The Importance of Making Your Own Stocks
Contributing Food Writer Mark R. Vogel
One of the first lessons of any cooking course is learning how to make stocks. Stocks form the basis of most sauces and soups. A stock is basically the liquid that eventuates from simmering bones and/or meat with vegetables, herbs, & seasonings. Types of stock include beef, veal, chicken, fish, and vegetable. Let’s peruse the stock making procedure.
Virtually all stock recipes instruct you to start with bones. I prefer a mix of actual meat and bones. I find the meat/bone combo to yield a deeper flavor. For a beef stock I use cubed chuck steak. Never use tender cuts of meat such as the rib or loin. They do not lend themselves to moist cooking methods and the flavor will be undesirable. For chicken stock I use an entire chicken cut up into the standard anatomical pieces. The standard ratio of bones and/or meat to water is eight pounds to six quarts.
Most recipes recommend you roast the bones and vegetables in the oven before placing them in the water. Roasting deepens the flavor and color of the stock. If your goal is to make a brown sauce from the stock, you’ll want to roast first. Even chicken can be roasted first to make a “brown” chicken stock. However, I like the flavor of a stock made from unroasted meat as well. Try it both ways and select your own favorite.
If you’re going to roast, place the bones in a roasting pan, add a little olive oil if you’d like, and roast for a half hour at 375 degrees. Then add the chopped vegetables, (six ounces of tomato paste if making a beef stock), and continue roasting until the vegetables are browned. Place everything in the stockpot, deglaze the pan with some wine and then add that to the stockpot as well. Fish stock is generally not roasted first.
The vegetable mixture used in making stock is the classic mirepoix, namely carrots, celery & onions. Use eight ounces of onion and four ounces each of carrots and celery for six quarts of water. I also add a few garlic cloves. If you’re making a vegetable stock you will need to increase these amounts and/or the number of vegetables. Turnips, leeks, cabbage, and tomatoes are common additions.
Returning to meat based stocks, some chefs advise adding the vegetables one hour before the stock is done cooking. They argue that doing so earlier overcooks them and deteriorates the flavor. If you wish to follow this course of action you will need to roast the vegetables separately while the stock is simmering and then add them during the final hour.
Finally, herbs and seasoning are added, one half hour before the stock is done for the same reason as the vegetables. The traditional bouquet garni consists of a few sprigs of parsley and thyme, and one or two bay leaves. I also add celery leaves and numerous twists of the pepper mill. (If I’m making a spicy Mexican soup I’ll include either fresh hot peppers with the mirepoix or crushed dried ones with the herbs.) Do not add salt to the stock. Its natural salinity will increase as it reduces. You can always add salt to the final soup or sauce if need be.
Slowly bring the stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Leave it uncovered for the entire cooking process. The more the stock reduces, the more intense its final flavor. Fish stock is simmered for 30-40 minutes, vegetable for 45 to 60 minutes, chicken for 4-5 hours, and beef or veal for 6-8 hours, (even though 4 hour beef stock still tastes pretty darn good). Skim the stock frequently to remove fat and other impurities that float to the surface. When it’s finished strain it through cheesecloth or a fine sieve. If you’re not using it immediately, immerse the pot of stock in ice water in your sink before refrigerating. Rapid cooling reduces the chance of bacterial growth. To eliminate as much of the fat as possible you may want to refrigerate it first no matter what you’re intended use is. The next day most of the fat will have congealed on the surface, making for easy removal. I save 1-2 cup portions of the stock in plastic containers in the freezer for future sauce making.
Try this sauce with your next meat dish. After you’ve roasted or sautéed your meat, remove it from the pan. Place the pan over a high flame and pour in a cup of wine. Scrape off all the flavorful brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan as the wine comes to a boil. (This is what’s known as deglazing). Add one cup of stock, a few garlic cloves, herbs, salt and pepper. Simmer the sauce until it’s reduced to at least half the original volume. Melt in some butter at the end, strain the sauce, and pour it over your meat for comfort food heaven. For a thicker sauce, you can reduce it even further, or thicken it with flour, corn starch or arrowroot.
For an advanced technique, take about a quart of your finished stock and simmer it until it decreases to a syrupy consistency. You will have an intensely flavored concoction known as glace de viande. Pour it into ice cube cups and store in your freezer. When making a sauce, drop one of these flavor bombs into it for a depth and complexity of flavor unknown to most mortals.
As stated, stocks form the foundation of many soups. If I’m making beef vegetable or chicken soup, I will shred pieces of the meat I used to make the stock and add them to the soup. However, actual pieces of meat are not included in some soups either by choice or design. In these instances you will discard the stock-making ingredients. It may seem like a waste to throw out the meat but remember, most of its flavor and substance has been infused into the stock. Give the leftover meat to your cat or dog. Never reuse the vegetables from making stock to make soup. They have been completely depleted. Always add fresh vegetables.