As I wrote in the garden post—and countless times beforehand—spending time in the garden (or outside in general) every day inspires plentiful ideas for the evening meal. In any given week (once things get growing) one is confronted with an array of plants at different stages of their lives: sprouts that need thinning, bolting things that need eating, things that bolted and didn’t get eaten so now they have pretty flowers or pungent seeds to use, and always various plants at peak maturity that are ready for their closeup.
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.
By the end of the last post, I had figured out that one of the prominent flavor notes in lovage is quite similar to fenugreek. If you cut some, or, better, tear it, your hands will become insistently perfumed with the persistent aroma of the plant. When people dismiss it with variations of the “it’s like celery” line, that’s a cop-out on par with the “tastes like chicken” descriptor so loosely applied to things as different as mushrooms and alligator. Lovage doesn’t taste like celery, though it approximates it visually, up to a point. It’s much closer to fenugreek, with a whiff of caraway and a citrusy tang.
A trip to the market yesterday for some fish yielded a couple dozen beautiful mahogany clams and, at the behest of the child, a lobster. He loves to peer into the tank and tell the fish guy which one he wants. The clams were twelve cents each, which is wonderful, so I was OK with shelling out (get it?) about thirteen bucks for a lobster we could all share. And the chowder I had decided to make as soon as I saw the clams would welcome the addition of lobster to make it a fancier Sunday dinner.
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.
Leftover soup extraordinaire: Stock from (Asian-inflected) chicken wing and (Mediterranean-inflected) lamb chop bones plus lots…
This soup is one of the great peasant dishes of all time, I think, transforming a bunch of humble roots into a profoundly satisfying bowl of complex and nourishing pleasure. It’s fun to imagine the first starving farmer who had nothing but a bag of onions, some stale bread, and a heel of cheese and came up with this miracle of frugal virtuosity. Some good beef stock obviously helps, but it’s not necessary. Before I returned to carnivory, I made this using mushroom stock and it was a beautiful thing.
I’ve been sick as a dog, so all the festive autumnal posts I had planned will have to wait until I catch up with articles and other stuff that I’m behind on. But rest assured: I have binders full of awesome posts just waiting to be unleashed upon you at a moment’s notice. Meantime, I’ll tell you about this wonderful soup we had the other night, which was made entirely from homemade and homegrown things. It had the deep and vivid flavor of food that you eat on vacation in another country, which imprints itself upon your memory forever as being both emblematic of the place and the definitive version of that dish; you are forever after disappointed by the pale imitations at the restaurants back home, and your own efforts always fall short. This humble bowl of soup was like an Italian vacation in a bowl. Nothing was missing. It was perfect, and it transported me back to the osteria in Florence where I first had white bean and escarole soup.