Friday, February 13, 2015

Enriching Stock with Pork Skin

In an earlier post I covered how to make homemade stock.  From that basic recipe, I’d like to introduce a slight alteration that procures a richer, more unctuous stock.  The basic recipe is the same, but this stock is fortified by poaching pork skin along with the bones, vegetables, and herbs.  
Berkshire Pork Skin and Bones
Adding the skins to a broth extracts gelatin, which is why this stock takes on a semi-firm, wobbly texture when chilled.  When hot, the stock has a rich, umami flavor that can enhance just a few boiled vegetables for a delicious soup.
North Woods Ranch sells packets of skin that come in large sheets.  I find it’s easy to flatten out the skin across a large cutting board and cut it into 4”x4” squares.  Then, I add two squares of pork skin per gallon of water to the stock.  In goes the bones and vegetables and slowly simmer as usual.  I pack up the unused skin into a freezer bag to store for future stock-making days, separating each layer of skin with wax paper for easy removal later.
Filling up the Stock Pot

Jellied Stock

Here in mid-February Pennsylvania, few things are as comforting as a bowl of hot stock.  In the notion of “let thy food be thy medicine,” adding skin to dishes is a good source of collagen, gelatin, and amino acids.  Plus, in my opinion, a warming stock is much more satisfying and delicious than gobbling down gelatin supplements or collagen pills.

Once the stock is done, the cooked skin can be sliced into small cubes and eaten with the soup or stew.  If I’m not going to include the skin in the soup, I’ll pull it out and make a crispy crunchy treat of chicharrones with them, as discussed here.
Now, even if I’m not making stock, there are other ways to still get the benefits of cooking with pasture-raised pork skin.  In an old recipe for cassoulet, I found they recommend tying small bundles of pork skin up to simmer along with the beans.  
Tying up Skin, Bay, and Thyme
 Spring boarding off this idea, it’s easy to make a little bouquet garni by tying a bundle of herbs around a roll of skin and securing it with butcher’s twine.  Traditionally, a bouquet garni would use a large outer leaf of a leek to secure the herbs, but I’ve become quite taken with these little skin rolls even without the leek leaf.
Pork Skin Bouquet Garni

I use these small bundles to enrich beans, soups, stews, or to help thicken sauces with a glossy dose of gelatin.  I find these herbal pork skin sachets are great to simmer with beef or pork stock and garlic to create a lip-smacking sauce to drizzle over chops or braised meats.

 Recipe at a Glace:
4 lbs pork bones
2 sections of pork skin (about 4"x4")
1/2 lb carrots, chopped into large chunks
1/2 lb celery, cut into 2-3 lengths per stalk
1 lbs onions, cut into quarters
1 head garlic, cut in half cross-wise
1 bay leaf
1 tsp black peppercorns
Enough water to cover.

Place all ingredients in a large, heavy bottomed pot.  A pot with a thick metal base will distribute the heat from the stove better, preventing hot spots where skin or vegetables might stick and burn on the bottom.

Cover the ingredients with cold water and bring up to a slow simmer.  A fast boil can leach proteins out of the bones that will give the stock a cloudy appearance and muddied flavor.

Gently simmer stock for 4-6 hours.  If the water begins to evaporate so much that the ingredients are no long covered, top up with water.

Strain the stock and pour into jars to cool.  If you'll be freezing jars of excess stock, make sure to leave some headspace in each jar for the stock to expand.  Otherwise the stock may expand and crack the jar.