Many years ago I graduated from the prestigious New England Culinary Institute run by Michel LeBorgne, a hard nosed French Chef from Northern France. Like every great Chef before him, and probably every one since, Chef LeBorgne had his aphorisms we lived our lives by. They were repeatedly drummed into our thick skulls as we chopped vegetables, sauteed fish and made stocks. Every one growled required the standard ‘oui Chef” shouted back in unison like raw recruits at boot camp. Most were modified from the classic themes of how older generations had it much harder than us young punks. ‘We were so poor as apprentices, we only had one pair of shoes between the two of us” or “I used to walk to the restaurant uphill both ways.” The one that stuck and became part of my own repertoire was “I lost my first million in the garbage can”. That line inspired me throughout my career and helped maintain very low food costs and run a tight ship. Even now, decades later I am still guided by that principal.
More and more of us are rediscovering the healthy advantages of home cooking and eating whole unprocessed foods. Farmer’s markets help make great local grass fed meats, wild fish, vegetables and fruits available. Authors like Michael Pollan remind us that eating smaller amounts of protein and larger amounts of vegetables is better for us. The transition back to cooking and eating properly can benefit from some sage chef wisdom.
Home cooks always seem to be looking for an easier, faster ways to cook things. Sometimes quick and easy really isn’t quick, easy or even cheaper. The more I cook at home the more I draw on my experiences as Chef of some great restaurants to help at home. One thing that amazes me is those four dollar quart sized tetrapacks of stocks available in grocery stores. God knows I have used countless quarts over the years. Then I started reading the ingredient lists and was appalled to find that even the organic ones contained ingredients like ‘natural chicken flavor’ and more salt than you could imagine. Do your own research on what natural chicken flavor means, I’ll give you a hint it’s not chicken per se.
“I lost my first million in the garbage can” – Michel LeBorgne, instructor at New England Culinary Institute
Michel LeBorgne’s line popped back into my head. I had lived that aphorism for so many years as Chef and never thought about it’s application at home. One of my pet peeves was the amount of waste in kitchens. Recently I did a few day consulting gig for a terribly run restaurant in Southern California. I watched in disbelief as a cook trimmed chicken wings off whole chickens and threw them away literally five feet from another cook opening bags of frozen wings used for a popular appetizer. The irony was unbearable.
In my kitchens, my crew was taught to save vegetable trimmings for use in the countless stocks that quietly simmer around the clock. Every day we would go through 50 pound bags of carrots and onions, cases of celery and pounds of fresh herbs. A million dollars in the garbage happens quicker than most people think. Restaurant operate on small margins. Every penny saved is a penny of profit.
I started applying that concept to my own home. Now I keep a stainless steel bowl in my freezer. Every time I peel a carrot or an onion I add the peelings to it. Eventually it fills up. The most commonly used vegetable peelings that end up in there are fresh herbs (thyme, tarragon, chives and rosemary are the most common in my household), celery, garlic, tomatoes and sweet peppers. If you are ready to make stock and feel you need more vegetables then add whatever is deficient. Don’t stress, whatever you do is better than buying pre-made stuff.
Making great chicken stock at home is super easy, requires almost no effort. and will save you lots of money. Most days I have a stock pot sitting on my stove bubbling away, filling my home with delicious scents and my tummy with great flavors!
I cook three meals a day with about 70% of my diet being fresh vegetables. Every night we drink a giant glass of freshly made vegetable juice. We eat one to two roast chickens per week and all the carcasses get saved for stock. When you think about it, buying whole chicken is a smarter and cheaper cost savings. One whole organic chicken cost me around 10 to 12 dollars. I get five to six servings of food out of it and about three quarts of stock. The value of the stock alone is $12 if you buy a comparable amount of tetrapacks. If you buy a pre-cut chicken you end up paying more. Here is a super simple method for roasting chickens.
Consuming bone broth, or stock, is widely gaining in popularity as quite a few nationally recognized Chefs began promoting what our ancestors already knew, bone broth is great for you. I use stock for pan steaming both my morning and dinner vegetables. I make quick sauces for my lunchtime proteins and I absolutely adore soups. The use for stocks is unlimited and easily provides a lot of umami to home cooking.
Here’s a basic recipe. Add, subtract whatever you like. Do not be stuck in a dogma that prevents experimentation. Most of the time I never need to do anything more than just dump my stainless steel bowl of chicken bones and vegetables into a stock pot, cover with cold water and simmer away!
- 1 chicken carcass, including all trimmings and fat
- 4 ribs celery, washed and rough chopped
- 6 carrots, washed and rough chopped
- 2 onions, chopped
- 1 head garlic, cut in half
- 1 bunch thyme (add tarragon, rosemary, chive if you like)
- 1 bay leaf
- 20 peppercorns
- cold water to cover
- put everything in a large pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil and simmer for 6 hours on low heat.
- Strain and freeze stock in recycled glass jars.