Bones. Vegetables. Herbs. Water.
Combine them all, add fire, and you have a magic elixir which can breathe life into a sauce, become the base for a delicate soup or hearty stew, or poach a fish filet to perfection.
Many people don’t realize how easy it is to make a flavorful stock. Once you make stock at home, you may never buy those cans or boxes again. Homemade stock is usually healthier too because commercially made stocks tend to be very high in sodium, while stocks made at home can be tailored to the cook’s preference for salt and fat content. Consider not adding any salt at all. Instead, add salt to the recipe using the stock as needed. Let meat and chicken stocks chill and when the fat rises to the top it solidifies and can be easily skimmed off.
Besides being healthier, homemade stock is often one of the least expensive ingredients to make from scratch using leftover bones and the ends of vegetables. The bones from a roasted chicken dinner can be used to make a few quarts of rich chicken stock for pennies. It’s easy and efficient to make a large batch and freeze the stock in several different sized portions. Freeze quarts for soups, cups for sauces or even in ice cubes for a quick sauce or pasta enhancement. Check out my healthy, flavorful, and easy to make chicken stock recipe here.
Every stock recipe has something in common even if the end result is different. They all have a version of mirepoix (carrots, onions, celery) and aromatics which are fresh and dried herbs (often parsley, thyme and bay leaf) and peppercorns. The aromatics all together are called a “bouquet garni” and can be tied up with cotton string or placed in a cheesecloth bag for easy removal.
In some stock recipes the bones are roasted (this is called a “brown stock”) and the recipe will say to deglaze the fond (pronounced fawn). “Fond” is the French terms for stock in general, but also used in reference to bits and pieces left stuck to the bottom of the pan after roasting. The fond is loosened by adding wine to the pan and then scraping up the caramelized pieces (called deglazing). The deglazed liquid is then added to the stock for flavor. A “white stock” is one where the bones are not roasted; they are simply simmered with the aromatics and vegetables.
Many stocks can be taken beyond the “broth” phase and turned into something else altogether. Consommé is a stock which has been clarified using egg whites to pull all particles from the broth so that it is very clear. Aspic is a savory gelled broth made from either vegetables or meat. It is often used as a glaze on cold meats or fish. Demi-glace is when a stock (usually veal) is reduced by half and becomes so thick and rich it can coat the back of a spoon when warm.
Tips for getting the best results out of any stock:
- Do not boil-this breaks apart the vegetables and meat proteins and causes the stock to become cloudy.
- In most cases it’s better to keep the vegetables in larger chunks (for the same reason as not boiling above) to keep the stock clear.
- Don’t add salt until the end, if at all.
- Start with cold water, and filtered if you have it, which helps yield a cleaner, clearer stock with a purer flavor. There is science at work here; albumin (a protein in bones) which helps to clarify the stock will only melt in cold water.
- Collagen (also from the bones) provides a natural gelatin and only melts at high temperatures. This comes out when the broth simmers and gives body and texture to the stock. When it has cooked long enough and the stock is chilled, it will actually set up firm like jelly.
- The bones of younger animals have more collagen (thus more gelatin) which is why veal bones make such great stock.
- Money saving tip; keep vegetables ends and extra pieces in the freezer in a re-sealable bag. Once it gets full, use it to make a batch of stock.