I just saw a crafting blog with instructions for making a christmas tree out of glitter and corks. The first step in the instructions was, “Drink 26 bottles of wine.”
Preparing your own beans or stock from scratch is like drinking twenty-six bottles of wine. A pleasant undertaking, but one best begun well in advance.
Start by hoarding bones. They’re full of flavor. Also minerals, amino acids, and other fine nutrients. There’s a lot of buzz about the nutritional and curative power of bone broth, particularly in the paleo diet community, though I’m having trouble finding a recent peer-reviewed study on how much of that nutrition ends up in the stock. (If you know of one, please leave it in the comments.) For now, I’m not counting on it to cure anything, but it’s awfully tasty, and an excellent soup base. Marrow bones and joint bones are especially favored for stock, and smoked pork is a natural companion for slow-cooked beans.
Chicken carcasses, stripped of their flesh, have a designated zip-lock bag in my freezer. When my mother-in-law unveiled her roasted rack of lamb, I had visions of lamb stock, and after dinner, the rib bones quietly found their way to a foil-covered plate in our fridge. I’m not afraid to ask friends if they have plans for the bones of their holiday roasts, and returned from a friend’s holiday party with a meaty ham bone in my purse. (Yes, we sealed it in a plastic bag first.)
In fact, if you have a freezer and a couple of big pots, very little needs to go to waste in your kitchen. Herb stems, onion skins, potato peels, cheese rinds — save them all.
All of this presumes, of course, that you’re the sort of person who enjoys having a pot of something bubbling away on the stove all day, filling the house with warm savory smells.
Note that I did not say, “The sort of person who can happily spend hours chopping and browning and stirring and tending the stove.” Homemade stock and beans take time, but no more effort than you feel like putting in. Food fetishist? By all means, roast the bones, deglaze the pans, and brown your mirepoix in the drippings. Normal person? Drop the ingredients in your slow cooker, cover them with water, and hit “go.”
The best part is that cooking a huge pot of beans takes no more effort than a small pot. Stock is much the same: if you’re making it, it’s just as easy to make a bunch. Cool it, portion it out into single-serving containers, and freeze it. Properly stored, beans and stock will last indefinitely — almost as convenient as their canned counterparts but far tastier.