Since Claire and I have been married, I have taken to making stocks. The first time we had roasted chicken for dinner and I was left with a perfectly good carcass after extracting all the meat from it, I realized that instead of just throwing it away, I could make chicken stock with it. I soon realized that I could also buy beef bones from the Mexican grocery store for cheap, and so was soon making beef stock as well.
Making my own stock is far cheaper than anything in the grocery store. Not to mention the flavor is far superior to any of the canned/boxed stocks. And finally, I know exactly what is in the stock…no preservatives and no ingredients in which a Ph.D is food science is required. The only down side (and I really don’t think it is one) is that it requires a lot of time in order for the flavor to develop, but it is largely unattended time.
Making a chicken stock is slightly different from a beef stock so I will give instructions on both.
For Chicken Stock.
I usually wait until I have two chicken carcasses (I also save the necks as I clean the bird) to use before I make a batch. You can also ask a butcher for chicken bones, and I am sure they will sell them to you for cheap.
For two carcasses, you will need about one onion chopped, one medium carrot chopped, and one stalk of celery chopped. This is referred to as a mirepoix (the traditional ratio in a mirepoix is 50% onion, 25% carrot, 25% celery). Since the stock will be simmering for a long while, you will want large chunks. Also, the mirepoix will be strained, so there is no need to worry about the beauty of your knife skills here.
I put the defrosted bones in a 6 quart stockpot and cover with cold water (for every pound of bones, you will need roughly one quart of water). Bring to a boil over high heat. As the water heats up, you will notice scum rising to the surface, skim it and throw it away. The scum is basically extra fat and coagulated proteins that if left, will cloud the stock.
After the water is boiling, add a chopped mirepoix, along with herbs and spices. For herbs and spices, you can use: thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, parsley stems, whole cloves, and/or garlic. Remember: the goal is to have a stock that tastes primarily like chicken, plus the stock serves as a base for soup, so chances are you will flavor it later with the herbs you want.
Turn the heat to as low as you can get it and let it simmer away for at least 4 hours. If during the process you notice the water level getting too low, add more water in order to keep the bones submerged.
Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer. Cool the stock as quickly as possible.
To store the stock: I measure out two cups worth and put it in a quart sized Zip-loc bag. I lay the bag flat on a cookie sheet and freeze. This way I can pull the stock as needed in portions that I need.
For Beef Stock.
I buy beef bones from Cardenas, Mexican grocery store. They are labeled “beef bones for soup,” and cost only 99 cents a pound. I also know that Stater Brothers sells them, if you ask, but they are slightly more expensive.
With beef stock, you begin by roasting the beef bones in a 375°F oven for at least an hour, probably more like 90 minutes depending on how many bones you get, turning as needed to brown on all colors. Make sure the bones are in a single layer in a roasting pan (I currently do not have a roasting pan, so I use a cast iron skillet).
Put the bones in a stockpot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the fat from the roasting pan, leaving a little in the pan. As the water is coming to a boil, sauté the mirepoix in the roasting pan. Add one tablespoon of tomato paste, or one medium tomato chopped. Deglaze the pan with either a little red wine (you can use water also). When the water is boiling, add the sautéed mirepoix.
Follow the directions for the chicken stock, except allow the beef stock to simmer at least six hours, preferably ten hours. The longer the beef stock is able to simmer, the more gelatin is extracted from the bones, giving the stock a richer mouth feel.
I have grown to love making stocks. The house smells so good all day as the stocks simmer. I get excited about the dishes that will result from the stock. Finally there is something really fascinating and cool about watching over the course of a day basically bones and water and a little heat turn into a stock that is incredibly rich in flavor.
Also should you want more information, any good cookbook (like Joy of Cooking and/or How to Cook Everything) will have instructions on making stock.
I hope you try making your own stocks. Let me know if you have any questions, and I would love to hear how they turn out.