Fresh Ideas: Stocking up

Photo by Helana Brigman  --  This Seafood Bisque gets its flavor from a homemade stock and plenty of fresh shellfish.
Photo by Helana Brigman -- This Seafood Bisque gets its flavor from a homemade stock and plenty of fresh shellfish.

BY Helana Brigman

Special to Food

I’ve always admired the kinds of cooks who never let anything go to waste. We all know these people: the gardener who knows to stir-fry his beet greens, the baker who converts old bread into croutons and the chef who understands the best kinds of soups and stews always begin with a high-quality stock.

The French word for stock, fond, translates to “foundation” or “base.” Rarely do we serve stocks by themselves, and they make up the backbone of some of the best soups, stews and sauces at home. Plus, knowing how to make high-quality stocks can save you both time and money all year-round.

Good-quality stocks use ingredients that many of us choose to throw away. Bones or seafood shells actually have longer life cycles than just the actual meat on their bones.

When boiled with an herb bundle and mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery), leftover bones and shells release natural flavors, infusing the water and creating a richly-flavored clear, thin liquid known as a stock.

But why make stocks at home? Especially when 16 ounces of seafood, beef or chicken stock can be purchased at your local grocer for only a couple of bucks?

The answer to this question, literally, boils down to time, cooking preferences and a little bit of creatively. I like the idea of letting nothing go to waste whenever I can, but the money saved from homemade stocks is also a great bonus. Just as my grandmother used to tell me to think of starchy pasta water as a necessary thickening ingredient for her summer tomato sauce, I regard homemade stocks as necessary ingredients for other recipes as well. For this Seafood Bisque, a homemade stock is a must and what you don’t use can be frozen for future recipes.

Simmer leftover shellfish heads, claws and tails with your mirepoix and herbs before straining and converting into a bisque. Typically, crawfish and crab are most abundant in Louisiana, but if you have access to Maine or spiny lobster, this ingredient works well, too. The key is to make use of every part of the creature that still has flavor (heads especially). Once the stock is prepared, either freeze or bring to a simmer with precooked shellfish and cream. The results require little time in the kitchen and provide seriously creamy seafood flavor. Plus, stocks are a great way to bring abundant summer herbs out of the garden and into the kitchen.

After all, it’s important not to let food go to waste, and what better way than an easy seafood stock and bisque made at home this summer?

Helana Brigman is a food writer, photographer and cookbook author. She can be reached with daily recipes at http://clearlydeliciousfoodblog.com or via email at hbrigm1@tigers.lsu.edu.