Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cooking for Gamers: Stock

Making stock might be the perfect cooking activity for gamers, or really for anyone who has some hobby or enjoys some activity that keeps them in the house for hours at a time. It's easy in terms of technique, it's almost impossible to screw up, and, if you're in to the whole sustainability thing, it extracts the absolute maximum amount of food value from your vegetables and meat. And if you happen to not be the primary cook in your household, this is a great way to contribute to the overall health and quality of your food, because not only does homemade stock taste better than store bought, in liquid, powder, or cube form, there is so much less sodium in it that it actually lowers someone else's risk of heart disease while you eat it.

The first ingredient: a bag in the freezer. If you eat a lot of fresh vegetables keep the scraps. Stalks from greens like kale and chard, carrot tops (though we find the carrot greens give a swampy flavor to our stock), parsnip peels, onion skins, parsley stems, mushroom stems, etc. Nearly all vegetables that can be boiled, don't have really strong flavors of their own like peppers, or flavors you don't personally like, aren't so starchy they'll turn the stock into a sludge, like potatoes, and are not somewhat gassy like the various permutations of cabbage (I know, which is like half the vegetable world, but still) can be part of a stock. Just collect them all in a bag and stick it in the freezer. If you eat meat, keep the bones/carcass in a bag in the freezer as well. You can also just buy carrots, celery, and onions, or chicken wings, if you don't generate the raw materials on your own. When you can no longer fit Red Baron's Pizzas in the freezer, it's time to make stock.

Second ingredient: The biggest pot you have. Dump your bags in aforementioned pot with water, some fresh carrots, onions, and celery (everyone knows the French for that, right? Good.) a bay leaf or two and some garlic. Because we usually pressure can our stock in quarts and we've got a big old pot, we'll usually measure out six or seven quarts of water, but there's nothing wrong with just filling the thing up.

Then put the spurs to it and get your game started, but don't go on any quests yet. If you've got a big session planned, this would be the time to lay in supplies at the computer/gaming console, get connected to your teammates or search for any tips or cheats you might want to use. (Well, you might not want to use any, but I'm not very good at video games, so I usually keep a walk through handy.)

Once the stock has reached a boil, set it to simmer and go do something else for a couple of hours. No really. As long as you don't leave it unattended for so long that all of the water evaporates and you start burning the mass of disintegrating vegetation, you really can't screw this part up. Sure you can boil the stuff long enough that it breaks down more than you might want it do, but that just means you're straining will need to be more meticulous. When is it done? I don't know. When you reach a good save point. When you have to go to the bathroom. When you lose your internet connection. But seriously, folks, if the fresh carrots you put in are mushy, they have, in the words Saint Alton Brown (Hallowed be thy multitasker) “given it their all.” We'll often do two or three rounds of stuff in one pot, just to make the stock more flavorful and free up more space in the freezer.

Once the stock is done, fish out all the clumps of stuff and strain out all the bits of stuff. You'll need to cool it down before the next step. In a perfect world you'll be able to get the stock out of the “danger zone” (40-140 F) as quickly as possible. You can put it in a cooler with ice and then transfer it to your fridge. In my world, we have to leave it out overnight and then put it in the fridge to finish cooling. If you're making veggie stock, you'll need to do this in order to season it properly. If you've got meat in it, you'll need this so you can take the fat out. The fat will congeal in the top and you should just be able to pull it out with your hands. (And don't throw that out. It's useful. And healthier than margarine.) For the game, now you can really get into something involved and totally play all night. I guess everybody else can catch up on their reading, or Dr. Who, or sleep, or whatever it is the kids do these days.

Since our stock has been in the danger zone for, like ten hours, we bring it to a rolling boil for at least ten minutes before we do anything else to it. Then we season it. Salt (a lot more than you would think but still way less than store brought). Pepper. Herbiage, like rosemary, thyme, oregano, or really anything that isn't basil, sage, cilantro, or something with its own strong distinct flavor. (Probably would avoid mint, while we're avoiding things). Taste and adjust seasoning. Package how you see fit. You can can it, freeze it, or use it. I'd advise leaving the last 1/8-1/4 an inch in the pot, because there's probably a lot of detritus in it, that even the finest strainer or cheese cloth will have missed.

And there you have it. Your rice pilaf will be so much better. As will all your soups, or hot pots, or really anything that uses stock. And most of the time you were playing video games.


  1. haha! I'm a gamer and I make stock all the time. It is great for a lot of meals.

  2. That's fantastic. Maybe the world needs a cookbook.

  3. haha! I'm sure Blizzard would sue me if I published a cookbook.