I LOVE having homemade stock in my freezer, ready at a moment’s notice to amp up the flavor in… well most any dish, from soups to sauces, of course, but also a hearty rich risotto or cassoulet, beef bourgignon, well now I’m just getting hungry. Back to the stock. Yes, it is an investment. Making stock is not cheap, and it requires time. That said, you will reap the rewards.
Let’s begin with the terminology:
STOCK is made by simmering vegetables, and usually some bones, in water, to extract the flavor. Broth is just bones.
AROMATICS are those ingredients that make the kitchen smell fabulous when cooking — onions and or leeks, carrots, celery, garlic, herbs, and maybe a bit of lemon grass and ginger for Asian stock, and a few peppercorns. The ratio is 2 parts onion, 1 part celery, 1 part carrot, and about ½ part or less total of anything else you want to flavor your stock.
BOUQUET GARNI is a bunch of herbs: parsley stem, bay leaf, a sprig (4-inch) of thyme, possibly chervil if you have it. This is part of the aromatic mixture.
WHITE STOCK vs. BROWN STOCK. You may choose to roast or brown some or all of the ingredients before beginning the stock making process. Browned beef bones and vegetables yield deeper flavor and darker stock. Lighter stock is the result of using all raw ingredients.
RAW bones* (see below* for a more in-depth explanation of why) are those that have not been cooked with meat on them, and then had the meat removed, like a turkey carcass. You could roast or brown chicken wings and, without removing the meat or skin, make stock. Trimmings may also be added to the stock pot — things like chicken or turkey backs and necks, giblets but NO livers — RAW. Roasting bones specifically for making stock is great. A bit of meat on the bones is fine — I like to use wings in my chicken stock.
There are a few rules for stock making, that if you follow, will be wildly successful:
- It goes without saying, USE GOOD QUALITY INGREDIENTS.
- For meat stock, begin with RAW bones*, long bones (think legs, wings, vs. neck, spine) containmore collagen than shorter bones, and will result in richer stock. This is because the long bones contain more collagen, the gelatinous stuff filled with flavor that makes great stock set up when it’s chilled.
- Start with COLD water; just enough to that a few ingredients are poking out the top. The solid ingredients will settle during the cooking process.
- Use a tall narrow pot, with a lot of room above the level of your stock to reduce evaporation, but NO LID. simmering stock video
- Bring your stock to a boil. As soon as the stock comes to a slight boil, reduce the heat to SIMMER, A BUBBLE HERE AND A BUBBLE THERE. This is the perfect temperature.
- I add about ¼ teaspoon of salt per quart of water this point, because it is essential in flavor development.
- DO NOT STIR the stock. I know it’s so tempting! Stirring releases proteins into the liquid, which will result in cloudy stock later.
- Cook the stock the appropriate length of time to extract maximum flavor. Fish stock takes about ½ hour. Shellfish stock is made from crunched up shells of shrimp, crab, lobster — and also need ½ hour. Vegetable stock can be made in ½ hour If vegetables are cut in smaller bits, or longer for larger pieces. Chicken stock typically takes 4 hours; beef needs 8 to 10, depending upon the size of the bones.
- When the stock is done, strain off the meat and vegetables before reducing the stock. our finished stock can be reduced to one-fourth volume. Boil rapidly at the beginning, then gradually lower the heat to prevent burning in the end.
- Reduce and freeze your stock if you are not going house it within three days. Cool the reduced stock quickly as warm stock is a perfect medium for bacteria growth. Reduced stock takes up much less freezer space, defrosts faster, and if your recipe requires reduction, that’s already done!
- Be sure to label and DATE your stored stock. Be sure to add the concentration, so it’s super easy to reconstitute if necessary later. And ALWAYS bring it to a boil before using, for safety.
Consider freezing your stock in non-stick muffin tins, then pop the frozen blocks out and store in a zipper bag. Mini muffin tins create 2-ounce blocks, each making 1 cup reconstituted stock, I love that! Another favorite method is to pour stock into a coffee mug lined with a freezer zipper bag. Lay the bags flat on a baking sheet and freeze, then you can store them upright, and they defrost quickly.
Glacés are stocks that have been slowly cooked down (reduced) to a thick syrup. These are handy to have on hand because they require less storage space and can be reconstituted into stock simply by adding water. Glace can be added to a sauce to the last minute to give a richer flavor, deeper color, and a smoother texture.
A classic demi-glace is a stock that has been reduced and bound with a starch until it has the consistency of a very light syrup. It is the basis for classic brown sauce.
Essences are extracts made from vegetables and used as last-minute flavorings for sauces.
*Bones are literally the back bone for stock flavor. Bones contain collagen, mostly on the outside where the muscles were attached, and most contain at least come marrow. Collagen, the primary protein in connective tissue, is the stuff in muscles that holds them together, makes them flexible and pliant, and gives them structure. This rich protein also gives structure to your stock, adding body and richness. When the stock is chilled, it’s this collagen that makes it set up like jello! Marrow is also key for flavor and richness in your stock.
Besides adding body and richness, collagen adds flavor. You may have seen someone gnawing on a pork or steak bone after having consumed the meat. The meat nearest the bone has the most flavor, because of the collagen present, and it tends to have that melt-in-your-mouth texture and be very juicy. This is what you add to stock. So, if you plan to make stock from that turkey carcass, you will be sacrificing flavor, because the collagen and flavor were absorbed into the meat, which you hopefully enjoyed! But alas, they are no longer there to contribute to your stock.
So, long bones have more surface area for muscle attachment, thus more connective tissue to add collagen to your stock. A bit of meat on the bones is acceptable, but more is not necessarily better. Chickens have collagen in the skin as well, making wings a great choice for stock making, because they contain long bones and lots of skin surface — perfect choice!
Temperature is important. In the stock making process, we quickly heat the liquid to boiling, for fast pasteurization, then reduce to simmer — which is around 180°F. Maintaining the simmer temperature is key, because collagen begins to soften at 180°F, and completely softens at 200°F. As your stock cooks, the simmer temperature slowly rises as nutrients and collagen are dissolved in the stock, so by the time your stock is finished, the collagen should be completely softened and dissolved. Hah! Max flavor, once again.
Chef’s note: I like to keep a ‘stock bag’ in my freezer, to house those things that come up in everyday cooking that are perfect for the stockpot. I keep leek tops, jus the green part that we don’t eat anyway, small bits of carrot, celery or onion trimmings, that might go to waste if they aren’t used quickly, bits of other veggies, such as bell peppers, turnips, parsnips. And a separate bag for chicken or turkey trimmings or giblets and raw bones. I pull this bag out when making stock, add the contents to the pot!