My friend can’t resist another helping. And then a third. “It’s the best risotto I’ve ever eaten–is there more?” They’re licking the pan now. And, they’re not the first. I’ve unlocked the secret: homemade stock.
That means actually making it. Decent stock can be bought–even from restaurants–but making it rewards with otherworldly risottos, sauces, soups and reductions. Producing it is not difficult. Consider the basis for superior stock: water, roasted meaty/fatty/sinuous bones/shells, herbs, and veggies. Collagen leaches out of bones, creating flavor, texture, richness, along with meat, connective tissue, and fat. Veggies break down and release their flavors. All is simmered low and slow, then strained and skimmed. The result is stock that is both flavorful and rich in ways that store-bought can only imagine.
COLLECTING STOCK INGREDIENTS IS EASY
I save my bones, freezing them until sufficient quantity to make stock. Fried chicken? Keep the bones. Roast chicken? Keep the bones and carcass. Roasting my own? Keep that bag inside the carcass containing the neck, heart, and liver–it’s great for stock. The more different parts and flavors that can be added, the better. Beef steak or rib bones are excellent stock-makers. Especially when grilled or smoked.
When I don’t have any to make stock with, I roast marrow bones (delicious in their own right), and then make stock after enjoying the decadent marrow on crostini as an appetizer. Rack of lamb bones? Perfect for making lamb stock for soup and demiglace. Pork chop bones/fat? Ham bone? Smoked pulled pork bones/fat? Yep, yep, yep. Crab shells? Shrimp shells? Same same. Duck confit bones? Roast turkey carcass from a holiday? Hell yeah.
Starting with filtered cold water, I add all accumulated bones/fat/meat/skin/trimmings to the largest stock pot I own, move it to a burner, and simmer on low.
Then go veggie trimmings, and/or additional veggies: two onions, a head or two garlic, carrots, celery, including leaves. No need for pretty–just cleaning the dirt off–it’s going into stock. Veggies vary, depending on what’s around. Asparagus stems otherwise discarded transform into subtle asparagus stock. Leek is excellent in fish, crab, lobster, or shrimp stock. Broccoli stems. Scallions. Root veg, avoiding starches like potato which might over thicken. If I have any hard cheese rinds, they also go in. Anything that can contribute.
Next, I add herbs: usually thyme, bay, savory, rosemary and a small handful of black peppercorns for chicken, lamb, pork and beef stocks. Tarragon and lemon for seafood. Sometimes, herbs de Provence for lamb or chicken. Sometimes clove or anise or cinnamon, though I’ve found they can easily skew the entire batch.
Combinations of meat, bones, veggies, and herbs can vary depending on need, or ingredients on hand. For wild mushroom risotto, I first make brown stock–a combination of beef, chicken, pork, lamb, and possibly duck (if I have stock bones). I then simmer dried wild mushrooms in the stock, extracting the earthy flavors from the fungus, chopping the reconstituted, adding back in with sautéed mushrooms.
The result is an incomparable wild mushroom risotto. Concentrated. Complex. Its depth of flavor is unsurpassed, as evidenced by the dazed looks on diners’ faces upon tasting. When the room is instantly silent, something profound is happening. Best part, it’s all stuff I’d likely throw away or compost anyway. Complexity comes from a variety of ingredients being used. And, you can still compost solids left, including bones.
I usually make stock, use it once, freezing the remainder in quart containers, so I can cut out that process when I’m about to create. Some use icecube trays, though I wonder why. Pint and quart units seem most useful. Store for up to six months of unprecedented deliciousness on tap. Soups, bases, sauces, braises. Risotto of the finest kind.
Taste the difference that lovingly made stock creates. It’s not difficult. And, the reward is a new way of seeing cooking. Not to mention the best risotto.