Winter days are full to the brim with hard work. We are cutting and splitting wood for the next firing in the wood fired kiln, or for the house. Otherwise, we are working in the garden, weeding or pruning, spreading compost or transplanting out seedlings. We like to keep busy to keep warm. When the weather is too bleak, we migrate inside to make pots or catch-up with bookwork and the never ending BAS statements and the other necessities of running a business. I have completed a kiln job and delivered pots to a gallery for an up-coming wood firing exhibition. So, all our days are full and so are the evenings.
These long winter evenings are a good time to make stock. The kitchen stove is lit almost every night to cook dinner. Best not to waste any of that heat in the stove. The wood fired stove heats the kitchen and makes it a cosy place to be on these chilly winter nights when the frost is settling outside. By working at the kitchen bench with my back to the fire, I get warmed too.
I have bought a couple of beef bones from our local butcher. He slices then lengthways and then in half to expose all the marrow. I roast the bones first in the oven for an hour to give them that slightly caramelised flavour. Then into the stock pot and covered with water to boil all through the evening and into the night. For as long as the stove is hot. I also put on a boiler of mixed vegetable and herb stock to simmer alongside the bones. I add all the usual things from the winter garden. An onion, a knob of garlic some thyme and oregano, bay leaves, a few whole pepper corns, a 5star anise, some chilli and a couple of capsicums that are still lingering in a warm spot. Even a small wild cabbage. This is not a gourmet stock, made from all the best, most perfect ingredients like pristine onions, carrots and celery, for some posh restaurant. This is peasant food. Post modern peasant food, We are practising self-reliance, so this is a case of using what we have in the garden at the time, in true peasant fashion. Ever time I make a stock it is different, depending on what there is in the garden that needs to be used up now or it will be wasted.
The next day I remove the bones from the boiler and scrape out all the marrow, if it hasn’t already dissolved out. I sieve the stock to remove any bone fragments and gristly bits along with the bits of onion, garlic and bay leaves etc. I also skim off as much fat as possible. I the evening, when we relight the stove for dinner, I sieve the vegetables out from the mirepoix, skim the stock again, and add the veggie liquid to the marrow stock. I also add a bottle of local red wine and let the whole lot simmer down from the initial 20 litres, down to a final 1 litre overnight.
I’ve learnt that I can trust the fire to linger on in the stove and keep the stock pot simmering for and extra hour or two, long after I’m asleep. The constantly reducing heat allows the stock to evaporate slowly and safely at no cost or effort.
All the flavours are concentrated in this way and the resulting jelly-like stock is skimmed of any remaining fat and poured off into plastic containers and placed in the freezer for later use. A thin slice of this magic is just what is needed to add a little extra something to dinners in the coming months. Because the stock is so concentrated and jelly-like, it never really sets hard like water ice in the freezer. It always remains soft-ish and easy to slice even though it is frozen. A thin slice of this stuff is like a stock cube added to a sauce.
The big difference here between what I am making and what is in a stock cube is salt. This stock is made without salt. If salt is required in a dish, then it can be added at the time of final prep or after serving by each individual. Commercial stocks are all loaded to the hilt with far too much salt and in todays ‘convenience’ society, we all get way too much salt in our diet from pre-processed foods. Especially junk food.
We are attempting to live a wholesome life here without resorting to any pre-packs or processed items where ever possible. It takes some effort, but it’s a fun kind of effort.