“You’re on for Risotto this week” are six of the most terrifying words in the English language. It’s not that I don’t like making risotto (I do, it’s involved, but fun.) It’s also not like I don’t make a good risotto (I do, it’s involved, but delicious.) It’s just that in our almost ten years of marriage, I’ve only made it twice, because it’s a bit involved, but ultimately worth the work.
Making anything that requires a stock in our house almost always doubles the troubles, because buying pre-made stock is simply something that we do not do. To take it a step further, not only do we not buy pre-made stock, but we have an incredibly hard time understanding why anybody would. I mean, it’s essentially the most brilliant culinary invention ever: take all of the leftover (whatever) and throw it into a pot of simmering water, walk away, and an hour or so later you have a delicious base to any number of recipes. Oh, and not only is it free, but it’s about the most frugal way to reuse your kitchen scraps. Best part about it (and only in the case of vegetable stock,) when you’re done, you can compost the pulp! 100% use-through. Incredible!
We have a very easy routine for gathering scraps for stock, and hope that this idea will work for you if you’re not already employing a similar method. Simply put, we perpetually have two large gallon size zip bags in our freezer. One holds any leftover vegetable scraps that we deem worthy (potato and carrot peelings, onion skins, celery or other “ends”, or just about any other “unusable” part of just about any other vegetable.) The other one has chicken bones, either pre- or post-cooked, it doesn’t matter.) The chicken bag is also fun because instead of fretting about the few bits of meat that you can never seem to get off the bone, they go right in the bag with the bones and end up adding some nice substance to our chicken stock! Typically, by the time I come upon a recipe that requires a stock, I’ve either got a full bag of scraps, or a frozen container of already homemade stock at my disposal.
This particular recipe for Lemon Asparagus Risotto called for chicken stock, and I had previously used the last of our chicken stock in a different recipe a few weeks back. Opening the freezer, I was upset to not find our standard “bag of bones,” but I did find something after a bit of archaeological digging. There she was in all her thankful majesty…the carcass of our Thanksgiving turkey, perfectly frozen and waiting for the right time to fly back into my belly. While the directions clearly stated “chicken,” I didn’t see any issue substituting a different bird into the equation. After all, I will substitute vegetable stock for chicken (or vice versa) on many occasions, depending on what I’ve got in the freezer, or whether or not I feel like going vegetarian for any given dish. I had a bag of turkey bones, and I was going to fly with it.
The simple key to a perfect stock every time is to not let it boil during the length of the process. This age-old tradition was taught to me over a decade ago by our dear friend Moeder, who is unfortunately no longer with us. Moeder (Dutch for “Mother,” as she was both Dutch and the mother of two of our close friends) had a towering presence, literally. She was over six feet tall, and being in the kitchen with her was akin to being in the kitchen with Julia Child, had Julia played center for the Dutch Basketball League. I was lucky enough to share a Thanksgiving with Moeder and her family many years ago, and her lessons (especially on the perfect stock and an insanely delicious fruit salad) continue to live on with my family. Bring it to a boil, and then turn it down to a simmer for the remainder of the time…that way you don’t “burn” the flavors.
Many recipes online call for 3-4 hours of boiling time for a stock, but I’ve made a suitable “quick stock” in as little as 45 minutes. My standard, however, is anywhere from 1.5-2.5 hours, which I find more than adequate. Now that my turkey stock was finally ready, the risotto making commenced, and the results were nothing short of fantastic, if I do say so myself, which indeed I do. At first I was concerned that the turkey flavor may have overpowered the delicate flavors of the lemon and asparagus, but was pleasantly surprised to see how wonderfully they mixed. And like most stock making days, I had plenty for my recipe, and two large containers left over to freeze (up to 4 months) for the next time I’m “on for” something in the kitchen.