There’s nothing more useful than stock. Apart from the fact that it makes maximally efficient use of all your leftover bones—cooked or raw, depending on what you made—and that it can be tweaked and inflected every which way based on what you want to make next, it allows for so many options come dinner time. Soup, obviously, is pretty straightforward, but risotto is also only about twenty minutes away if you have stock on hand and some rice in the pantry. Sauces, reductions, gravies, stews, braises, and deglazing all require or at least benefit greatly from the application of a little or a lot of it.
Save the week’s bones in a container in the fridge or freezer and then give them a simmer with some aromatics every Sunday afternoon. Strain and freeze the result in quart containers and you’ll be set for any weeknight culinary eventuality that presents itself. Case in point: this dinner.
Smoked pork stock, made from a couple of feet I threw in the smoker over the summer when I was making bacon, is a marvelous liquid. In this instance, I brought some to a simmer and added cubes of tofu. In a separate pot, I brought water to boil and blanched some spinach cut from under the hoop in the garden, then scooped out the greens and put in a big bunch of fat udon to cook. Rounding out the bowls once the pasta was cooked were some slices of matsutake mushroom, thin slices of raw Berkshire pork, cilantro from the garden, and lime wedges. I shook some shichimi togarashi generously over the top, and that was that: zero to dinner in about fifteen minutes. The hot soup cooked the pork to perfection, and the mushrooms perfumed the lightly smoky broth with their inimitable aroma.
There’s nothing you can’t do, quickly, with homemade stock. Flavored as it often is with the ways in which you prepared the various animals whose bones you are reusing to extract every bit of taste and nutrition—which is the least you can do, really, given their sacrifice—it can have unique and subtle flavors you won’t find anywhere else. Even the simplest homemade stock makes that boxed or canned crap from the store taste like expired cleaning products. This soup was so rich and satisfying; even if you don’t have the exotic ingredients that I grabbed on my last trip to Mitsuwa, a few greens and scraps and some noodles can be sublime. And when it’s cold out, nothing warms body and soul like bright, deep soup.