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    How To Make The Perfect Stock

    TL;DR Throw a bunch of stuff in a pot and add water. Part of a series of simple and classic dishes designed to help teach those who are intimidated by the actual thought of cooking.

    There is a real tragedy happening right now, and it's that the people of the world do not know how to make the perfect stock. The simplest of simple dishes, stock is the cornerstone of cooking. It also happens to be a great way to hone some kitchen skills for new learners. Plus, what's more comforting than a nice soup made with homemade stock?

    First, Get Thee Thy Ingredients, Young Chef!

    Justine Bienkowski

    Stock is, at its essence, just water + vegetables + meat bones. Obviously omit the meat if you just want to make veggie stock. If you're making a meat-based stock, chicken is a great place to start. Get a whole chicken, they're pretty cheap, and a bone-in beef cut. The store I went to today only had neck bones, so that's what I grabbed. If you're a person who likes to get rotisserie chicken from the store, once you eat that sucker up just hold onto the bones and you can use that!

    You can make stock from just bones and water and vegetables, but I'm feeling feisty so I went full-on-chicken. The beef bones add some additional dimension and flavor but can be omitted.

    Honestly, you can omit or add anything you want to this and generally you're going to end up with a baller-ass final product no matter what.

    So What Do I Actually Need?

    Here are the BASIC ingredients you need. Again, do not feel tied to any one of these--feel free to add or subtract as is to your taste.

    MEAT

    - Leftover bones from chicken carcass, steak, ham, etc.

    - Alternatively, you can get chicken parts or a full chicken. Generally you won't want to make stock from a nice piece of beef--though cheap bone-in cuts are fine.

    VEGGIETABLES

    - 1 large onion or 2 small onions, cut in half with skins on

    - A couple of carrots, peeled and cut into thick slices

    - A couple of sticks of celery cut into large chunks

    Optionals

    - A shallot

    - Leeks

    - Turnip

    - A few parsnips

    - Garlic (I didn't use this below though I LOVE garlic--some find it too intense, so use what you're comfortable with)

    - A cabbage leaf

    HERBS

    - Parsley

    - Dill

    - Lovage

    - Fennel

    - A bay leaf

    SPICE UP YOUR LIFE

    - Salt 1 tsp-1tbl

    - Whole peppercorns

    - Whole allspice

    - Whole cloves

    Don't You Know, Veg It Up. You Got To Veg It Up.

    Justine Bienkowski

    The only things that you really need are carrots, celery and onions. Anything else is up to you--I highly recommend turnips, parsnips and LEEKS (LEEKS ARE SOUP GODS). Adding a leaf of savoy cabbage is really fun as well. Wash everything, then peel and roughly chop the root vegetables.

    One note about leeks--you want to use both the white AND green parts. Each brings its own rumble to the table. Just make sure to thoroughly wash the leeks, they collect a lot of dirt in the leaves.

    Stock is always a great excuse to clean out your fridge if you have a bunch of vegetables leftover. You could probably throw anything in and you'll be okay, though I've never tried anything like peppers. So maybe everything but peppers. And eggplant. But root vegetables are way solid. They are your bros.

    Pass The Herb, Yo.

    Justine Bienkowski

    Herbs add spice and nuance to your stock. At the very least you'll want parsley, either curly or flat will do. I had both so used both, 'cause YOLO. I also add dill and a wonderful herb called lovage--traditionally used in Polish dishes, it's not super popular here in the US but it is a powerfully tasty little bugger. If you grab a handful of it and smell it, it BASICALLY just smells like chicken soup so I'm not really sure what else to tell you there. Get it, live it, love it. Lovage.

    Fennel, A.K.A. Soup Crack.

    Justine Bienkowski

    I keep a gallon-sized bag in my freezer with odds and ends from other cooking fun to use for future soup purposes (carrot shavings, celery ends and the like). I just moved, so the only thing I had was a big ol' bag of fennel. Yes, I moved with the fennel. It is THAT important. Let me tell you a thing about fennel: it is soup crack. You put this puppy in and there will be all SORTS of ~aromas~ going on.

    Wear Comfy Clothes.

    Justine Bienkowski

    THIS IS IMPORTANT. I basically don't want to be wearing real clothes at all or ever. I prefer to cook in a sweatshirt, pj pants and slippers. Get as comfy or as formal as you like--the only thing that matters is you and the stock. I strongly believe that food comes out better and tastes better if you put love and warmth into it, so what better way to kick start that process by making sure YOU are comfy and warm? And yes, I do actually love polka music.

    Put Stuff In The Pot!

    Justine Bienkowski.

    At this point, you'll want to grab a stock pot and begin putting things in. If you're going the whole chicken route like me, make sure to take the bag of giblets out and wash the chicken inside and out. A lot of people say you don't need to wash it anymore but I just do it out of habit; it makes me feel better. I'm really into just working on my chill cooking vibe.

    Since I have poultry scissors, I cut this bad boy up, however you can leave him whole. You could also buy an already cut up whole chicken. PERSONALLY I think the best stock gets made from chicken feet--they are super cheap because people think they are gross but they make the most gelatinous and tasty stock. You'll just want to remember to cut the nails off, which you'll need the poultry scissors for.

    Set aside the giblets for a future purpose like gravy if you like, but you can throw the neck into the pot.

    If you're just going the leftover-bone-route, throw it in at this time. S'cool, they want to be there. They want to be part of the beauty that is to come.

    Justine Bienkowski

    If you're doing a meat broth, add the rest of the bones/meat and the halved onions (and shallots if you're using them) with their skins on. The skin adds a nice color to the stock.

    If you're doing just a veggie stock, scroll down a little bit further. I start with just meat and onions to make it easier to skim the foam.

    Justine Bienkowski

    Add enough water to cover the meat and onions and then a little bit extra. Just don't get it too full, otherwise it might boil over. Turn the burner up to high heat under the pot. Wait for this sucker to boil BUT as soon as it hits that point make sure to turn the heat down so it's just simmering.

    Just Keep Skimming, Just Keep Skimming.

    Justine Bienkowski

    So, we need to talk. We need to talk about this thing called SCUM. If you don't do anything about it, it's fine. This is a completely optional step, it just depends on whether you care about the aesthetics of the stock. The only way to get a really nice, clean broth is by skimming the scum off the surface of the water. You see those little white foamy bubbles on top? That's scum, and it needs to be STOPPED. If you have a skimmer (basically looks like a tiny colander attached to a handle), great! If not, a spoon will do--I prefer to use a spoon for the outside anyway.

    Sorry for this terrible action shot but it's the only shot I grabbed that shows the scum the best. Whatever, you get it.

    This part is really annoying and is the most difficult part about making stock if you opt-in because you're just skimming *for*ev*er*. The results are worth it in the end though, so I do recommend it. When I started really teaching myself how to cook a few years ago, I never used to do it but I'm a convert now.

    The scum begins to come up to the surface right before the mixture comes to a boil so you'll want to make sure to turn down the heat once it starts to look like it's boiling. You'll want to skim before it boils because the big boil bubbles (BBB for short) will break the foam and make it harder for you to get it all.

    Meanwhile, In Veggieville...

    Justine Bienkowski
    Justine Bienkowski

    While I wait for everything to boil, I've been occupying myself chopping up the vegetables I'm going to be using. In this case, 1 turnip, 5 carrot, 3 celery sticks and 2 leeks. Please don't go back to my other picture and point out there were different amounts of these things, the amounts don't really matter at all. Whatever you have, just throw it in. Don't stress too much about it. It's all going to be juuuusttt finee. Any way you stock it, that's the way you need it, any way you stock it.

    Take a moment and have a beer. Relax. Commune with your vegetables. Ask them nicely if they'll make a good stock for you. Proceed.

    Don't Forget To Make A Freezer Bag!

    Justine Bienkowski

    This is a good opportunity to start your own "soup stuff" bag. While for this round I'm starting off with everything peeled and fresh, I'll have this bag of surprises for a month from now when I want to make some stock but maybe don't want to head to the store. It's nice to not throw out a bunch of food scraps when you can use them for other purposes. If you compost, you can do that too.

    Optional Wonderfuls!

    Justine Bienkowski

    A few optional spices you can throw in are whole allspice, whole cloves, whole peppercorns and a bay leaf. Out of all of these if a gun was pointed at your head and you had to choose, go with a bay leaf. Just 1 is really all you need! Fresh bay leaves are best, but regular ol' dry ones will do, too. If you're using the others, no more then a pinch of peppercorns (6 if you really need a number), and 3 of the allspice and cloves.

    A lot of people say there ain't nothing to bay leaves and they're unnecessary or don't help, but I disagree. To me, bay leaves might as well be my ~bae~ leaf.

    Back To You, Pot.

    Justine Bienkowski

    If you've been skimming like me, the pot will begin to look more like this as you've skimmed away the foam and gristle. There's still some foam around the edges and if you're super neurotic you can keep going but it's fine to leave for now.

    Now is the time to add the rest of the veggies if you haven't already.

    Justine Bienkowski

    As you can see I've started throwing stuff in. Oh BAYYYYBY. Throw in whatever you got, now's the time. In addition to the herbs, veggies, allspice/cloves/peppercorns and BAE leaf, I also added salt. You don't need to add any if you don't want to. I am a huge defender of salt--it gives food flavor and is very important as long as you don't overdo it. You can add anywhere from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon.

    Justine Bienkowski

    Once the veggies are in, bring the pot back to a boil and then turn down. There will be a little bit more scum that comes up, so do skim if you can. Simmer on low, uncovered, for 4-6 hours.

    While You Wait, Put Away Your Excess Herbs.

    Justine Bienkowski

    When you don't have herbs sitting around and buy them from the store, you often end up with a ton that you might not need to use that day. Then you got a whole bunch of herbs that go bad and it's just a waste of money!

    I like to wash and dry my extras and put them into ziplock baggies and throw them in the freezer for another time. Not all herbs stand up to the freezing process in terms of flavor, but it works fine in a pinch. I like to stick some of the more hearty tufts of herbs into jars with some water and hope they root a little bit. And if they don't, well, it's still a nice bit of greenery to brighten up the kitchen!

    Gotta Keep 'Em Separated!

    Justine Bienkowski

    After 4-6 hours, your stock is done. Now you'll want to set up an area where you can drain/transfer vegetables. It is entirely up to you what you want to keep in the final product if you'll be using the stock to make soup. Most of the veggies will be too soft and falling apart to keep or be too palatable. Here I set up a separate stock pot with a colander and then picked out the carrots, which I wanted to keep.

    Justine Bienkowski

    Once you've removed all the vegetables you'll want to sift the rest of the stock through a colander so you can clean out the rest of the gristle and odds and ends. Cheesecloth works too but that's getting a little fancy.

    Justine Bienkowski
    Justine Bienkowski

    I separated out the chicken and shredded it so that I could add it into a soup later or even make chicken salad with it. SO MANY CHOICES! So many meal possibilities. If you went whole chicken like me, be careful of all the little rib bones. I sifted through it with my hands because I trust my hands more than my eyes!

    MOAR SKIMMING!

    Justine Bienkowski

    Now that the heat is off it'll start to congeal a little bit. Use your skimmer thingy to get that fatty little skin off the top.

    VOILÀ!

    Knock knock. Who's there? Stock. Stock who? Stock what you're doing and take a look at this stock! From here you can keep it refrigerated for about a week or so or freeze for a few months. I made some noodles and added some of the chicken I shredded as well as the carrots. I also sprinkled some chopped dill on top (not pictured but very much in my tummy).

    And that's it! You're done! You're a STOCK CHAMPION! If you have any personal tips or tricks, or maybe family traditions for making stock, please share in the comments.

    Happy cooking!

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