Beef and chicken stock, to be exact. Soup-season is practically upon us, and it should go without saying that the key to a good soup is a good stock. Most shop-bought stock cubes are packed with salt and can taste really, really synthetic. You can buy much better quality concentrated stocks or bouillons, but they tend to be mad money. So, the obvious solution is to make your own. Buy a huge pot, set aside a day to make it, then freeze in 500ml portions and you're set for weeks, if not months at a time.
Now, seeing as the whole point of making your own stock (apart from it tasting lovely) is to try and save a few bob, there's not much point in going out and buying a sackful of ingredients specifically for it. Instead, use yer noggin and make it when you know you're going to have pretty much everything on-hand anyway - after a roast dinner, say. I'm talking specifically for chicken here, by the way. It's not so much of an issue for beef stock, as your butcher will give you the bones for free anyway. If you only use a whole chicken once in a blue-moon and couldn't be bothered making a third or a half quantity of the stock, just freeze your chicken carcasses until you do have enough to make it worthwhile.
This chicken stock recipe is from the doyenne of Irish cookery, Darina Allen, and it really is excellent.
Chicken Stock - makes about 3.5 litres
2 or 3 cooked chicken carcasses 1 onion, sliced
1 leek, split in two 1 celery stick, quartered
1 carrot, roughly chopped Sprig of thyme
6 peppercorns 1 small bay leaf
1. Chop up your carcasses a bit. Stick all the ingredients into a large stock pot, cover with 3.5 litres of cold water and bring to the boil. Skim any fat off the top with a spoon. Lower the heat and simmer for 2 or 3 hours. Strain, allow to cool, skim off any remaining fat, then freeze in 500ml portions (I just use sandwich bags).
By the way, Darina prefers not to use bay leaf in her stock as she finds the flavour overpowering, but I don't know what kind of bionic bay leaves she has, because I find it adds only the tiniest hint of flavour. 'Tis up to you, though.
Also by the way, if you don't have a stock pot or only have a small freezer, it's perfectly fine to make a 1/3 quantity of this stock with one chicken carcass. Just use smaller onions, leeks etc., rather than trying to cut exactly a third off of each...
So, now to the beef. Beef stock is a slightly more involved process but it really is so, so worth it. And it's not like you've to spend the entire time standing over it; you can blithely ignore it for large swathes of the day, which is exactly the kind of "recipe" that appeals to me.
When you're asking your butcher for the bones, tell him it's for stock - if he rocks, like my butcher, he'll make sure you get plenty of meat on them, and he'll more than likely cut them up for you too. Give him an oul watery wink, if you think that might help.
Beef Stock - makes about 2.5 litres
2.5kg beef bones 3 onions, peeled & halved
5 cloves garlic, peeled but whole Few large sprigs of thyme & sage
2 leeks, halved 2 large carrots, cut into rough chunks
1 stalk celery, roughly chopped 1 tbsp peppercorns
1. Preheat your oven to 200C. Pop the bones, onions, carrots & garlic onto a large baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and give everything a bit of a toss to coat. Bung the tray into the oven and roast for an hour, until everything is nice and browned. Marvel at the awesomeness of the smell of the bones as they roast.
2. Remove the veg & bones from the tray and put them into your stock pot with all the remaining ingredients. Deglaze the roasting pan with a little bit of boiling water to get all the lovely burnt-y bits off the bottom. Add this liquid to the stock pot, then top up with 4.5 litres of cold water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and allow to simmer for 4-6 hours.
3. Strain the stock, then return it to the pot, turn the heat back up and reduce by half - this will take around an hour, so be patient. Allow to cool, skim off any fat from the top, then freeze in 500ml portions.
A note on salting your stock: I don't tend to salt my chicken stock, but if you want to add some, do it at the end of the cooking and taste very carefully. Same applies to the beef stock, but only add the salt after you've reduced the stock.