A good stock is the basis for almost all great cooking. It is an incredibly versatile tool that can elevate food from “ok” to “amazing”. It is really the one thing that separates home cooks from the professionals, meaning that the pros make their own stock. Although it might seem like a lot of extra work when you can just buy broth or bouillon at the supermarket, believe me when I say that your food will be on another level when you use your own stock. Today, I want to bridge that gap, show you how to make stock like the pros.
So what is stock, and how is it any different from broth? Well, broth is made from simmering meat and/or vegetables and herbs and spices in a pot of water. The meat and/or veggies can be browned first, or not. After a few hours, that water is not longer water. It is now broth. Stock is made in a similar fashion, the main difference being that it uses bones in addition to meat and vegetables. Most people think of bones as waste, but I can be frank with you right? Since you’re here, you’re not most people any more! The pros recognize bones as culinary gold. That is because all bones hide valuable flavor and connective tissue. When they are simmered, the goodness hiding within is extracted by the water and becomes part of the stock. This gives the liquid not only flavor, but texture as well. A good stock has a rich, thick feeling on the lips and tongue that is incredibly satisfying, something you just can’t get from a box.
Any bones can be used, but generally chicken and pork are the easies to get in the quantity that you will need. I really like to use chicken wings and chicken feet because they are easier to find, cheap, and…
…Chicken feet wreak havoc on the citizens of toy town…so using chicken feet saves innocent lives!
Halibut stock is especially delicious, but their remains don’t usually see the shelves of supermarkets. If you want something specifically, be it fish or animal, go see a fishmonger or butcher that specializes in their trade. More than likely you will be able find what you are looking for at an incredibly cheap price. Even at your local mega-mart, ask around in the meat department. They usually have bones in the freezer that can be had for a fair price.
Making stock can be a long process. It can (depending on the type of stock) take up to 10 hours, so it’s important to plan ahead and start as early on in the day as you can. But don’t be put off by the time investment, there are only a few steps to do. After that your stovetop does all the work. I usually make stock every 4 -6 months, freeze it in ice cube trays, and bag/label it. Since stock keeps about a week fresh, freezing it ensures that you’ll have some on hand at all times.
There are two basic types of stock, brown and white. It’s a French classification. Way back when, the French chefs who pioneered this process liked to use brown stock for darker foods and white stock for liter ones. It’s…prettier that way, I guess? I dunno. Any way, brown stock is make by roasting the bones and vegetables before simmering. White stock is made without the roasting process, thus changing the color and flavor. I like both types, but today I will be focusing on brown stock since it had a richer flavor. But don’t worry, if you can make brown stock, and you CAN, you can make white stock too.
Here’s the process:
Gather enough bones to fill at least half your pot. I like to break larger ones down, if I can, so that they don’t take up as much space. As you will soon see, space is precious in your stockpot! Also, gather your vegetable matter. You don’t necessarily have to use these vegetables, but I like tomatoes, onions, celery, carrot, garlic, parsnips, leeks, chilis and other aromatic vegetables as well as an array of herbs and spices. The vegetables I would stay away from is overly starchy vegetables like potatoes that would just disintegrate over the long cooking period and make the stock cloudy, and cabbage-like vegetables like brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, etc. These vegetables have a tendency to release gasses over long cooking periods and smell a little like rotten eggs. Yum. You can use pretty much any combination of vegetable other than that. For example I like to use tons of ginger, cilantro and chilis to make stock I use for asian dishes like Pho. When it comes to amounts, I like to use just slightly less vegetables than bones so there is a little room at the top of the pot to push everything down without making the pot overflow.
Get your largest pot and keep it at the ready. The size of the pot determines how much stock you can make, so I like to use the biggest I can fit on my stovetop. I use a 25 inch tall stock pot that I bought from a restaurant supply store for like $30. You can read a little more about the benefits of the right pots and pans here. Turn your oven on to 400 degrees F, and when it’s hot roast all of your bones and vegetables on cookie sheet trays. Normally you would roast something in the oven until it is golden brown. Not in this case. Roast everything until it is a deep mahogany color and forms a crusty film on your baking sheet. We’re taking these bones and veggies to the maximum limit of their flavor, just like this:
Once everything is done, put it all in the pot. and now divert your attention to the roasting trays you used in the oven. Check out the crusty, charred bits. The term for this is “fond”, which is French for “foundation”. The French consider this to be the foundation for making delicious stocks and sauces, and I agree with them! Either pop the trays back in the oven for a few minutes or turn on a burner and heat up the sheet pan. Now deglaze with water, or even better, white wine, and use a wooden spoon to scrape loose all the bits stuck to the pan. Now add this to the pot. Speaking of wine, why not add the rest of the bottle to the pot too (or not, its totally optional, but adds a lot of extra flavor). Add in all the herbs and spices you want and cover all the contents with water. It’s going to be tight in the pot, but i like to go almost all the way up to the lip of the pot with water. Now turn on the heat to high until it barely comes to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium low, and let it simmer. The more stock you are making, the longer this is going to take, but I would say it will take anywhere from 4 – 6 hours. Check on it every hour or so to make sure nothing is bubbling over. You will know your stock is done when you pull out one of the bones and it will easily crumble in your hand. This is because all the stuff keeping the bone together has been liquefied.
See how the level of the pot has gone down? That’s because of two reasons. First, there is some evaporation. It’s not much, but it definitely helps concentrate the flavor. Second, everything in the pot has given up it’s goodness to the surrounding liquid so it cant stand up to its own weight…It shouldn’t look pretty!
Now comes the process called “dropping” or straining the stock. With a colander or some other straining device fit over a large container, strain the stock. This will most likely have to be done in smaller scoops because there will probably be too much stuff to fit into any one colander. Take your time, and make sure all the bones and veggies drain thoroughly because they have a lot nooks and crannies that can hide a surprising amount of liquid.
Once it is all strained, you will notice there will be a thick layer of discolored liquid at the top of the container. This is all fat, and needs to be either skimmed off, or, I think it’s much easier to refrigerate your stock for a few hours. The fat will solidify and you can pull it off like a big hockey puck. Save this for cooking fat because it has a lot of flavor. Now take a look into the container. It doesn’t look like liquid does it? The collagen from the bones has turned this liquid into gelatin. Depending on how many bones you used, it will either be set extremely firm or have the consistency of jelly. Congratulations you made a delicious stock!!
You can either use this stock immediately, or melt it into a liquid again and put it into ice trays to freeze for later use.
I know this sounds like a lot of work, and it can be time consuming. But it only has to be done once in a while (I make two big batches of stock twice a year), and the quality of your food will vastly improve. SO, believe me, the trade off is totally worthwhile. Plus your house will smell amazing. So give it a try, it’s much easier than it sounds, and is actually pretty fun.