Olivia Dish

My Scrappy Stock

In Cookbooks, Homemade on April 30, 2010 at 6:14 am
Zuni Cookbook

Serious about stock

I’ve always loved the story of Stone Soup, people adding a little of this, a little of that, and before you know it, you’ve got something delicious. Maybe the tea partying crowd would call it communism. I call it scrappy stock.

Most of my cooking life, I’d saved chicken backs and wings, then added carrot, onion and celery to make chicken stock.  A few years ago, I was reading Judy Rodgers Zuni Café Cookbook, and my ideas about stock came under challenge.

Rodgers advocated using not scraps, but a whole, fresh chicken (save the breasts). Yes, she acknowledged, it was extravagant. But she also writes, “ Chicken stock brewed mostly from bones, especially stockpiled, tired ones tastes dull to me and isn’t worth the trouble, or small expense.”

Who am I to argue with Judy Rodgers, I thought. I tried her method. It did produce a gorgeous golden chicken stock. No doubt about it. But it left me feeling guilty, wasteful, and food-snobby.

My friend Whit DeSpoon has an entirely different idea about stock.  His approach: the scrappier, the happier.

He saves everything to go into it—the bones from our pork chops, the carcass of that roast chicken picked up at the grocery store, carrot ends, onion skins.  It all goes into a ziplock bag in the freezer.  When the bag is full, you make stock.

Time to make the stock

This is the foundation for the stock I’ve been making the last two years—my scrappy stock.

To be clear, there are plenty of things we don’t save for scrappy stock:  fish bones and shrimp shells don’t go into this bag, nor do broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage or beets.  Leeks, green onion tops, fennel tops, bits of celery root and rutabaga, wilting herbs—we do stuff these into the scrappy bag.

I made stock yesterday from a full bag plus the remains of a chicken.  The aroma was head-spinning,  mouth-watering, rich like roasted chicken but more complex, too.  That’s typical for scrappy stock, I find.  The taste, however, is not predictable.  It’s always good, but like the contents of the bag, the flavor varies.  Sometimes the chicken is pronounced, sometimes (blame—or credit—the pork chop bones) the flavor is meaty in a less defined way.

stock in progress

A scrappy simmer

I imagine this is what Rodgers means when she calls stock “muddy” in her cookbook.  I can see how it might trouble some cooks. But her muddy is my charmingly unpredictable–or what I imagine Mr. DeSpoon would call scrap-happy (he likes to make things rhyme).

As you can tell, I stick by my scrappy stock.  Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but I think it’s more than that.  I do like the frugality of using the random pieces, like the zeal with which Mr. DeSpoon asks “are you finished with that,” then before I can answer, sweeps my chicken bones into the freezer bag.  But if the stock didn’t taste good, none of that would matter.  Happily, scrappy stock—at least mine—is delicious.

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