Buying certain foodstuffs just doesn’t make sense. At least, not when they are this easy to make.
You can buy duck fat, or you can buy a duck and cut it up, eat the legs and breast, make stock with the bones, and cut off the fat, which is easily rendered by slowly heating in a small heavy bottomed pan. To make 8 confit chicken thighs or 4 duck legs, place the poultry in a baggie with 2 tablespoons of salt, bay, thyme, a smashed garlic clove and shake well. Let rest in the fridge overnight. Remove the poultry, rinse it and let rest for 30 minutes. Melt 4 cups of duck fat in a Dutch oven, add the poultry and bake in a 250°F oven for 3 to 4 hours, until the meat is tender. Let the pot cool down, then refrigerate. Covered with fat, the meat will hold up to 2 weeks. To serve, remove the meat, wipe off the fat, and sear in a skillet until crispy.
With the carcass of a whole roasted chicken or a raw chicken you can make a quart or so of stock, significantly tastier than anything in the grocery store. In a large soup pot add the carcass, stems and leaves of tender herbs, half an onion with the skin on, a carrot, a piece of celery, and salt and cover with water. Bring to a low boil for about 2 hours. Strain and refrigerate for 3 days, or freeze.
It’s not often you need a quart of buttermilk, but that’s usually how it is sold. It’s much simpler to make it. Combine 1 cup milk with 4 ½ teaspoons of white vinegar. Stir and let sit for about 15 minutes. The mixture will thicken and curdle some. Holds in the fridge for a week.
Creating artisanal mustards does not require much artistry. Pour 4 tablespoons mustard seeds in a small bowl and cover with 3 tablespoons each of vinegar and water. Soak overnight, or even longer, to soften the seeds. Place seeds in a food processor and add 2 tablespoons each of olive oil, mustard powder, honey, and a pinch of salt. (Mustard powder makes the mustard smoother.) Pulse to puree. Keeps in the fridge forever.
It’s not really ricotta, but a decent substitute for it: Bring 4 cups of any kind of milk and a pinch of salt to 185°F, take it off the heat and add 2 tablespoons white vinegar. Allow the curdles to form, then strain through a cheesecloth to drain the curds for about 1 hour. The curds hold in the fridge for about 4 days.
You can spend $5 a liter for it, or you can get your own by making ricotta. The liquid that you drain off the curdles is whey. Holds in the fridge a few days.
There is no substitute for homemade mayo. None. Slip two the egg yolks into a stainless steel bowl. Add a teaspoon of mustard, a squirt of lemon juice, salt and black pepper. Whisk to combine. Add one cup of light oil in a slow, thin dribble, whisking all the while. It will start to emulsify immediately. If it does not, it is most likely because you poured the oil in too fast. Whisk in a teaspoon of water if you are not planning to use all the mayonnaise right away. Keeps in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Red Wine Reduction
The best use of multiple unfinished bottles of red wine is a reduction. Pour the wine into a saucepot. Bring to a low boil over a medium heat and boil, uncovered, until the wine is reduced by half. Add the equivalent amount of chicken or beef stock and reduce by half again. You can add any combination of minced shallots, garlic, onion, celery, and herbs during this reduction stage if you like. They will add flavor. Holds for a few days in the fridge.
Have ready a small sterilized jar and lid (to sterilize, boil the jar for 10 minutes). Split a few vanilla beans and cut them to fit the jar. Combine a teaspoon of sugar and about ½ cup vodka in a small pot and warm just enough to dissolve the sugar. Place the pods in the bottle, add the alcohol and screw on the lid. Give the bottle a few good shakes and store in a cool dark place. Every day or so give the bottle a shake. The extract should be ready in about a month. Lasts in the pantry forever.
Pointless to buy, wonderfully easy to make. Combine 2 cups of heavy cream and 3 tablespoons of buttermilk in the quart jar, give it a good shake, and set it on your kitchen counter overnight. If your house is really cold, put the jar near the oven. The crème fraiche will thicken up in 12 to 24 hours and will keep in the fridge for 2 to 3 weeks.
Eugenia Bone is author of several acclaimed cookbooks, including The Kitchen Ecosystem: Integrating Recipes to Create Delicious Meals.