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

Ingredients: 

  • 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
Preparation:
  • 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!)

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Making stock quickly.

Despite occasionally using the microwave to make stock or broth quickly or in hot weather, I’m a fan of the long, slow, stove-top or oven method so that I can luxuriate in the wonderful smells when it’s cold and/or rainy outside.  It’s such a comforting activity and, though it takes time, it does not require a lot of close attention.  However, there are times when I need stock or broth and I need it quickly.  I gave the basic recipe for chicken broth in an earlier post (See The Microwave in my Kitchen), but I want to show you it can be used for other stock, not chicken.

Cooking some chicken give enough good strong broth for a bowl or two of soup.  There are times when I need more than that because I’ve run out of what I had stashed in the freezer.  That’s likely to happen in the winter when I’m a real soup-hound.

I was happy to find a quick method that does produce good stock–using the microwave.  This might also be a reasonable solution for those of you who don’t have the chest freezer on the back porch or a good-size freezer with the fridge.

I own only one microwave cookbook:  Barbara Kafka’s Microwave Gourmet. She was a reluctant convert to the microwave–as well as a traditionally trained chef.  I read her introduction to the book while standing in the Regulator Bookshop; her initial reluctance to hop on the microwave bandwagon made me thing that this might be a different kind of microwave cookbook; I was right.  I still do not cook a lot of things in the microwave, but I have found some very useful things in this book.  I like the fact that she gives single-serving amounts for some of the recipes–as well as doubling some.

Getting bones for making stock is getting harder, with so much meat coming into the store already cut and boned,  but if you can find a butcher shop, it’s well worth exploring the possibility of having them save bones for you.  You should check your farmers’ market as you might be able to get “stewing” hens there, or if there is a vendor selling beef, they might have soup bones (necks, tails, etc.) and that is a real delight.  I’ve found “marrow bones” in the freezer case at the supermarket, but they were so clean that they really did not make good stock (the marrow was excellent spread on toast, though).  For chicken broth, you can always buy a whole bird, and take off the breast and leg/thigh meat and use the rest of the carcass for making broth.

I want to give you an adaptation of her stock/broth recipe (p.314):

Meat Broths

  • 2 pounds meat (chicken, duck, veal, beef marrow, or other beef or lamb bones cut into small pieces–maybe by the butcher)
  • 4 cups water
  1. Place the bones and water in a 2-quart microwave-safe container.  (Personally, I have a large 2-quart Pyrex measuring “cup” that I use for this; it has pouring spout and a handle which I like when working with this much liquid.)  Cook at 100% for 30 minutes, or 40 minutes for a broth that will jell.
  2. Remove from the microwave oven and let stand until it stops bubbling. Strain the broth through a fine sieve.  If you want it clear, you need to do the clarifying procedure, which I’m not including here.  You can find that in her book (p.314).
  3. Cool and refrigerate, tightly covered (See Storage Containers) if not using immediately. (Usually don’t store it–my reason for making it in the microwave was either that it was sweltering summer weather, or I needed it NOW!)

If you have “soup bones” that include lots of meat, as do the ones that I get at the Durham Farmers’ market, then you have a hearty meal that’s beyond just soup. The beef can taken off the bones and added to some of the broth with vegetables for a really hearty meal of serious comfort food.  That’s a bonus.

That’s it!  As is mentioned in another post, I have not  done a side-by-side taste test of the broth make the traditional (long, slow way) with that made this quick way,  I am pleased with the results of  this method.  I will freely admit to keeping canned broth and stock on my pantry shelf, but these are usually a last resort, or to be used when the broth will be a background flavor as in chili con carne–not when it up front really good soup like a winter favorite, beef-barley-mushroom soup.

If you want a “brown” broth, you can always roast the bones in the oven before putting them into the microwave to cook.  The recipe in the book gives lots of variations that are useful, including adjustments for more meat, adding vegetables, clarifying, and making fish broth as well.  If you’re a microwave user, you might find this a great book to have on your shelf, or you might want to check it out of the library and see what else is in it.  There is a large “dictionary” in which she lists lots of different ingredients and gives cooking times, or sometimes recommends not cooking that in the microwave.  I do refer to the dictionary frequently.  If you are a novice with the microwave (think it’s for popping popcorn, or heating water) she does a good review of the types and the shapes of containers that work best for cooking in the microwave and the information on cooking times is useful.

The microwave in my kitchen

I guess I’m not really fond of many small appliances or kitchen gadgets.  There seem to be a lot that just take up drawer space or counter space and don’t work that well.   In many ways the microwave has mostly been just a “gadget” in my kitchen.  Most of the microwave recipes that I found were just not that good: edible, but that’s about it. Many of the early cookbooks that I looked at seemed to suggest that anything could be cooked well in the microwave.  Admittedly, I’ve not looked at a lot of newer ones because they seemed so uncritical about what does or does not cook well in the microwave.  So for me it was for melting chocolate, making popcorn, heating a cup of water….

I’ve revised my opinion slightly after finding the Microwave Gourmet cookbook by Barbara Kafka.  This author is a traditionally trained chef, and approached the microwave in a very skeptical frame of mind, and that has produced a useful microwave cookbook.  There is no hesitation in saying what NOT to cook in the microwave.

One of the really useful features of this book  is a dictionary where you can look things you might want to know about cooking in the microwave, and find times, suggested container sizes in which to cook it.  I’ve use this more than almost any other part of the book, except possibly the information on how to arrange foods in containers in order to have them cook properly.

I’ve tried the microwave risotto, and it’s not bad for times when you don’t want to spend the time standing by the stove stirring for 25 minutes or so.  (I’m anxious to compare the results of this with the Cook’s Illustrated simplified risotto.)

The most-used recipe in that book for me is the one for quick chicken broth or stock.  I’m mostly a stove-top or oven stock maker, but this is great when you don’t have canned stock or want some really good broth for soup.  Here is the recipe:

Use bones (carcass from the roast chicken, or necks, backs, wings, or giblets (except liver).  You can collect these in the freezer until you have enough, or if you’re lucky, you can buy backs cheaply and make this whenever you need to.

  • 2 pounds chicken
  • 4 cups water

For 4 cups, place the bones and water in a 2-quart dish and cover tightly with microwave plastic wrap.  Cook at 100% for 30 minutes.  (Cook 40 minutes for broth that will jell.)

For 2 cups, use 1 pound bones, and 2 cups water.  Cook for 20 minutes.

This cookbook has directions for making  the classic stocks and broths in the microwave–including vegetable and fish/seafood broths.  Although I’m sure I will not give up the stove-top or oven long, slow preparation of stock I think that I’ll turn to the microwave more frequently, especially in hot weather.  I’ve not done a side-by-side tasting of each method, but this is certainly better than canned!

I’ve also cooked chicken in the microwave according to instructions in this book and been pleased with the results.  I use chicken thighs instead of breasts, but instructions/times can be found in the Dictionary section of this cookbook.  An unexpected benefit of cooking the chicken this way  is some very good strong broth; just enough to make one good  serving of chicken soup.  To me the texture of the chicken is a bit different when done in the microwave– more chewy, but not tough, or disagreeable at all (I actually like that “chew”).  I expect that I’ll be using the microwave more often to cook chicken now.

“Convenience” foods for cooking for one

Time frequently seems to be of the essence when cooking–for one or for many.  There are some things that I discovered that save me lots of time–and that means that I’m much more likely to cook a meal, rather than do carry-in, or reach for the peanut butter jar!

When you see “convenience” food, I dare say your first thought is processed, open-heat-and-eat food.  That’s not what I’m talking about here.  I’m thinking of things you prepare yourself with choice ingredients, and freeze, or otherwise “put by” for later uses that can shave time off of recipes.

How many recipes do you have that start with  a “flavor base” like  sofrito (Spanish), soffrito (Italian), mirepoix or mirepois (French)?    Lots, probably.  How many times have you passed on that recipe because you don’t have those, you did not want to spend the time mincing, dicing, or you pulled that bag of celery out of the crisper, and–yuck–it’s no longer fit to use!   Cooking for one, I find celery a particularly frustrating ingredient.  I like celery–but it always seems to go bad in the crisper.

Many flavor bases to start soups, stews, et cetera begin with carrots, celery, onion, diced or minced and sautéed  in olive oil (or maybe butter).  True it’s only a few minutes work to do this–if you have the ingredients.  My solution to this has been to take celery, carrots, onions, and use the food processor to chop a large batch of this useful mixture, sauté in a mild olive oil with just a touch of salt, and then pack it into small containers in lots of a couple tablespoons (or freeze in ice-cube trays and transfer to zipper-lock bag), and put it in the freezer so that when I need it, I have the basic prepared carrots, celery and onions, to which I can add garlic and herbs as needed for a particular recipe, and I’m off to a running start.

I do keep canned beans around as a “convenience” food, but I much prefer to cook my own dried legumes (pulses).  Since that is a time consuming thing, I have found a way to make those into “convenience” ingredients:  cook a large batch until almost fully cooked, and then freeze with some of the liquid in small quantities–a cup or so, whatever you would most likely use.  I’ve found that they hold well in the freezer, and can finish cooking quickly, so that you have the advantage of home-cooked quality, without the time investment.  I’ve done this with lentils (my favorites being the French LePuy) of all sorts.  True, lentils cook quickly and do not require soaking, but I can still save time with these.   I particularly like to do this “precook” with beans since that means that I can have lots of variety and have the convenience of canned, with specialty beans that are very tasty.

Grains can also be done this way too.  That left-over serving of rice that I’m sure I’m not going to use this week gets labeled, dated, and put into the freezer for a quick serving when I don’t want to take the time of cook rice from scratch.

Risotto is another favorite main dish for me–right in my category of comfort food with mac ‘n’ cheese, and tomato soup; I don’t find cooking it to be difficult–in fact it’s rather relaxing, but time consuming.  I’ve tried some of the “quick” recipes (see Risotto post) and have not been too dissatisfied with them, but I’ve also found that I can make a big batch of risotto to the point where it’s ready for the addition of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and then freeze it is serving-size batches.   It will thaw quickly, and lets me have risotto fairly frequently.   It’s easy to add vegetables or seafood or other quick-cooking things as you finish this preparation.

Another “convenience” ingredient is homemade broth or stock.  While I will admit to keeping canned/boxed broth/stock on hand, I much prefer to have the real homemade thing, and that is not hard to do:  make a large batch on a cold rainy day when it’s good to be indoors; freeze it in small quantities for future use.   I’ve found a very quick way to make chicken broth too.  More about that later.

All these little conveniences can add up to much better small-time cooking with big-time flavor even when cooking just for one.

More on duck with fresh fig sauce

This duck with fresh fig sauce is such wonderful treat that I’m experimenting with ways to do this for one, or maybe two people.  I’ve always made stock from the leftover duck carcass and put that in the freezer.

I have also made the duck-fig bouillon to just short of the final reduction and put some in the freezer, with the figs (no idea how they will fare) to see if I can adapt this recipe to be done with pan-seared duck breasts, which seem to be readily available from the supermarket.  I want to be able to taste the bouillon from the freezer with some made with just the frozen duck stock and fresh figs to see how it has held up to the freezing.

I have enough friends who like duck that I can do a whole roast duck occasionally, and have the carcass to make stock so it’s always on hand from the freezer; however, if you don’t want to do the whole duck or the two-duck recipe, you can obtain duck-veal demi-glace from D’Artagnan and that would certainly be a good starting point from which to begin.  I have used this  product before in making cassoulet and was very pleased with it.

I’ll be reporting on the results of this experiment soon as the weather is cooling off and more robust food begins to appeal–and the last of the figs on the tree are ripening.