When I make stock from leftover bones or vegetable scraps, I feel like I’m pulling off the con of the century. Forget turning base metals into gold. As far as I’m concerned, the true alchemy of life is combining the remains of a roast chicken with some flaccid bits of produce and a lot of water and creating a flavorful, enriching elixir. Truly, it’s downright magical. And yet, very few people I know are doing it.
Why aren’t more of us making stock at home instead of opting for those oversized juice boxes of industrially produced, homogeneously flavored liquid? After all, the ingredients are practically free (beef, chicken, or ham bones all make lovely stocks), and the work involved is minimal.
I think the answer comes down to storage. Making stock is all fine and good, but if you happen to be living with a small freezer, it’s far too easy to fill the whole thing up with bulky containers of stock in a single day of cooking. Then there’s the issue that the stock is never actually defrosted when you want to use it. What’s a home cook to do?
I have two words for you: Pressure canner.
When it comes to canning, there are some hard-and-fast rules. One is that you cannot use a boiling-water bath — the most common canning method, used for preserving jams and pickles — to can low-acid foods. And homemade stocks are woefully low in acid.
However, food scientists have discovered that you can process jars of homemade stock in pressure canners safely and without fear of botulism. This means that you can make your stock at home and safely seal it into pint and quart jars.
Learning to pressure-can stock has thoroughly changed my culinary life. I make stock far more often now that I know I don’t have to clear out the freezer first — and I’m wasting much less from my produce drawer. Plus, I can now go from no dinner plan to totally homemade chicken noodle soup in less than half an hour.
Pressure canning does require some special equipment — namely, a pressure canner. (Unfortunately, standard pressure cookers cannot be used as a substitute; you need a pot that has either a weighted or a dial gauge. For more, see Ashley English’s excerpt explaining pressure canning.) These days, they are quite inexpensive. The one I have cost all of $80 and has paid for itself several times over in the two years I have owned it. However, if that’s still too spendy, consider going in on it with a few friends or some preservation-minded neighbors.
I’ve now got the stock-making and canning process down to a science. Most often, I’ll set up my biggest slow cooker with the remains from a roast chicken, whatever veg needs to be used, and enough filtered water to come within a half inch of the top of the pot. I’ll let it bubble while I’m at work. Later that evening, when dinner is over, I’ll pull out some jars, fire up the pressure canner, and invest a little time one night that is certain to pay off over the course of many others.
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The vegetarian-cooking pioneer
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