Kitchen basics: Pork broth

As a friend and I discussed this week, my resume reads very strangely: from cancer biology research to middle school education to line cook, I’ve had my finger in a lot of pies (literally and figuratively). All of it makes sense to me, and it sort of follows an emerging plan, but mostly it means that I had FIVE W-2s to file last week. Ugh.

So even though food has played a big role in my life for forever and in my professional life for several years, I never did make it to culinary school. Sometimes I feel clueless in the kitchen and realize that I missed some pretty important lessons there, and I’ve made up my mind to take on those weaknesses. Enter a new category: kitchen basics. I want to address the places I feel lost or undereducated in the kitchen, and we’ll tackle them together. The preliminary list in my head includes the mother sauces, breaking down a whole chicken, classic French omelettes, maybe some knife work… If you have any ideas for topics, let me know!

Kitchen basics: Pork broth | fchem101.com

Also a few months ago I randomly wandered into a used bookstore, gathered a huge stack of cookbooks, and read a long, involved essay on stock, which has led to several excited recaps and rolled eyes from family and friends. Apparently not everyone finds boiled bones and vegetables as exciting as I do?

Shocking.

I don’t think the process of making stock will come as a surprise to anyone: combine yummy things in water, simmer for a while, and the water becomes yummy. As a veteran of the freezer-scrap vegetable stock, I thought I had it down. But throw some bones into the mix and the options open up: which animal to choose, what kind of bones to use, and an optional pre-roasting step. The last in particular fascinated me. Promising deeper flavor and rich color, the roasting step contributes to the classical distinction between white (non-roasted, chicken or veal) and brown (roasted meat, veal or beef) stocks.

Kitchen basics: Pork broth | fchem101.com

Kitchen basics: Pork broth | fchem101.com

I wanted to see the difference for myself, so I stopped by the butcher and grabbed some pork bones. I made two batches of basic stock with the pork plus carrots, celery, and onion. For one batch, I roasted the bones at 350 F for an hour before throwing them in my slow cooker with the veggies for 24 hours. The second batch skipped the roasting step entirely and went directly into the slow cooker.

What happened? Exactly what they said. The roasted pork bones gave a meatier, porky character that works great for amping up a basic dish (I cooked farro and lentils in it last night, and they picked up lots of delicious flavor). The non-roasted bones created a more delicate stock, with more of the sweetness from the carrots and onion playing off a mild pork flavor. I like both a lot, but I think it would be harder to use the roasted-bones stock in anything but a pork dish. Lesson learned: the cookbooks actually do know what they’re talking about.

Kitchen basics: Pork broth | fchem101.com

But a mystery arose in the texture of the stock. I pulled the non-roasted batch out of the fridge for pictures and found that it had set, like jello. The roasted stock remained totally liquid. Huh? I’m sure it’s something about collagen, the protein that breaks down into gelatin, but I honestly don’t know what. Research is ongoing (read: McGee is open on the couch in front of me).

Kitchen basics: pork broth
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Recipe type: Kitchen basics
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Cook time: 
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Serves: 1½ qt
 
A homemade stock can change everything, and it doesn't have to be complicated! The recipe below covers two basic pork stocks. Roasting the bones give you a more intense pork flavor, while starting with raw bones creates a less intense, slightly sweeter stock.
Ingredients
  • For a 3 quart slow cooker:
  • 1 lb. pork bones (I used leg bones from a local butcher)
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 3 carrots, cut into thirds
  • 3 ribs of celery, cut into thirds
Instructions
  1. For roasted stock: preheat the oven to 350 F. Arrange the pork bones in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for an hour, let cool slightly, then transfer the bones and the released juices into a slow cooker.
  2. For non-roasted stock: place the raw bones directly into the slow cooker.
  3. Add the vegetables and 2 quarts cold water. It should cover the bones and vegetables by about one inch. Cook on low for about 24 hours.
  4. Pour the stock into a strainer set in a large bowl to remove the bones and vegetables. Skim any remaining small particles off the surface. Chill quickly, in a bowl of ice water or in small containers in the fridge. Once the stock is cool, skim off the fat that has collected and hardened on top.
  5. Use as a base for soups, sauces, or in place of water to cook rice or grains. The possibilities are endless!