One of the kitchen maxims around here – up there with ‘you can never have too many bowls’ and ‘everything’s better with preserved pork products’ – is ‘never throw away a bone.’
When we have guests, and chicken, I turn my back to the table as I clear the plates, in the hopes that no one will notice that I’m sneaking the gnawed bones and gristly scraps into a yogurt container or plastic bag. When Kevin and I are alone, there’s a bowl (you can never have too many) for bones right on the table.
I remember, early in my writing career, doing a piece on chicken stock and having my editor scoff at the amateurs who think they can use scraps from a roast chicken to make a viable stock. “Backs and necks!” she said. “You need backs and necks!”
Backs and necks are, of course, excellent for making stock. But scraps from a roast chicken do just fine – as long as you don’t expect gallons. In my experience, what’s left when we’ve finished a chicken will make between one and two pints of rich, gelatinous stock.
Usually, though, if we’ve finished just one chicken, I put the remains in the freezer and wait until I can make a bigger batch. I’m also thoroughly in favor of bone miscegenation. Lamb bones, the only other kind we have with any regularity, go right in with the chicken.
Back before I got a pressure cooker, I used to accumulate scraps for quite some time. You don’t get the most from bones unless you simmer them for several hours, and I wanted a full batch if I was going to keep a burner going for that long. Now that I make pressurized stock (better, faster, easier, more efficient), I wait only until I can fill the pressure cooker.
Stock making isn’t so much a chore as a habit you get into, but my half-assed, make-do, stock habits aren’t adequate to deal with the remains of three pigs.
It wasn’t all the remains. Many of the bones are still in the meat – hams, roasts, and ribs – and our friend Christl wanted the bones that came with her half-pig. What was left almost filled two five-gallon compound buckets.
“We’re going to need a bigger pot,” Kevin said.
Now, I have a 20-quart All-Clad stock pot, a $20. yard sale find, but we have an even bigger pot that we use on an outdoor burner, for lobsters. Since that pot is too big for my stove, and I decided that, if I was going to run a burner for hours, I wanted the residual heat in the house, I went with two batches in the All-Clad.
I roasted the bones, at 350, for about an hour and half, until they were nice and toasty. Then I put them in the pot, covered them with water, and simmered for a very long time – six to eight hours – until the bones had completely broken down. Batch #1 made six quarts of super-dense pork stock.
I knew it was six quarts because I eat a lot of Trader Joe’s goat yogurt, and I use the quart-size containers for storing and freezing food, a re-purpose for which they are perfectly suited. I’ve got a whole colony of them, filled with soup, or stew, or stock. The only problem is that I can never find the damn yogurt.
Batch #2, though, caught me undercontainered. I had only two left. So I strained the stock and put it in two bowls in the fridge overnight. Next day, I skimmed off the fat, re-heated the stock, and put it back in the fridge in a baking pan. When it was solid, I cut it into squares, like cake, and froze the pieces in Ziploc bags.
“Pork stock,” I wrote on the bags, in case, some day, in a quest for dessert, I thought it was cake. Most days, though, I’d rather have the stock than the cake.
Never throw away a bone.