Cooking Lesson #1: Stock, Witchy

Posted: February 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

by Phyllis Lily Jules 

Well, I was never much of a cook. I had one of those mothers who never thought to teach me. Shooed me out of the way if I tried to look over her shoulder. There were no grandmothers hovering over me, preparing me for that strange world out there. I had an aunt who taught me piano, but nothing more. I could fix myself a bowl of cereal, then play music for hours, at least able to do something. And then later I had a husband who hogged the kitchen, only wanting his hot chicken sandwiches, done just so. You could make the salad, he offered. Or not, it didn’t matter. Just keep out of the kitchen, he firmly requested. After a couple of decades he was gone. I had sole run of the kitchen and didn’t know how to cook anything. Until the witchy women showed up.

They had started out as three witches, looking like the horrid witch in The Wizard of Oz, absconding with Toto, the poor dear thing. That face of hers, times three, looking intently at me when I was just a little girl and caught in nightmares. But over the years, the witches mellowed out into just quirky old ladies, a bit cranky and somewhat imperious. The witchy women. They saw I needed to eat decently, so stepped up to the plate, teaching me how to make magical, nourishing soup.

For this first lesson, great stock is the key to it all. No store-bought allowed. So make the stock the day before, use a nice whole chicken for it. Get yourself a crockpot, none of that stirring at a stockpot for hours. Crisscross some carrots at the bottom of the crockpot, no need to peel, then add a few stalks of celery. You’re making a nice grid to rest that chicken on so it will plump up nicely. Put the chicken in, breast side up, and toss in three bay leaves and a handful of parsley and ten whole peppercorns. Tuck in some onion wedges. Pour in cold water to cover, almost to the top, and put on low for overnight or so. No lifting the lid for smelling. Sorry, I know it’s tempting.

Now the witchy women will add their two cents in if they’re in the mood. They’ll toss in whatever herbs catch their fancy. Fresh if possible. Rosemary usually, and lots of it. Thyme is lovely. Herbes de Provence is one of their favorite blends. They’ll add olive oil, and a splash of apple cider vinegar to pull out the minerals. They might add lemon wedges, tuck a few into the cavity, and maybe garlic. Sometimes they’ll insist on two strips of bacon lying across the chicken, or some pats of butter. But mostly they keep this part simple because the chicken is the thing. Don’t do salt here, it goes in the soup, not the stock. Good rich stock will be the soul of the soup, then you add other bits and pieces later.

When it’s done cooking, let it cool a bit, then ladle it out through a strainer, pressing the juices out of the veggies. Those spent veggies go to any hounds you have around, with any of the chicken discards you care to toss their way. No bones or onions, though. You know that, right? Keep the tender chicken aside for adding to the soup later, or for a nice chicken salad. It will be plump and silky. Poached chicken, in essence.

Store your stock in the fridge for half a day so that the fat rises to the top and solidifies. Take off most of the fat, but not all. You need some for that incredible flavor. Leave that nice gelatinous mass under the fat. That’s protein and is a nutritious wallop, what you’ve been trying to extract. Store the stock in the fridge for up to three days or so, until you’re ready for the soup or anything else that calls for delicious stock. You can even have a cup of it zapped in the microwave, add some crunchy sea salt, maybe with some shredded greens floating on top or a green onion sliced nicely. Lots of things will do. A scrumptious treat while you curl up with that nice book.

You can do the same for beef stock. The difference is that you want to get some nice bones, baste them with tomato paste, then roast them in the oven. Throw the bones in the crockpot along with maybe a few beefy ribs, something with a bit of meat hanging off it. Then follow the same rules.

Vegetable stock is a bit different. Here’s the routine: While cooking, take any parts of the vegetable you normally toss, and store them in a big container in the freezer. You know, ends of tomatoes, onions and celery, herb and mushroom stems, ribs from greens, that sort of thing. Even veggies almost past their prime but still good enough. You’ll be extracting their nutrients and flavor, so you don’t care if the leaf isn’t perfect. Just don’t save obvious icky stuff, we all know that. And not much strong stuff, like kale and cabbage. When you need stock, take those frozen frosty bits and pieces, cover them all with cold water, add some herbs, bring to a boil, then shut off and let stand, covered for half an hour or so. Even better, do it in a pressure cooker, bring up to pressure, then cool down after fifteen minutes. Strain, and there you have it, perfectly infused vegetable stock.

You now have homemade stock, the vital ingredient for good witchy meals. It won’t taste rich yet, but wait until you see how it changes your meals. I’ll drop by another time for lesson #2, glorious soup.

In the meantime, look for your inner cook. We all have them, but maybe haven’t noticed or welcomed them. A Julia Child maybe? Alice looking after her Brady Bunch? Donna Reed with her pearls and pot roast? A bossy teen who seems to know it all? A fancy chef who demands all the latest kitchen gadgets and an extensive herb garden? When your cooking seems to run along its own path, unthinking yet seems to know just where to go, then I think you might have found your inner cook. Give them room, use them wisely, trust the results. In fact, I don’t even taste their meal until everyone else does. Then I agree with them that it’s absolutely fabulous.

You can hear more about the witchy women and others like them in my book, ‘Turning Inside Out’. But be forewarned: They have far more serious jobs there than cooking soup.

  1. Yong Mascolo says:

    I don’t ordinarily comment but I gotta tell regards for the post on this great one : D.

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