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The Squirrel Complex
Looking at the squirrels on my kitchen window boxes, barreling through my newly planted parsley — which, if not hurled by wildlife down into our alley — would pretty much last through December, along with the dill that seems to swoon when the sun intrudes on this shady area or if it gets a bit of a chill. These cute little varmints, forever immortalized by Beatrix Potter, (one of the most charming visualizations of Squirrel Nutkin’s antics can be found in this Frederic Ashton ballet from 1971) root around, flinging pansies and herbs with abandon and replace all my winter planting efforts with their stashes of nuts. I have been accused of doing the same thing in our freezer. I save the ends of tomatoes to make passata in the summer, and, throughout the year, I save beef, veal and lamb bones to make an annual cache of mixed brown stock. I was recently reminded by someone in this house that stock-making time had come as a frozen bag of bones came tumbling out of the freezer onto his foot.
(As a side note, in case you have not seen it, I offer for your viewing hilarity a now famous squirrel video from Mark Rober…and there are sequels).
Fortunately, I have timed this project with the fall arrival of fresh celery from Twin Springs Fruit Farm and use the leaves in the stock pot along with a small branch of bay leaves from my long suffering bay bush, very tired carrots from the crisper, and onion leavings (also in the freezer).
In The Beginning
The guide on making stocks from Judy Rodgers (I don’t follow her detailed pages of advice religiously) in her Zuni Café Cookbook is very helpful. In fact, this cookbook is one I return to often for techniques and recipes. Don’t let your stock boil, don’t leave on for more than a few hours, and taste it until you are happy with the flavor. The Zuni Café kitchen apparently does not stockpile bones from rib roasts, veal and lamb chops and steaks in the freezer; rather they make their stocks from fresh meats and bones. But with the price of sustainably grown proteins, I feel that it is necessary to wring out every molecule of flavor from leftover bones. That said, I do follow her advice on salting early – doing it after clarification gives the stock an unsettled salty flavor. I found this out the hard way after I had read in another highly recommended book that one should salt the stock after the initial simmering and reduction. Not good advice. She also says not to skim the fat off while your stock is simmering, as the fat actually helps to give it a deeper flavor. As soon as you are happy with the taste, turn off the heat and proceed to the ncxt step.
At this point, do not wait for the stock to cool, but instead remove the bones and vegetal debris by pouring out the stock through a fine sieve or towel in a colander. Mine fills a large bowl (the one I make my mother in law’s fruitcake in) and let it sit in the refrigerator until the fat and flotsam congeal at the top. This gets scraped off before putting it in a large pan in which you are going to clarify the muddy looking stock. Take 2 egg whites for every quart of stock you have measured out – you can add a bit of water and lemon juice if that helps you to break them up, as shown in the video. Add some lightly crushed egg shells if you have them and mix them until just barely frothy). Fold these into the cold stock – if it has gelled, that is fine, the whites will fold into the stock whether it is cold liquid or has solidified.
The Grand Finale
Over medium-low heat, allow the stock to simmer. Do not ever allow it to come to a boil. You will see the egg white “raft” developing. At some point, within 20 minutes or a bit longer if you are doing a large amount, you may get a little peep hole in your raft. If not, make a small one so you can see the progress. I love this part! Once you see that the small area is clear, you can ladle or pour the stock out, this time through a sieve lined with cheese cloth or a towel. (My favorite cheesecloth is this organic version which I use repeatedly. It washes easily.) You can see in the two glasses that my stock was much cloudier than the one in the video below, because I had so many vegetables in the mix.
Freeze in bags or containers and mark the date. I store mine in freezer bags in about 2-cup increments. Recycled glass jars or plastic containers (both with tight-fitting lids) are fine too, but leave a good two inches of head space. You are now ready to make all sorts of consommes with local mushrooms, for example, or Asian style soups with small strips of chicken, seafood, beef or pork and additional vegetables.This stock makes a divine winter risotto with radicchio and red wine or it can be used to create a delicious sauce. The only thing it does not work for is a dessert.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.