Stocked up

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.

19 people are having a conversation about “Stocked up

  1. I made my first pork stock a couple of years ago out of the remains of a New Year’s Ham, and it made my brain explode right inside my head.

    So you know how cats’ pupils will rapidly expand when they get excited? That’s what mine did upon reading this post.

  2. I’ve got two pig’s feet defrosting in the fridge now to make a gelatinous stock, so I can make terrines with little bits of game birds I’ve shot and frozen for just such an occasion. Pork is marvellous stuff. It binds and flavours, all at the same time.

    I’m glad you admitted to saving gnawned chicken bones. Even when we have guests over, I save all the bones from all the plates for the stock pot. I figure if I like you enough to cook for you, I’m not really afraid of your germs, especially heated then frozen.

  3. I’m not doing enough when I make stock. I’ve never roasted the bones or simmered them until they break down. It’s time to up my stock-making skills. I’m going to make the next batch on a particularly cold day and enjoy the warmth of the propane burner all day.

    I don’t usually clean off plates while I have company. Bones go into a freezer bag for stock and scraps except meat and fats go to the composting worm bin. Using the bones for stocks eliminates my guilt of not getting every last bit of meat off the chicken bone.

  4. You are a woman after my own heart! I try to never throw away anything that can go into the stock pot. It makes for some interesting forensic moments when I forget to label some bit or piece before I throw it into the freezer, but the stock is incredible. It makes the stuff that comes out of cans or boxes look like a beat up Schwinn parked next to a Ferrari.

    Since I have three dogs, I save things that I will not put into my own stock to make batches of “dog juice.” I use it to moisten their dry food, and during the summer I give them frozen dog juice ice cubes as a cold treat. I also save the spent veggies and meat scraps from making my stock for the dogs — they do not care that it has almost no flavor left.

  5. Virginia — I’m with you. Pork stock is a wonderful thing. I will, however, try to keep all body parts intact.

    Jen & Laura — Is there some kind of club for the likes of us? The people who pick scraps off other people’s plates and then cook them again? Stockmakers Anonymous? Stockpot Crackpots?

    Robin — Full disclosure: I don’t usually roast bones. I figure the most important part of stock is the gelatin, and you get that with long cooking, whether you roast or no. The single most important thing about stock — more important than roasting, more important than adding aromatics (I never bother), more important than using backs and necks — is to cook the hell out of it. Before the pressure cooker, I’d routinely cook chicken stock for four hours. In the pressure cooker, I do two — and the bones crumble when I’m done. So cook the hell out of it!

    • One thing that is an asset if you are going to take other people’s scraps is having a dog. People who will give you the hairy eyeball if you tell them that the bones on their plate are going into the stockpot will cheerfully help you collect scraps when you say it is for your little doggies. Having a Schnauzer mix that is so cute that she should be illegal is a major bonus. When they warn me in worried tones that dogs should not have bones, I tell them that I am making dog juice, so the dogs will never see the bones.

      I don’t know whether we need a club or a support group, but I am not giving it up!

      I frequently cook my stock overnight. I put it on before I go to bed, and deal with it when I get up in the morning. I agree that the secret to the best stock is cooking the ever living sh*t out of it. With poultry, I figure the stock is done when the bones have started to lose their integrity and I can crumble the ends of the keel and leg bones.

  6. A pressure cooker- brilliant! Maybe that never occurred to me because my mother never made it with a pressure cooker.

    Now for space- how about a pressure canner?

    I’ve also read that a little vinegar in your stock pulls more nutrition out of them.

  7. I do the same thing – keeping all the stock bits in a container in the freezer until I have a stockpot worth, then cooking the hell out of it for hours. It always makes the kitchen smell amazing.

    When it’s time to put the stock away, I freeze some in big blocks for making soup and some in ice cube trays, so that I can throw in a cube or two when I just need a little bit.

  8. I’m with you on saving bones, sometimes I think its an addiction . I cook mine in a large stock pot for around 12 hours or so then I pressure can it, it only takes 25 minutes for Quarts and 20 for pints, that way I have more freezer spacer to collect more bones. I do the same with Veggie scraps saving them in the freezer until I have enough to make a stock, only about 1 ½ hours cooking time though. Then canning it. Nothing beats homemade stock
    Jan Polex

  9. Paula and Jan — Pressure canning is where I’d go if I ran out of freezer space. We’ve got freezers to spare, so I don’t — and the yard-sale pressure canner in the basement has never seen the light of day. And only now does it occur to me that I should have used it to make the stock in the first place! Where were you guys when I needed you?

    Lyssa — I’ve always liked the idea of the ice cube tray, but I find I always want more than an ice cube’s worth. But if I cook it waaaaaay down …

  10. other than a quick note on the fact that ramen broth is little more than raw pork bones simmered for… ready? FORTY EIGHT HOURS (and is awesome)… just a quick note to those above and reading. Cooked bones are horribly dangerous to dogs. Raw bones? Totally ok. Soft, your dog will chew and digest. Cooked bones splinter and can cause real havok and massive vet bills, if you catch em in time.


  11. i’m with you – never throw away a bone. i’ve made it to almost-52 without ever buying stock.
    also in the never throw it away category are parmesan rinds.

    tonight’s dinner was a cobbled together vegetable barley soup which used a quart of lamb stock and a good sized hunk of rind – it was fabulous.

  12. Once upon a time, there was a beer festival in the village with the obligatory spit roast pig. Actually it happens every year but on this occasion the heavens opened and the rain came down in torrents … The beer was drunk, every last drop, but the poor piggy didnt do so well. So when the soaked sellers gave up we asked what they were going to do with the carcase. Throw it on the fire !!! So we begged some bin bags from the pub, and in the carcase went and off we trudged home (well, we weren’t legal to drive!). My biggest pans were jam kettles – with a metal tray as a lid on one and the wok lid on the other. Brilliant stock. Never had the nerve to ask since (perhaps not enough beer first??).

    • Madcat, may I point out again the value of dogs, real or imaginary, in this kind of endeavor? People love to give bones and scraps for dogs.

  13. Amanda — 48 hours, eh? That’s a lot of propane. I’m going to have to break out the pressure canner for the next pig.

    Magpie — In New York, I used to buy beef stock from Citarella, the meat & fish market on the Upper West Side. They had access to beef bones and scraps that I never had, and their stock was wonderful. I miss those beef burgundies …

    Madcat — I cannot imagine throwing a carcass in a fire. I’m glad you were there to rescue it. Next year, just show up with your jam kettle, and when everyone’s finished eating and nobody’s looking, pop it in. I’ll say you were with me.

  14. Accidental Mick says:

    This is so obvious that I thought twice about posting but you don’t have to read it.

    With only me to feed it takes a long time to get enough bones to make stock except when I buy a whole chicken.

    Then the broken up carcase, any skin which didn’t get crispy enough and the leg bones and wing bones (broken to get the marrow) go into a pot. Add a couple of leeks, a carrot and a couple of stalks of celery all roughly chopped. After 3 hours sieve it and cool it. No cissy stuff like skimming it. Kept in the fridge it will last 3 or 4 days.

    When you are hungry, take a ladle full or two, into a saucepan, add crushed vermicelli – instant chicken noodle soup.

    Jewish penicillin indeed!

  15. Thanks everyone for all the ideas. It is great and I am looking forward to saving bones. Does anyone have any suggestions for using prime rib bones? Thanks

    • Deanna, my favorite way to use big pieces of leftover beef bones is to tuck them around the edges when I crockpot soup. They simmer along with the soup, giving it a wonderful beefy flavor, and are easy to pull out when the soup is done.

      • Thanks for the suggestion. I did just that and will try the soup for lunch tomorrow. Smells so good and I am sure my body will say thank you as I am eating. You know that feeling you get when eating good, homemade food that makes you feel good to the core.

Converstion is closed.