, a bit of salt and then have additional seasonings added as needed for other uses.  I’ve done this basic thing and use the prepped greens in pasta sauce, filling for an omelette, as a side dish with some red pepper flakes and garlic added…very flexible and the entire batch of greens got used!  Planned, flexible leftovers!

That raises the question of how long can I store something like the cooked greens in my refrigerator and still not lose taste or have a health hazard.  First the refrigerator should be set to hold a temperature of 40 ° F  or less (USDA) or less.  You should keep a refrigerator thermometer (inexpensive and available at the grocery store) to monitor the temperature of the refrigerator.  If it is within that range, you can find suggested time for refrigeration of meats, poultry, seafood at FoodSafety.gov.  But remember that the safety of refrigerated leftovers depends on their proper cooling and storage.  Don’t leave your hot food to cool on the counter.  Put it in the refrigerator right away–that’s what refrigerators are for–to cool things and keep them cold.  See the food safety links for instructions on how to cool foods properly and how to store and use leftovers safely.