Stock is an essential base for many meals but the wonders of homemade stock are sadly lost on many student cooks. Any kind of leftover bone can be used: if you’ve recently made lamb shanks or pork shoulder, ribs, or chicken wings, roast pheasant or oxtail soup, retain the bones and use them for stock. Vegetable stock can also easily be made from a day’s kitchen scraps; it’s the best way to reduce your kitchen waste. Whether you’re currently using those grainy OXO cubes or—even worse—plain water, let me provide you with a delicious and professional alternative that will quickly enliven any soup, sauce, or gravy.
The process by which you make stock is incredibly simple; chop some vegetables, throw in some spices, add some bones, cover with water and boil away until only the flavourful essences of these ingredients remain. Stock can be made from practically any kitchen scrap, providing it is not a natural thickener like potato or flour. Knobby ends of celery or carrots? Absolutely. Sweet potato or butternut squash peelings? Definitely. Onion skins, garlic nubs, an old chicken carcass, unused offal, leftover meat—practically anything can be put in the stock pot to season future meals. Strong flavours like coriander, citrus peels, or spicy peppers should be avoided, however, unless you’re using this stock for a particular dish that requires these ingredients anyway. A carton full of stock that tastes of nothing but bitter lime can only be used in so many dishes! Similarly if you decide to use yesterday’s cod bones for today’s stock you’ll be surrounded by the delightful scent of fish for a few days at least, so be mindful of your housemates.
The best stock I’ve ever made was from a base of chicken feet. Yes: their feet, the scaly, arguably inedible, definitely creepy part of the chicken. Because these contain no meat—only bone, tendon, and skin—the resulting stock is both flavourful and incredibly gelatinous. Because the feet are not in high demand, you can procure a large bag of frozen feet from the Chinese supermarket on North Road for just £2. With these and just a handful of veg you’re on your way to making a batch of intense stock that will last for months. Let’s get started…
- A large stock pot.
- A sieve or mesh bag, for straining.
- A container for your finished stock.
- 1kg of chicken feet, thawed.
- 2 carrots, unpeeled, halved.
- 1 onion, peeled, quartered.
- 2 stalks celery, halved.
- 3 whole, peeled garlic cloves.
- 10 whole peppercorns.
- 1 tbsp salt.
- 2 bay leaves.
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme (optional).
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary (optional).
As above, the chicken feet will need to be thawed. The best way to do this is overnight, in the fridge. You’ll need to quickly boil the feet to cook them through before the stock starts, so put them in a pot with boiling water for about five minutes.
Drain the feet completely and rinse them with cold water so you can handle them. Using a sharp knife, cut away the last joint on each toe and take off their claws, and also slice away any rough patches on their claw pad. Throw these bits away.
Prepare the onions, carrots, and celery. This trifecta are referred to as aromatics; along with other vegetables such as fennel, peppers, garlic, lemongrass, or ginger, they make up the base of any dish. Think of them as the three notes that make up any chord, setting the tone for your dish. Many Italian meals start with a base of celery, garlic, and fennel, many Cajun recipes begin with onion, celery, and green pepper. Most English, French, and American dishes, however, come from the vegetables we’ll be using today: onion, carrots, and celery. It’s built upon with another common spice trilogy: garlic, peppercorns, and bay leaves. There are many variations and stock gives us a wonderful medium with which to experiment, as the result will be used as a subtle enhancement to future dishes and so any mistake will be minor.
Throw everything into a large stock pot, cover with cold water until everything is submerged by at least an inch, and then bring to a simmer. Once it begins to bubble, turn the heat to the lowest setting and partially cover. It will be like this for about four hours, but don’t leave it unattended; you’ll need to skim away any foamy scum that comes to the surface. After the four hours are over, bring the heat up slightly and take off the pot lid, and let it cook uncovered for one or two more hours, or until you feel it’s reduced enough to your taste, or to the size of the container you have to store it.
While the feet boil away to their bare bones, their declawed toes reaching up to you piteously from the pot, remember that you, too, are made of meat, and the stock that might be made from your bones is a flavour as of yet unknown to this world. Rest assured, I’m sure you are delicious!
When the stock has reduced—and it will reduce tremendously—it’s time to strain the stock from the matter. This can be unwieldy and a little difficult; tip the contents into a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth and squeeze out as much of the stock as you can. Retain the liquid, obviously, as this is what we’ve been working towards for six hours. I find it easiest to rest a sieve atop another pot and tip some of the mess of vegetables and chicken bones into it, pressing it down with a wooden spoon to squeeze out the stock, then throwing the sieve’s drained contents away and doing it again until the stock pot is empty. You’ll be left with the savoury golden stock; put this into your container(s), let cool for an hour, and then store in the fridge. When it’s cooled it should firm up into a wobbly gel, ready to be spooned into your next dish.
This stock—any stock, with its million variations—can be used to substitute milk or water in any dish. Use it on your roux when making béchamel to transform it into a different sauce, called velouté. Put a few spoonfuls into the broth of your next soup to add a new depth of flavour. Dilute it with water and use it to enliven your rice or risotto, or use it instead of white wine for your next Bolognese. As it’s made entirely from fat, it will keep in the fridge for weeks and you may use it at your leisure. Enjoy!