It’s no secret that my wife and I love to eat out. We’re known for dining at places rated from “no stars to four stars.”
And we like it that way.
Recently we were enjoying some ribs and chicken wings at a newer upscale barbecue place. As the server was clearing our table, I asked a question that I don’t think this person has ever heard before.
“May I have all the bones in a to-go box?” I said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
Stunned, the server tried to make sense of what I’d said.
“You…want…the rib and chicken bones…to go?”
I tried to fill in the gaps for him.
“I know it may sound strange but we like to make our own stock,” I explained. “We use the bones for stock.”
The server kind of rolled his eyes but boxed up the bones anyway.
Yep, it’s true. We make our own stock at home. Why? Well, the real question you should be asking is, why not? There are a lot of advantages.
First of all, homemade stock is easy to make and just plain tastes better than a lot of commercially made versions, which means that your soups, sauces, risotto and other recipes will have more flavor.
Second, you have total control over what ingredients you add to your stock, especially the salt level. This is important for reductions, which can get very salty if you are not careful which store-bought stocks or broths you use.
If you bring bones home from a restaurant like we do, you’ve got a great starting point for stock. To be blunt, the bones were part of the meal you paid for, so why not use them? You’re saving some money and cutting down on food waste.
At this point I should clarify what I’m talking about. Technically stock — which refers to the trunk of a tree — is made from water, bones and connective tissue. Broth — which means “brew” — is made from meat and vegetables cooked in water. So what we make is a hybrid of stock and broth.
Our procedure is to freeze all our bones — chicken, beef, pork, fish, shellfish — until we are ready to make a stock.
When you buy veggies such as celery and carrots for a recipe, you almost always have extra. So instead of those veggies going to waste, pull your bones out of the freezer and make up some stock.
So let’s make a simple chicken stock. Here’s the basic recipe that we use.
Simple Chicken Stock
1 leftover chicken carcass (or enough bones that would approximate a carcass)
1 fresh leek, cleaned of dirt, roughly chopped
2 white onions, roughly chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
4 celery ribs, roughly chopped
4 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
A handful of leftover fresh Parmesan cheese rinds (this lends some body to the stock) and these can be held in the freezer until you need them.
1 gallon of filtered or purified water to cover the bones
If using an intact carcass, use a sharp knife or kitchen shears to break the carcass down into smaller parts.
In a large pot, combine the bones, vegetables, bay leaves, peppercorns and cheese rinds. Add the water. Place the pot over medium heat and slowly bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook for two hours uncovered.
Then, strain the stock through a medium mesh sieve into another large pot or storage containers. Straining will remove scum and loose bits from the liquid. You can use fresh stock immediately or freeze until needed.
Here are some ways your new liquid deliciousness can be used to enhance the flavor of other dishes:
Soup and chili: Rather obvious, but start with homemade stock instead of water.
Ramen or other noodle soups: Add stock instead of water for extra depth and to cut down on what you add from that foil packet of “flavoring.”
Quinoa, couscous, lentils, farro: Stock adds extra flavor to grains you’d normally cook in water.
Risotto: Stock adds richness and flavor to any kind of rice, but works especially well to add complexity to risotto.
Sauces, gravies, demi-glaces: Homemade stock instantly gives you a flavor boost for just about any kind of savory sauce.
Getting the hang of it?
So now, when you’re eating out at your favorite “no stars to four stars” place, you can have complete confidence when asking for the bones to go home, but it might take some time to get used to the funny looks.
Craig Jones is a live-fire cooking expert, the Grill Mayor for Food Network (2012), and owner of Savory Addictions Gourmet Nuts. He’s also a certified KCBS BBQ judge, a master student of pizza crafting, and an enthusiastic supporter of the greater Kansas City food scene.