Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Homemade Stock Cubes - AKA The Easy, Space Saving Way to Store Bone and Meat Broth

Many people are now re-discovering the benefits of
homemade stocks and broths, rather than reaching for supermarket granules.

They're easy to make, and if using leftover bones from meals - cheap.  But perhaps the biggest draw for many, are the purported gut healing benefits and as a valuable mineral source.  You can buy tubs of good quality gelatin such as this, however it's even easier to create a rich stock from a cheap meat cut.

There are a lot of claims made about gelatine, how many are true I have no idea - but here is an interesting summary of proposed benefits.  Either way homemade stock is still an undoubtedly healthier option than shop bought.  Here is what's in a "knorr stock pot":
Concentrated Beef Stock (Water, Beef Extract) (39%), Glucose Syrup, Salt, Beef Fat (5%), Flavourings, Yeast Extract, Carrots (1.8%), Potassium Chloride, Palm Oil, Caramel Syrup, Gelling Agents (Xanthan Gum, Locust Bean Gum), Sugar, Leek, Parsley, Maltodextrin, Lovage Root.
Glucose syrup is right on up there....nom.

There is often confusion over broth and stock, with some using the terms interchangeably.  General consensus seems to be that broth is typically a meat plus some bones affair, cooked for a relatively short period of time, ie up to a couple of hours.  This is what you want to be making if you're doing say GAPS intro diet.

A stock on the other hand is mainly bones, although it can contain some meat; it's simmered for up to 4 hours and should be gelatinous. Bone broth is as per stock, but cooked for a  much longer period of time ie 24-48 hours (until the bones crumble).

It's important to start slowly with bone broth, as it can cause headaches for some people when large volumes are consumed straight off the bat.  Some claim it's a detox effect, others that it's the result of increased histamine levels, which those with a sensitive gut may be intolerant to.  Chicken or fish is thought to be the easiest to start with, even as little as one tablespoon if you suspect sensitivity.

I tend to cook mine for varying amounts of  time, depending on what I want to use it for (and how much other stuff I have going on).  This time I used organic, grass fed "stock bones", which have a little meat, but I didn't add extra.

The first batch I cooked for 6 hours after roasting the bones, which is the darker one in the image above. I then strained, and put the bones back in the pan with fresh water - cooking for a further 12 hours.  I sometimes return them again for 48 for true "bone broth", or pull the first batch earlier and the second batch later; sometimes I add meat and remove that after a few hours, but let the whole stock go 12/24/48 hours (really there's no exact science involved), but I wanted my stove for other things this week.

So normally I chill the liquid, skim and retain a lot of the fat, before reducing the volume by half - ready to portion up and store.

Which is what got me thinking about stock cubes.

Firstly from a storage perspective they're a massive bonus.  But also sometimes I want to add flavour, without loads of water.  Could I turn my stock into stock cubes?  I decided to have a try.

The first batch was the 6hr simmer.  After cooling this was gelatinous, but not solid - more like a wobbly jelly.  I returned it to the pan to reduce as normal, and then carried on reducing.
Ham Hock Stock Reduced

I carried on (turning the heat down as the heat as the amount reduced), until I was left with a thick dark paste resembling caramel.  I stirred constantly for the last few minutes so it didn't stick (see the picture on the right to give an idea of how thick we're talking).  A couple of minutes later it came together so I was pushing around one large "gloop" of meaty goo, and it stopped producing steam (showing all the water had evaporated). I then quickly tipped into a small Tupperware tub and popped in the freezer for half an hour.

Finished "stock strip" is pliable
After that I let it sit at room temp for a few minutes, before flicking it out of the tub.

It's a rubbery, pliable texture whether frozen or at room temp, so you can easily score and cut into portions.  I based how many pieces on how much stock I had initially, and how I would normally have it split for freezing.

In my case the tub I used was quite shallow, and so I have stock "strips" - which actually are probably handier in terms of storage.  They melt quickly when added to hot liquid, yet don't melt if left on the worktop.  They should be stable enough to take camping etc if you have access to water.

There are of course loads of possible variations too, in that you could add onion, celery or garlic powder; or any other herbs usually found in your favourite stock cube or granules.

The reason for this long blog, and why I didn't just say "reduce it down", was the second batch.

This was my 12 hr stock and was completely solid with gelatine when initially cooled ready for the fat removing.  I could have tipped it out and cut into cubes as was. Anyway, I did as before and returned it to the pan to reduce.  This time I found when I got to the point the steam had stopped, what was left was far too solid and sticky to move.  It would have been fine if I hadn't had to move it, however it stuck to the spoon, the side of the pan, the tub and was a solid ball within seconds of leaving the heat.  I think the concentration of gelatine was so much at that stage, it basically made glue!  I have got a plan to try to get around this, but for now plan b.

I chucked it back it the pan with more water for take 2.  This time I reduced it to a thick goo, but removed it before it stopped steaming.  After 10 mins in the freezer I scored and broke into cubes.  It felt more jelly like, and after another hour in the freezer they were completely frozen solid, returning to jelly after 5 mins at room temp.  I would guess these would store for less time in the freezer than the first batch, because of increased moisture content - however the same goes for the huge bags of stock I was storing, plus we use ours well before expiry so not a biggie.

I've also found it much easier to portion.  If I decide I want a small amount of stock for something, previously
Ham Hock Stock
I had to either freeze some smaller portions too (more bagging etc), or defrost a big one.  Then it was a case of prising the whole chunk out of the bag before it defrosted, or letting it do so and then squidging everything off the insides of the bag.

Now I can just cut a small piece off.  They've also worked well for drinks, as a small piece dissolves quickly with boiling water added.

Anyway, I now have two beef variations, ham hock, and chicken stock, all in one tiny Tupperware tub - and I can fit other food in my freezer again.  That alone is priceless.