Take stock: Steam rises from a stock pot. Make your own stock and save money.

Cape Town - My deep freeze looks like the aftermath of a lion kill on Animal Farm. Bones everywhere. Bones of lamb, bones of beef, and bones of chicken. It’s time for a clear-out, which means it’s time to take stock. Or make it.

The oddest thing happened at Pick n Pay the other day. I had asked the butchery if they could debone a leg of lamb for me, as one does. I wandered off to do the rest of my shopping while they did this, and when they came back they gave me two options: buy it either with the bones or without them.

Thinking it would be cheaper not to take them, I said “without please”, upon which the butcher informed me that it would be much cheaper – something like 30 to 40 bucks a kilo – to take the bones with me. Obviously this is not a complaint because it meant I’d had the lamb deboned for me (which I often do myself but it is a bit of a hassle) and could still keep the bones to use for stock later, and still pay a lower price. But where’s the logic, or am I missing something? The same amount of work has been done. Maybe it merely obviates the need for them to have to do something with the bones – repackage them as dog bones, dispose of them in some way. I’m suitably perplexed.

So the freezer got ever fuller, which meant it was time to make stock.

Every chef has his rules for stock-making, but what that really means is that you can vary any chef’s rules and make it your own. What I do is make very basic stocks and then, in particular instances, target them. This isn’t something I’ve read in a book, it’s just my way. All this means is that if I know what I will be using the stock for, I can choose to take it beyond the very basic stock assemblage of vegetables and water, and add an ingredient that will give that stock an emphasis. So if I know I’m going to be using the stock for a spicy dish, I might add some hard spices such as star anise, whole black peppercorns, a cinnamon stick, or a few whole allspice. If it’s to be used for a herby dish I might add rosemary sprigs, thyme sprigs or oregano. And quite often, regardless of what I might be making with the stock, I might add half a head of garlic, sliced clean through the middle.

For your basic lamb or beef stock, for the best result, roast those bones in a very hot oven for a good 45 minutes. This adds greatly to the flavour of the stock to be made with them. Just gooi them in a big roasting pan and get them into the preheated oven. When they’re thoroughly roasted, put them in the biggest, deepest pot you own and add: 4 or 5 carrots, unpeeled and cut into large chunks; 3 or 4 fat leeks (or more thinner ones), thickly sliced; 2 large onions, halved and then roughly chopped; 3 or 4 sticks of celery, roughly chopped; half a head of garlic, sliced in half right through the middle, exposing the halved little cloves to allow their juices to ooze into the stock (no, not the other way, Daisy, what would be the point?). But, and it’s a big one, leave out the garlic if you are making a subtle dish that does not need garlic. Then again, in most instances, what would be the point of that? Chuck in 5 or 6 whole peppercorns. If you’re planning a particular dish, consider also adding a herb or spice that would deepen the flavour of that dish.

Fill the pot with loads and loads of cold water – it really depends on the size of the pot. Bring to a hard boil and then reduce to a simmer and leave it to continue simmering, uncovered, until there is about a third of the amount of liquid left. Leave to cool and then pour through a fine sieve into a container and either freeze it or keep it refrigerated to use later that day.

Here’s a further tip for yet more flavour. When roasting those bones in the oven, you can add a whole onion, halved, and the halved head of garlic to that. The roasting will give them loads of additional flavour. I would still add another raw onion to the stock pot, though, so that you also get that raw onion flavour as one of the key layers of flavour as well as the roasted one.

The above applies to lamb or beef, and also can be used for a game stock (springbok bones, say) or veal stock, although we get little by way of veal in these parts. And in the unlikely event that you have access to goat’s meat (I wish we could find more of it in our butcheries), obviously you could use that too.

For chicken stock, I don’t roast the bones, just following the procedure described above without roasting them. But you can also include – as well as the bones of raw chicken – the carcasses of leftover roast chuck.

Just be sure when straining a chicken stock that you do so through a very fine sieve as you do not want even one of the tiniest bones to slip through.

Your freezer will be much neater once those many packets of chunky bones are replaced by neat containers of beef, lamb and chicken stock. You’ve saved money by using what most people would discard. And your kitchen repertoire is immediately enhanced by the possibilities of all that extra flavour. Do it, Daisy. Do it now. - Sunday Argus