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Preserving Lemongrass & Making Turkey-Lemongrass Stock

Awhile back, one of you asked how the lemongrass that I started from grocery store stalks turned out. Since it was growing in my community garden plot, I didn’t take as many pictures throughout the summer as I typically do for plants here in the Demo Garden. I took several pictures of the lemongrass, which you can view here if you want to see them all.

However, in most of the pictures it just looks like a green blob of grass. This picture actually shows you the size of the stuff in context! It is really a beautiful fountain-shaped grass, and it gets BIG! By viewing it through the cattle panel, you can see that it is probably 4 to 5 feet tall in September. It looks like a fun grass to play in, but just a warning – those grass blades have sharp edges. I recommend long sleeves and gloves when you get ready to harvest.

To harvest, I took pruners and cut off the grass about 18″ above the ground, then I got right into the base and twisted each of the large stalks off. It’s a little bit hard to describe the harvesting process, and I don’t have a really good picture. The key is bending each stalk right at ground level and twisting to pull it out, because the base is where the best usable part is.

I ended up with a grocery sack of lemongrass stalks from just one plant, and that was only taking the large stalks! (Lemongrass really likes heat!) You can see I also harvested some basil and Thai basil at the same time. We’ll deal with that in another post.

This is what the stalks looked like before cleaning.

I took 1-2 layers of the outer leaves off and trimmed off the woody base. You can see the nice white ends on the stalks.

I cut off about 2-3″ of each stalk. My understanding has always been that you want the more succulent white ends and not the rest. You can see the white core at the end that is still a little tough and also the greener bits on the outer layers farther up the stalk that are also a little fibrous. I suppose that technically you might want to remove those parts. (I have to share that I was surprised by the purple stripes on the inside of the stalks! Pretty cool!)

Anyway, I didn’t remove those tougher parts because I was lazy and also because I was planning to pulverize it all anyway.

Here you can see the ends in the bowl, along with all the remaining stalks. The ends were about 4 cups worth of lemongrass…plenty to last us a couple of years, probably! I hated to just pitch the stems though, and I don’t love lemongrass tea enough to go to the effort of drying them. More on that later.

The ends all went into the food processor and came out this lovely fine minced lemongrass. Yum! So, now what? I chose 2 methods of preserving, and we’ll see which I prefer.

Method 1: Put a heaping tablespoon of lemongrass in each ice cube slot and then cover with water. (You can also use olive oil.) Freeze, then store in a bag in the freezer. I’ve used the ice cube method before for basil, and it is my preferred method for storing basil. We’ll see how the lemongrass fares.

The remainder went into two 1 cup containers and I covered them with grapeseed oil. I had grapeseed oil on hand, so I used that instead of lemongrass. FYI, grapeseed oil doesn’t solidify in the freezer. Olive oil does. Yes, I learned that the hard way. So the pro of using the grapeseed oil is that it will be really easy to scoop out lemongrass when I want it. The con is that I have a potential mess on my hands if something goes wrong in the freezer… Not that anything would ever topple over in my immaculately organized freezer. Right.

Now the question was, what to do with those remaining lemongrass stalks? Since I didn’t want to make tea, I decided on another use that would involve infusing a liquid with the nice lemony flavor – making chicken stock. Or rather, as it turned out, making turkey stock. I happened to find 3 packages of turkey legs on the “use them now before they go bad” special.

I browned off the turkey legs a little bit first, then covered them with water and dumped in a few lemongrass stalks, peppercorsn, and bay leaves. I simmered this for about an hour, until the turkey legs were cooked. Then I took the meat off the turkey bones and saved it for use later and threw everything else back in the pot. I put a couple tablespoons of vinegar in the pot with the bones, because supposedly that is supposed to help release more minerals from the bones and help the stock to gel after cooking. I then simmered it for about 6+ more hours. The last hour, I added some carrots, celery, onion, and garlic to add more nutrition and flavor. (Supposedly, if you don’t add the veggies until the end, you get more value from them because you don’t overcook all the nutritive parts. You can also still stand to eat them later.)

I ended up with about 3+ quarts of turkey stock when I strained it. I saved 6 cups to make a Turkey-Wild Rice Soup, and the rest I boiled down until it was about 4x concentrated and froze it in ice cubes. I’m all about the ice cube trays for everything except plain old ice cubes, apparently.

I don’t know if it was the vinegar or if I just was lucky, but this was the first time that I’ve had stock turn into stock jelly when I refrigerate it. It was pretty cool! If I’d been really motivated, I could have saved the turkey bones and made another batch of stock with them. This was enough of a project for me though, and I didn’t exactly have space for more stock, since we don’t have a pressure canner (and they kind of scare me anyway).

The stock was really good! I was afraid that we wouldn’t actually be able to taste the lemongrass, but it was there. Not overpowering, but not lost in the other flavors. One other note…I didn’t actually put any salt in at any point other than very lightly salting the legs before browning. You don’t want to salt the stock and end up with a salty mess when it gets cooked down. Much better to add salt when you are actually using the stock to cook.

So…if you have some extra lemongrass kicking around, you now have something to do with that turkey carcass!

Starting Lemongrass

We had lemongrass in the Demo Garden back in 2010, as part of our Asian Garden. For some reason, the only pictures I have of it were at the harvest stage. It was a really pretty plant! Lemongrass is a fountain-shaped grass that is valued in Southeast Asian cooking for its lemon flavor and scent. It is hardy to zone 8, so it is an annual plant for us in Kansas. However, it has plenty of time and warm weather to develop good quality stalks during our summer growing season.

As a tropical plant, lemongrass should be started indoors or in a greenhouse, and then transplanted outside after all danger of frost is past and the soil is quite warm. I would expect mid-May to be a good average planting date for lemongrass in south central Kansas. Once the weather turns hot and humid, it will grow quickly. Lemongrass plants can easily reach a diameter of 3 feet in one growing season in Kansas, so it is wise to space them at least 2-3 feet apart when planting.

If desired, at the end of the growing season, a few stalks can be harvested and potted indoors or in the greenhouse to provide propagation stock for the next season.

There are two main types of lemongrass, East Indian Lemongrass and West Indian Lemongrass. Both can be grown and used for cooking and teas, although the West Indian Lemongrass has a better culinary value.

East Indian Lemongrass can be grown from seed. It does not have as thick of stalks or as strong a flavor as the West Indian, although the leaves can be used in teas or for flavorings.

West Indian Lemongrass has thicker stalks, yielding better for culinary uses. This type of lemongrass should be started from divisions of an existing plant or by rooting a stalk from a grocery story source. Each plant will produce up to 12 thick stalks, and will re-grow if cut near the ground. You can sometimes find seeds for West Indian Lemongrass, but it is hard to know what the quality of the plant will be until you try them.

We are not growing lemongrass in the Demo Garden this year, but my husband and I love Thai food, so we are going to grow a couple plants in our community garden plot. I wanted to make sure we got the West Indian Lemongrass (I think we had East Indian in the Demo Garden last time), so I went and bought a couple of stalks from the grocery store.

Like every good gardener, I did a Google search on propagating lemongrass from the stalks. It looks like everyone tries to start them in a jar of water, and then transplant them into soil after that. As a horticulturalist, I know that this is not usually an ideal scenario, because the roots that grow in the water are adapted to low-oxygen. It stresses the plant more to start in water and transplant than it does to start a cutting in perlite or even potting soil. I decided to forgo the perlite and just try planting the stalks in potting soil.

I wanted to make sure I bought stalks that still have the base intact. You can see that 3 of the 4 stalks do. 2 of them are even growing a little mold. I don’t think that should be a problem, but we’ll see. The 4th stalk has obviously been cut away. I’m skeptical that it will grow, since it seemed more dried out. We’ll watch and see what happens!

I trimmed the stalks down so that they were only about 6 inches long. The tops are usually pretty dry and more likely to be dead.

From there I just stuck them about 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep in moist potting soil and then put them under my lights. I’ll keep you posted on how they do.