As some of you may know, I’ve been reading An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by the incredibly inspirational Tamar Adler. You may know because I cannot. Stop. Talking about it. If I know you in real life, I’ve probably told you to pick up this book. Maybe twice. It’s not only because the writing is so eloquent and personal — which it is. It’s because Adler has summed up the essence of what it is to cook, and to do it in a way that makes it feel as if everyone were born to make food, which, of course, we are.
Which is why I’ve decided to start a new intermittent series here that I’m calling Back to Basics. These aren’t recipes; they are more like guidelines, techniques. Things you can do with the last bit of this-or-that so it ends up contributing to something delicious instead of ending up in the trash, and things you can do when you first get a batch of food home so that it’s more likely to end up in your belly in the first place. Simple fundamentals to make cooking feel more like alchemy than chemistry.
That isn’t to say that I’m going to stop giving you the usual recipes, too — after all, if you’re craving peach pie, you can’t make it out of the odds and ends of your fridge without having to go out and get some peaches. But food bloggers and people can’t and don’t live on those glossily photographed dishes alone.
“No, the point is not to do everything perfectly. The point is to be able to make great food with what you have.”
And so, we come to broth.
When was the last time you made broth or stock at home? It is one of the most useful and flavor-boosting ingredients in the kitchen, yet hardly anyone makes it. Which is a shame, because it’s one of the easiest things to make, too.
You can boil nearly anything in water to make broth. It’s nice to start with some protein-remainders like a chicken carcass or beef bones, but not essential. With bones, it’s stock. Without, it’s broth. The leafy green parts of root vegetables and celery, the unused stems of herbs, the roots and skins of onions and shallots, skins of potatoes: all of it can go into salted water and slowly simmered. You needn’t go out and buy things to make broth. If you haven’t got everything you need, freeze what you’ve got and wait a couple of days. You’ll probably have amassed everything you need by then as leftovers from previous meals.
- Toss some bones into your biggest pot. Usually, I use the leftover bits of one or two roasted chickens, either homemade or purchased for dinner at the local rotisserie. If it was home-roasted chicken, toss the gizzards in as well. You can also use pork, veal, fish, or beef bones, of course. If you’d like, use fresh meat and fish it out of the broth once it’s fully cooked, and use it for another purpose.
- Add vegetable matter: the aforementioned leaves and stems and ends. Rummage around in the bottom of your vegetable drawer and toss in anything that isn’t moldy but looks like it’s on its way out. Maybe some clippings from your herb box. Oh, and the rinds from hard cheeses are great too. And if your cheese came wrapped in leaves? Toss those in.
- If you didn’t add a good amount of allium ends (onion, shallot, garlic, or leek) — say, less than about a handful — quarter an onion and toss it in there as well.
- Cover the whole mess with cold water and put it on high heat. When the water starts to boil, lower the heat until it’s at a slow simmer. Let it go for as long as you can stand, at least 3-4 hours. If you’ve got the wherewithal and memory, skim the scum that rises to the top of the broth every hour or so. Don’t do the thing that I do all the time where I leave the apartment for a few minutes and forget that I have something on low on the stove, then have to hurry back to turn off the burner for fear of conflagration.
- Strain the broth through a sieve into a big bowl, then return it to your pot and put it back on the heat. Take a taste — does it taste like soup? If it’s too watery, let it reduce for about half an hour, then taste again. Season with salt and pepper.
- If you like, you can use this immediately. Otherwise, I usually continue to reduce it by at least half so that it’s more concentrated and takes up less room in my tiny refrigerator. You can revive it with more water when you need it.
The most common use for stocks and broths is, of course, soup, like this one.
That’s just some chicken and vegetable stock into which I added crumbled cooked bacon and sliced potatoes, boiling until the potatoes were tender. At the very end I added some spinach and a splash of cream.
But broths are incredibly versatile outside of soups, too. Try the following:
- Use broth to cook grains like rice and quinoa instead of water.
- Add a few tablespoons of concentrated broth to mashed potatoes instead of salt, or replace part of the milk or cream with broth.
- Moisten leftovers like stir-fries and casseroles with a spoonful or two of broth before reheating.
- Make gravy: make a basic roux by heating equal parts (a tablespoon or so each) of flour and butter until light blonde, then whisk in broth simmer. Add more broth for thinner sauce.
- Add it to tomato-based sauces like marinara instead of, or in addition to, wine.
- Make bread pudding: whisk a couple of eggs and some cream with broth, pour it over stale bread mixed with chopped, sweated onion, and bake.
- Make the best risotto you’ve ever put in your mouth.
Music to cook by: Old Flame [Kimbra // Vows]