Troubled about the state of our economy? Weary of dire predictions and the threat of an impending depression? Concerned citizens throughout the land are wisely taking stock. And concerned cooks – just as wisely – are making it.

Meat or vegetable stock serves as the base for most soups and sauces, and if you’re a frequent reader of this column, you know the importance I place on the indispensable skill of stock-making. To that end, ardent lover of soup that I am, I dutifully turn out a gallon of chicken or beef stock each and every week, comforted by the thought that I can produce any number of delicious, satisfying meals at a moment’s notice.

To me, soup is the premiere comfort food and does more to lift my spirits than any other dish. Auguste Escoffier, legendary father of classical French cuisine and mentor to all serious cooks, says, “Soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tensions of the day, and awakens and refines the appetite.”

Additionally, soup-making tempts us to experiment and encourages us to be creative. No need to be hung up on a recipe. Check out the fridge and look in the pantry. You can add, subtract and even substitute ingredients to your heart’s content, without fear. It’s a great way to utilize leftovers and stretch those dollars. But first, make the stock.

Stock is nothing more than a clear, flavorful liquid extracted from the bones of meat, poultry and fish, usually with a mirepoix (a rough cut of onions, celery and carrots) and seasonings. The method outlined here is for a basic white stock, which can easily be made into a brown stock by first browning the bones, caramelizing the mirepoix, and adding tomato paste. Chicken stock should simmer 3-4 hours and beef or veal stock should simmer 5-8 hours.

Rule of thumb: 1 pound of bones will yield 1 pint of good flavorful stock.

White Stock
Yield: 1/2 gallon
4 pounds chicken, beef, or veal bones
1/2 cup onions, medium dice
1/4 cup carrots, medium dice
1/4 cup celery, medium dice
1 clove garlic
½ teaspoon dried leaf thyme
1 each bay leaf
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

Place the bones in a large pot or soup kettle. Add cold water to cover by 2 inches. Place on high heat and bring up to the boil. Lower the heat slightly and carefully skim the surface of impurities until the liquid is fairly clear.* Discard the impurities. Add the onions, celery and carrots (mirepoix) and seasonings. Lower the heat and simmer until done. Strain the stock into a container.

When cool, place in refrigerator. The fat will rise to the top and solidify. Remove the fat and use the stock as a base for your favorite soup, stew or sauce.

*Note: To obtain a clear stock it is imperative that you never stir it.

Although chicken stock can be made with chicken backs and necks, or even whole chickens, chicken leg quarters are usually on sale, ranging anywhere from 29 to 89 cents per pound. Use and keep the meat for salads.

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Frank Chlumsky

Frank Chlumsky, former executive chef of Philander's restaurant in Oak Park, teaches in Chicago at Kendall College's School of Culinary Arts. In his 37-year career, Frank has owned restaurants in Michigan...