If you are at all scared of stocks, you should not be. Once you’ve practiced them a few times, they will become essential to your routine. Some stocks can be acquired using your Local Restaurant Coupon but homemade stocks and demis make amazing (yes, labor intensive) gifts that come from the heart (and costs so little), your friends will love homemade stocks for the holidays. Stocks are just flavored liquids, think of them as a base for most of your dishes (the French call them fonds). In comparison, sauces are thickened liquids that flavor other foods. That was a bit over simplified, but you get the idea. I’m going to give you the absolute basics to get you on your way to becoming a stock master. Let’s start off with stocks and their basic types.
Brown Stock: This type is made with similar ingredients as a white stock (chicken, veal, beef or game bones with vegetables) but these are caramelized before going in the water. This gives the stock a rich brown color.
Fish Stock: Made from fish bones and the shells of crustaceans and vegetables without coloring them and then simmering them in seasoned water for a quick time.
Vegetable Stock: Nice to know how to make this if you have vegetarian friends or if you need to bring down the cholesterol level. You can use almost any vegetables, but keep away from veggies like asparagus, broccoli and spinach.
White Stock: Simply made by simmering bones of either chicken, veal or beef in seasoned water with vegetables. The stock comes out basically clear.
Beef: I include veal bones in this category. When you are choosing your bones for stock, ask your butcher for bones from a younger animal. They have more cartilage and connective tissues than older animals would which helps the stock to develop a good body. Collagen is one of the main proteins in cartilage, when it is heated, it turns into gelatin and water making a deliciously rich stock. The best bones for your stock are from the back, neck and shank (which have the most collagen). Have your butcher cut them into 4 inch pieces for best cooking.
Chicken: I love making chicken stock, I make lots of chicken at home, so I find that it is super easy to garner up the ingredients. No need to make a trip to the butcher. Just use the bones from the neck and back of your bird.
Fish: You will want to use lean fish for your bones (sole, turbot, whiting). Fatty fish are too flavorful and you will end up with a pungent stock (not so fun to get the smell out of your house). You can use the whole carcass of the fish, but cut up the bones so that they are easier to handle and so that you get the most flavor out of it. Cut the fish carcass, wash it in cold water until there is no more blood or scales on it.
Vegetables: Just have to love the French for this one. Once you learn a Mirepoix (trust me you will never forget this) you are ready to start your stocks. A Mirepoix is basically a mixture of Onions, Celery and Carrots (or as I like to call it Obsessive Compulsive Cooking). Whatever your quantities, split up your mix as thus: 50% onion, 25% carrot and 25% celery. If you are making a brown stock add the onion skins, they will add a lovely hue. Here is where things get a little dicey: the size you cut your veggies depends on the cooking time of the stock. The shorter the time, the smaller you should cut your vegetables. If you are making a white or brown stock from beef or veal, chop them into big chunks (2 inches is totally fine). If you are making a chicken or fish stock then chop then into smaller 1/2 inch pieces to get as much flavor as possible.
Seasonings: I mentioned seasonings in each type of stock. I use bay leaves, garlic, parsley, peppercorns and thyme. Some people omit the garlic and add other herbs. Play with your ingredients until you find the perfect combo for you. Throw the herbs in without chopping, the heat will do the work for you. Do not add salt. If you do, you will most likely end up over-salting your stock, and there is no going back once that is done. Wait until you are completely done to play with your salt.
- Cold Water: When you start your stock, make sure to cover your bones with cold water. As the water warms up, impurities will dissolve and rise to the surface where you can easily remove them.
- Simmer: Bring your stock almost to a boil and immediately reduce heat to a simmer (185F). Never bring your stock to a full boil because impurities will blend with the stock making it dark and mucky.
- Skim: Skim your stock to remove the impurities that rise to the top to keep it clear.
- Strain: It’s not a stock if there’s stuff inside. Skim all the junk off the top. Remove the pot from the heat. Ladle the stock (carefully) from the pot through either a colander or a cheesecloth.
- Cool: Cool your stock quickly to reduce the chance of food borne illness. Do not put your stock in a plastic container, plastic retains heat. Keep it in the metal pot. If your pot is large, pull an Alton Brown and steal some bricks from your neighbor’s yard. Put two of them on the bottom of your sink, place your stock pot on top. Fill your sink with cold water. Drain the sink once it has gotten to almost the top of your stock pot and repeat the process. This will get your stock cooled off in no time. (Do not do this process with enameled cast iron as it can ruin them).
Best part about stock, you can make tons of it at once and freeze it for later use. Grab a bunch of plastic containers and put them in the fridge. Don’t be scared by the fat that rises to the top. This fat will preserve the stock for about one week in the fridge. If you freeze it, it can last for about 2 months. If you plan to freeze your stock, remove the fat after refrigerating it, pour it into a plastic container (leaving a little room for it to expand – about an inch on the top) and you’re all set.
Now that you have the basics of any stock, let’s get down to particulars.
As mentioned above, we can make this from the bones of beef, chicken or veal. But first you may want to Blanch the bones. Don’t worry, I’m not talking about Rue McClanahan. Blanching will keep your stock clear. Some people say blanching makes a less flavorful stock, but I’m all for it.
How to blanch bones:
- Start by washing the bones (that have already been cut) .
- Put them in your stock pot and fill the pot with cold water so the bones are covered.
- Bring the water to a boil on high heat. DO NOT ALLOW TO BOIL.
- Immediately skim the rising gunk and then drain the water carefully (you don’t want to burn yourself).
Now you are ready to start with your stock. These are the quantities you will need:
- 5 lbs of bones
- 1 gallon of cold water (16 cups)
- 1/2 lb of your mirepoix
- Herb sachet (1 Bay leaf, 1/4 tsp dried thyme, 1/4 tsp peppercorns, 2.5 stems of parsley
Let’s get cooking
- The bones should be cut into pieces 3 inches long (I am lazy, so I have the butcher do this for me)
- Put the bones in your stock pot
- Fill the pot with cold water
- Bring the water (just barely) to a boil and immediately reduce the heat to a simmer
- Add the mirepoix and herb sachet to the stock
- Keep an eye on your stock and skim it while it cooks for about 4-6 hours (if you work with chicken bones, only up to 3 hours)
- Strain, cool and put the stock in your fridge.
Once you have mastered the white stock, you can start playing with it, try adding leeks, parsnips or turnips. Instead of one type of bone, mix and match them. The more you make these stocks, the more you will become a master of stock.
Brown stocks are made from chicken, beef, game or veal bones. It will have a dark brown color and will blow your mind away. It’s pretty similar to a white stock, but you caramelize (browning the sugars that exist in most foods) the bones and mirepoix prior to simmering. Also, you add some tomato type to this: it can be tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato puree, any type of tomato product will do. Let’s start with caramelizing the bones. Do not wash or blanch your bones, if you do, it will take forever to caramelize them.
- Put your bones (cut up) in a roasting pan (only one layer of bones).
- Roast them for 1 hour in the oven at 375F
- Stir them frequently so that they do not burn
Now that you have caramelized you’re not quite ready to stock. First you must deglaze your pan. The fat that sits at the bottom of the roasting pan is kitchen gold. It should be treasured, and to do so you must deglaze:
- Put the roasting pan on the stove.
- Turn the heat to medium and add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan.
- Stir and scrape the pan to dissolve the caramelized goodies.
I bet you thought we were done with caramelizing, but we’re not. You forgot about the veggies (mirepoix). Ok, here goes:
- Take some of the de-glazed liquid.
- Add it to the roasting pan that was already deglazed.
- You can use a large sautee pan if you find it easier (as long as it fits your veggies comfortably)
- Saute the mirepoix so that all the vegetables brown without burning
You’ve caramelized, deglazed and caramelized…now you are ready to make your stock. Let’s start off with the ingredients you will need:
- 6 lbs bones (cut into 2 inch piece)
- 6 oz tomatoes (or tomato product)
- 1/2 lb of your mirepoix
- Herb sachet (1 Bay leaf, 1/4 tsp dried thyme, 1/4 tsp peppercorns, 2.5 stems of parsley, crushed garlic to taste)
- Put your roasted bones in a stock pot.
- Add the deglazed liquid to the stock pot with the bones.
- Fill the pot with cold water to cover them completely.
- Bring almost to a boil and reduce heat immediately to a simmer.
- Caramelize your mirepoix
- Add it to the stock pot
- Add the tomato (tomato product) and herbs to the stock.
- Simmer for 6 hours
- Skim when needed.
- Strain, let cool and refrigerate
You’ll be fine if you learn to make just one of these. They are almost the same and you can use one in place of the other (in most situations). Fumets just have more a powerful nose and flavor since they include acidic ingredients (think white wine or lime juice). As I stated before, skip the fatty fishes when making stocks and fumets and skip the blanching step. Make sure to cut your vegetables for the mirepoix small so that you can extract all the flavors from the vegetables. You will need:
- 1/2 onion, 2 stalks of celery and 1 carrot (for the mirepoix)
- 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
- 2 T clarified butter
- 3 lbs of fish bones
- Herb sachet (again: bay leaf, dried thyme, peppercorn, parsley stems)
- Wash the fish bones
- Heat the butter in the stock pot and add the vegetables and mushrooms for 2 minutes
- Add the rest of the ingredients (except the herbs)
- Bring to a simmer
- Add the herb sachet
- Simmer (uncovered) for 30 minutes
- Strain, cool and refrigerate
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp white wine
- 2 parts onions, 1 part carrot, 1 part celery (mirepoix)
- 1 bulb garlic
- Herb sachet
- Experimental ingredients (try turnips, tomatoes, fennel, leeks – diced)
- Heat the vegetable oil in stock pot
- Add the vegetables (sweat them for 10 minutes – cook them without letting them turn brown)
- Add wine, water and herbs
- Bring to a boil, immediately reduce to a simmer
- Cook for 45 minutes
- Strain, cool, refrigerate