Monday, December 1, 2014

Making Berkshire Pork Stock

Some people seem intimidated by the idea of making their own stock. If you are one of these people, just think of it as making the simplest soup ever.  Making soup doesn't seem so intimidating, does it? When making stock nothing needs to be cut evenly or measured accurately by more than an eye, and you don’t have to worry about overcooking anything. In this post, I made stock using beautiful Berkshire pork bones from Northwoods Ranch.  I particularly love pork stock as it inhabits a middle ground between chicken stock and beef stock.  This means pork stock can easily replace other types of stock in recipes, and it isn't as limited in use as a venison or lamb stock, which have very distinct flavor profiles.
A Mix of North Woods Pork Neck, Leg, and Hip Bones
The portions for making stock primarily depend on how many bones you have.  If you only have a few, you will make a smaller batch; if you want to put a chest-freezer full of bones to use, you'll need a bigger pot.  I usually do a 2:1 ratio of bones to veggies.  So, if you’re making stock from 10 pounds of bones, you'll want 5 pounds of veggies. 
Begin by chopping up your veggies into chunks.  Don't worry about getting fancy or cutting evenly – the veggies are only for flavoring the stock.  I usually go heavy on the onions, but I also like to include celery and carrots.  A bonus is that making stock is a great way to clear out your fridge if you have some veggies that have gone past their prime.  Are your baby carrots getting dried out?  In they go!  Don't toss out those parsley stems, fibrous leek tops, mushroom stemss, or cores of tomatoes;  add them in the pot.   If you’re planning a big holiday party, save all your carrot tops and peels, celery bases, and the woody stems of rosemary and thyme to add with the leftover bones of your holiday roast.

The bones themselves don’t require any prep, but you can roast them ahead of time if desired.  When I do roast the bones (as in this post), I usually roast at 400 F for about 30 minutes or so, until nicely browned and crispy.  In classical kitchen-speak, a stock made from roasted bones would be a brown stock, or fond brun.  This will be a very savory stock and carry all those roasted flavors into the finished product.  If you want a lighter tasting stock, don’t roast the bones.  Stock made from unroasted bones is called white stock, or fond blanc.
Bones After Roasting
Next, the bones (roasted or not) go into the pot with all those veggies.  Sprinkle in some bay leaves and peppercorns and top up the pot with cold water.  You will want the water to just barely cover up all the bones and veggies.  So if you have a large pot, half-filled with bones and vegetables, don’t fill it to the top with water. Depending on your preference, some people add tomato paste or canned tomatoes to their stock. Generally, I avoid adding tomato paste to my stocks, as I don’t always want that tomato flavor in the dish.  Also, I do not salt the stock, as that can always be added later.
Now just let it simmer.  Be sure to keep the pot going at a very gentle simmer.  A boil will leach out proteins from the bones, making the stock cloudy in appearance and muddy in flavor.  For these pork bones, I let them simmer for 5 hours. You can go as little as 4 hours for a lighter flavor, or you could let them go for up to 8 for a more concentrated flavor.  If you did not roast the bones, you may find some extra fat or foam on the surface of stock. Just skim it off with a spoon.

Straining Pork Stock
Once you've done simmering the stock, take the pot off the heat to cool.  Set up a large bowl and a strainer.  You can use a conical sieve, if you have one, or just a pasta colander. Scoop out the bones, veggies, and herbs with a perforated spoon into the strainer.  The bowl underneath will collect any juices that run out.  When the bones and vegetables are out, pour back any stock that collected in the bowl into the pot.  Now pour the stock into mason jars.  I recommend using a wide-mouth funnel from jam-making to help pour in the stock. It is also a good idea to use a small mesh strainer to catch any stray bones, peppercorns or bay leaves.
Recipe Ready Portions of Pork Stock
That’s it!  I like to put these in 8-12 ounce mason jars, so that they fit better in my freezer and I can easily thaw out a small portion when I need it.  This size is great for simmering vegetables, deglazing a pan, or just enjoying a warm bowl of nourishing broth. However, if you do big batches of soup feel free to pour them in quart jars or Pyrex storage bowls.   Just make sure to leave a half-inch of head space in the jars to give the stock room to expand in the freezer.