As the weather in the Pacific Northwest takes a decided turn towards the dark and stormy, it’s natural to engage in less physical activity and to spend more time indoors.
Sure, this is the time of year for football, hot wings and hops.
But there are other things to do with your time. At least some of it.
Cooking is a great way to nurture and take care of yourself.
And one of the best things you can do in this department is to start putting up your own stock.
Stock? What? That doesn’t sound like something you eat. It sounds like something you buy or sell. Or at least some people do.
Stock is something that chefs use all the time. You might know it as broth. Or, lately, more trendily, “bone broth”.
Think of it as a flavorful liquid that becomes the base for the soups, stocks, and sauces you will eat all winter. You can even drink a steaming mug full of it on a bone-chilling afternoon. Lord knows we have no shortage of those around here.
Stock is very good for you. And not just because it’s healthy for your body. The process of making it can have an invigorating effect. Unlike much of life, it has a clear beginning, middle, and end.
The backbone—pun intended—of any good stock is meaty bones (more on vegetarian variations in a minute).
Where do you get these meaty bones? How does one shop for them? That doesn’t sound like a thing that most people think or talk about, either.
Part of the fun of stock making is that it forces many of us to leave our comfort zone. And that starts by going somewhere other than your regular neighborhood supermarket. You can try and start there. But the process is such that you will usually not find what you’re looking for and have to go somewhere else.
Try to find a store where immigrants shop. Immigrants? From where? Almost anywhere! One of the unique things about our so-called melting pot is that people tend to cook more when they first get here. Becoming “American” can often have the effect of removing many of the traditional cooking processes from our daily lives. Immigrants usually still retain those processes, and it’s reflected in the places where they shop.
What you want is something like chicken backs, feet, or wings. Or turkey necks. Or beef joints. Pork knuckles. Something with a mixture of meat, bone, skin, fat, cartilage and connective tissue. What a football commentator might call the “total package”.
You also want some fresh veggies. Things from the allium family—onions, shallots, leeks, scallions—plus celery, carrots, fresh herbs like parsley, and spices like whole peppercorns. If you’re vegetarian, you’ll want just the veggies, but consider adding mushrooms, fresh or dried. A single whole tomato, chopped up, is also a great addition to your stock pot. Don’t break the bank. That’s not what stock is.
From there, you begin the cooking phase of the process. Plan on steaming up the windows and filling the house with wonderful aromas. Share this with important people in your life. Or do it alone. Stock making is much about you. Think of it as self-care.
You’re basically going to gently simmer everything in a pot with water until the transformation occurs. The vegetables grow soft. The bones and meat fall apart. The liquid becomes richly flavored and hued.
You’ll know it’s done when you have found that your worries have, at least temporarily, gone away.
The first thing you should do is grab a mug and ladle yourself some of your creation. Sprinkle some salt in it and sip it, piping hot, while the rain patters the windows.
Freeze whatever you don’t use. Pull it back out on the days when you need it most. The wonderful thing about it is that you can put it back on the stove and heat it back up. You’ll suddenly be transported right back to where you need to be.