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Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Episode 4, Stocks

Vegetable stock, simmering

A. TrachtaVegetable stock, simmering

Squid Ink is going back to basics with Martha Stewart's Cooking School, airing every weekend through the end of the year on PBS. Join us.

See also: Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Episode 1, Eggs

See also: Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Episode 2, Sauces

See also: Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Episode 3, Vegetables

You've heard this claim time and again, from Mark Bittman, Michael Ruhlman, nearly every Food Network personality and certainly from Martha Stewart: Homemade stock is better than anything you could pour out of a carton or can. And you've never doubted it. But that doesn't necessarily mean you've taken the time to make it.

The hours it takes isn't really the problem -- slow cooking is the easy part. What's hard is being an organized enough person not to discard the scraps that you could later turn into stock when cooking other meals. That's an art, and probably the biggest lesson we learned from this episode of Martha Stewart's Cooking School: to be ever-stingy with ends of squashes and carrots, beef bones, chicken backs and the like. Keeping and freezing those bits until you're ready to use them is what makes the stock-making process truly economical.

First, turn the page to see recipes for chicken, beef and vegetable stocks, courtesy of the Martha Stewart team.

Basic Chicken Stock

Makes 2 1/2 quarts

5 pounds assorted chicken parts (backs, necks, legs, and wings), rinse

2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into 2-inch lengths

2 celery stalks, chopped into 2-inch lengths

2 medium onions, peeled and cut into quarters

2 dried bay leaves

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1. Place chicken parts in a stockpot just large enough to hold them with about 3 inches of room above (an 8-quart pot should do) and add enough water to cover by 1 inch (about 3 quarts). Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, using a ladle to skim impurities and fat that rise to the top.

2. Add vegetables, bay leaf, and peppercorns and reduce heat to a bare simmer (bubbles should just gently break the surface). Cook, skimming frequently, for at least 1 1/2 hours and up to 4 hours.

3. Pass stock through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a large heatproof measuring cup or another bowl or pot; do not press on solids. Discard solids.

4. Skim off fat if using immediately, or let cool completely (in an ice-water bath, if desired) before transferring to airtight containers. Refrigerate at least 8 hours to allow the fat to accumulate at the top; lift off and discard fat before using or storing stock.

Cook's Note:

Stock can be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen up to 3 months; thaw completely in the refrigerator before using.

Brown Beef Stock

Makes 3 1/2 quarts

4 pounds veal bones, such as knuckles and shin

2 pounds short ribs or oxtail (optional; add 3 more pounds veal bones if not using ribs)

3 tablespoons sunflower or other neutral-tasting oil

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 onions, unpeeled and quartered

2 celery stalks, each cut into thirds

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

4 garlic cloves, unpeeled and crushed

1 cup water or red wine

6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley

4 sprigs thyme

2 dried bay leaves

2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Arrange bones and short ribs in a single layer in a large, heavy roasting pan. Drizzle with oil and turn to coat. Roast, turning once and stirring often for even browning, until beginning to brown, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, add tomato paste, and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat for about 30 seconds (to let it brown a little, which cooks out some of the acidity and intensifies the sweetness), then add vegetables, stirring well. Return to oven and roast until vegetables are browned and tender and bones are deeply browned, about 40 minutes.

3. Transfer bones and vegetables to a large stockpot, then spoon off fat from roasting pan and discard. Set the pan over two burners. Add water and bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits from bottom with a wooden spoon. Boil until liquid is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Pour contents of pan into the stockpot.

4. Add enough water to stockpot to cover bones and vegetables by 2 inches (about 6 quarts). Bring to just under a boil, then reduce heat to a bare simmer (bubbles should just gently break at the surface). Add herbs and peppercorns and very gently simmer, uncovered, over low heat for 8 hours, adding more water as necessary to keep everything submerged.

5. Carefully pour stock through a cheesecloth-lined sieve (do not press on solids) into a large heatproof bowl or another stockpot; discard solids. Stock will be dark brown. Skim off fat if using immediately or let cool completely (in an ice water bath, if desired) before transferring to airtight containers. Refrigerate at least 8 hours to allow the fat to accumulate at the top; lift off and discard fat before using or storing.

Cook's Note:

Brown stock can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months; thaw completely in the refrigerator before using.

Vegetable Stock

Makes 2 quarts

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, peeled, half coarsely chopped, the other half kept whole

2 large celery stalks, sliced 1/2-inch thick

2 medium carrots, unpeeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

8 sprigs flat-leaf parsley

8 sprigs basil

4 sprigs thyme

2 dried bay leaves

Salt and pepper

1. Heat the oil in a medium stockpot over medium until hot but not smoking. Add chopped onion and cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Add celery, carrots, garlic, and peppercorns; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

2. Pour in enough water to cover vegetables by 1 inch (8 to 10 cups) and add herbs and remaining half onion. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, 1 hour.

3. Pour stock through a fine sieve into a large bowl or another pot, pressing on vegetables to extract as much flavorful liquid as possible. Discard solids. If not using immediately, cool in an ice-water bath before transferring to airtight containers.

Cook's Note:

Vegetable stock can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 3 months; thaw completely before using.

Next up, see how our first attempt at homemade stock went.

mirepoix

A. Trachtamirepoix

We went into this project wanting to make chicken stock, which seems to be the most commonly called-for stock in recipes. But in mulling it over, we decided it just didn't make financial sense to go out and buy five pounds of chicken scraps simply to make stock. We made a mental note to save what we'd otherwise throw out when we butcher a chicken next week (coincidentally, butchering is the next Cooking School topic; perhaps these two episodes should have been rearranged?) and opted for vegetable stock instead.

This was also probably a wise decision considering vegetable stock is the least labor-intensive of the three recipes. No roasting of bones or skimming of fat -- really just quick chopping, simmering and draining.

Vegetables sweating in the stock pot

A. TrachtaVegetables sweating in the stock pot

All went swimmingly in the cooking process until we got to the point in Martha's recipe where it instructs you to "pour in enough water to cover vegetables by 1 inch," then suggests this will take eight to 10 cups. Our vegetables were significantly covered by about four, and we didn't know what to do. Though we hadn't added the herbs or additional half onion it calls for. Maybe those created a need for more water? We put in the remaining ingredients, then added three more cups of water, still unsure if it was too much or too little. But that's life in the kitchen; sometimes you're just rolling the dice.

For the next hour, the house smelled like a holiday, and when the stock was ready, we tasted it and found it quite flavorful, so the level of water must have been OK.

Draining out the stock

A. TrachtaDraining out the stock

The only sad part, we discovered, was the discarding of the solids. We tasted them, and they were pretty delicious, but what to do with them? Toss in a soup? Would they even hold up? Perhaps not, though we'd love a suggestion of how to use them. It just seems wrong to throw out all that veggie goodness after employing a cooking process that's all about saving.

See also: Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Episode 1, Eggs

See also: Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Episode 2, Sauces

See also: Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Episode 3, Vegetables


Follow Ali Trachta on Twitter @MySo_CalLife. Follow Squid Ink at @LAWeeklyFood and check out our Facebook page.