entry level

I wanted to wade into writing about my culinary adventures (and mishaps) with the most basic thing I could think of: vegetable stock. As a (mostly) vegetarian, I use stock constantly. Any savory recipe that calls for water (read: soup, rice, etc) gets stock in our house.

A while back, Cooks Illustrated published a vegetable stock comparison test. Usually they rate everything as the BestBest Value, on down to Not Recommended. Their assessment of veggie stock was: Don't Bother—quite literally from top to bottom. Indeed, why bother, when it's so easy and economical to make and store?

So, let's say you're making a dish that calls for some onion, and you're just going to throw away the ends and the outer ring and skin. Don't do that. Put them in a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag. If you're like me, at least once a month you have a tomato you had big plans for that is now looking a tad too soft and mealy: put it in the bag (before it's too late). 

Roasting a butternut squash? Any kind of squash? Squash seed and pulp is like stock manna. Peeling some carrots? Put it in the bag. Stemming kale. Save those stems. Turnips and parsnips are great stock boosters. That head of garlic down to those little tiny cloves at the middle that are barely worth the effort to peel? Cut them in half, lengthwise (peel and all), and put them in the bag. You can save a large amount of what you would normally throw away: cabbage and brussels sprouts trimmings; broccoli stalks and cauliflower cores; asparagus ends; most any green or root vegetable—whole, if you don't think you're going to use it before it goes south.

Leave this bag in your freezer, adding to it until it's full. Personally, I've never worried myself over freezer burn, or such things. I do try and keep an eye on keeping the mix diverse; not too many of any one thing, be they greens or roots. I would avoid spices: as they can have a too distinct flavor—so no thyme or sage. I'll readily use some parsley stems, though. The goal is to have a hearty, robust but neutral flavor to add to anything—a strong base to build upon.

Once the bag is full, and my stock supply is low, I dump it all in a five quart pot, fill it with water, add a good teaspoon of salt and turn the burner on high until it reaches a boil. Watch your pot well if it's very full, as it will boil over easily. Once it's rolling along well, turn it down to low to simmer for at least an hour. I usually let that shit while i watch a movie or something. I hardly even bother myself with stirring it.

When it's done. I transfer it all to 1qt. tupperware containers, filtering them with a fine mesh strainer. I have nifty little conical one that fits into the tupperware we have, but even if you don't have a fine enough strainer, you can supplement it with a couple folds of cheesecloth. I let the vegetable remains drain over the sink in a colander, before bagging and tossing them. The whole business has to cool for a bit before you put it in the fridge or the freezer. It'll keep for about 2 weeks in the fridge or a month (or more) in the freezer.

If it's frozen, you don't even need a microwave to use it in short order. Just run the tupperware, closed, under hot water for a 30 seconds or so and it should pop right out into a pan. Throw that stock block on high and it will be liquid stock again in short order.

Given the foundational nature of this task, I thought I would include a playlist of early minimalist composition-with a focus on works for organ. This is music of simple structures and extended tasks. It should last you through the minimum cook time.