The container of bones, a more or less permanent denizen of the fridge, was particularly full recently; I had grilled a couple of chickens on a lovely afternoon when some friends came over and there were also two beef bones from a decadent ribeye dinner a few evenings prior. There aren’t a lot of bones that make better stock than grilled chicken, and the addition of some deep beefiness to that flavor was too tempting to resist. I needed to make ramen.
One of the best things about eating animals (ethically raised ones, that is) actually takes place days after the eating, when their bones, carcasses, and sometimes extra cooking liquid become transformed into stock. Homemade stock, whether from raw or cooked bones (or my favorite, a combination) is the single most useful culinary tool you can have on hand. And because it is infinitely variable, sometimes somewhat randomly by the cooked flavors and/or combinations of multiple meals’ worth of bones, it can make every meal uniquely memorable.
I’m still not done with charred scallions; a fat and unruly bunch still remains from my spring cleaning of the garden prior to the new load of compost being spread around for this year’s planting. I’m going to plant twice as many this fall, and leave them unprotected and neglected all winter just so I can have even more next spring to char and chew and enjoy while I mutter insults about all the wimpy vegetables that can’t endure the intemperate hardships of our climate and still make for such sweet eating come the thaw.
Even though there’s some snow on the ground, it’s rapidly melting as the March sun beats down upon it with increasing vigor. I was going to shoot a bunch of pictures of all the green goodness that’s popping up all over, but those will have to wait for a bit. Meantime, though, a post about my favorite of all the wild spring edibles.
Yesterday evening around 5:30, hard at work in the studio, I realized that I needed to go in the house and make dinner or there would be hell to pay. I was not pleased about it, so I was grouchy, and the relative shortness of time made it even less relaxing. Fortunately, a well-stocked pantry came to the rescue as it so often does.
On assignment, I have been privileged to spend some time with Zak Pelaccio, his wife Jori Emde, and their crew as they prepare to open Fish & Game, their new restaurant, in Hudson. As part of my diligent, thorough, and extremely professional research, just like a real journalist would I went ahead and obtained a copy of his recent cookbook from the publisher, because getting occasional review copies of cookbooks from publishers is one of the few perks in the fast-paced, glamorous world of food writing; they’re the in-flight reading as I flit and glide through the rarified atmosphere of culinary relevance like Dumbo one of those dinosaur things the Nazgûl rode a wounded TARDIS.
I like his book a lot; it’s personable, usable, and does a good job of communicating his unique and prodigious gifts for turning good ingredients into the kind of great food that makes a person want to have a lot of sex. If you read this blog, especially more than once, you should buy it.
Freshness is of course the quality in seafood that we prize above all others, with the place of origin in second. I had a friend ask me recently where I buy my fish, since he spends a lot of time in Maine and is thus used to surpassingly fresh fish. Out here in the sticks it can be hard to find anything even approaching that quality. I told him that befriending the fish guy at a decent market is a good start, because they will usually order something for you specially and call you when it comes in on one of their two or so delivery days in a given week. That way, you know you’re getting something that’s as newly out of the ocean as it’s possible to get when you live away from the coast. You can also find out when their shellfish arrive and grab a bag of mussels on that day, rather than after they have sat on crushed ice for a week. I once bought mussels and every single one in the bag was dead.
The other good strategy is to check out their freezer. I always do, and often walk away with some treasure or another that is both sustainably sourced and very good to eat. Plus, I can toss it in the freezer when I get home and not have the pressure of needing to it right away that one has with beautiful fresh seafood. Besides these lovely blue crabs, I can get squid and sardines that are quite nice for Thai-style stir fries or escabeche, to give an example for each one. Once I found Alaskan king crab legs for next to nothing; I have no idea if they were mislabeled or just on sale, but I snapped them up. These blue crabs were nine bucks for a bag of three. Not exactly cheap, but far from extravagant divided by three people.
Another quick one, because I gots things to do and places to go. This was a most enjoyable meal, and made all the more so by the short list of ingredients: a london broil, a head of romaine lettuce, a jar of kimchi, and rice wrappers. There was dipping sauce, too, which had about 17 ingredients, but you get the point.
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.