by Kathleen Flinn
Learning to make stock is a kitchen fundamental. Given that a quart of stock averages $2.25 in the supermarket, it’s a worthwhile investment to learn to make it on your own. This is especially true if you’re a fan of roast chicken, either homemade or store-bought. You can literally just toss the the bones into some water with a handful of vegetables and voila – you’ve got two quarts of stock essentially for free. Plus, the result is excellent quality stock with no preservatives, ready and if you choose, waiting in the freezer. My pal Chef John from FoodWishes.com explains the basics in the video above.
Stock vs. Broth
First, let’s look at the terms. “Stock” is made from simmering bones to extract the flavor from them. “Broth” is not. Thus, you can’t really make vegetable “stock,” it’s really just broth. Also, “chicken broth” properly refers to a liquid that has been made by simmering meat and perhaps vegetables, but not poultry bones. It seems like splitting hairs, but it’s a good thing to know.
White vs. Brown Stock
This is something you hear on shows like Top Chef. White stock is stock made by putting a chicken carcass directly into a pot with water and vegetables. The resulting color is a fairly pale stock, hence the name. “Brown stock” refers to stock that has bee made by roasting the bones first to caramelize them and darken them, and those are then added into to water with vegetables. Generally, stocks made with beef or veal bones are also referred as “brown stock,” since the process generally calls for roasting the bones. The addition of the browning step offers a deeper flavor than white stock, and so it’s generally preferred by most chefs and many home cooks.
Stock is Not Rocket Science
Look at any recipe for stock as a very general guideline. You don’t need exact measurements, an extra bit of water or onion isn’t going to ruin it. But there are some key principles.
1. The classic ratio for stock is 10 percent vegetables to bones. I prefer to kick the vegetables up to about 20 percent. So, if you’ve got a two pounds of bones, or 32 ounces, then add 12 ounces of vegetables. Again, this is a very rough guideline.
2. A good stockpot is critical. Get a sturdy pan with a thick bottom, preferably stainless steel, which is nonreactive and easy to clean. You can find one for $25 online.
3. Pure, clean water is essential, as the long simmering process concentrates all flavors, the good and the bad, which includes any gunk in your local water supply. If your local water tastes bad, consider using a Britta filter.
4. Don’t add salt at the start of stock. It should cook a long time and this will condense the salt in the water and can make it unpalatable.
5. Don’t let the stock boil. This makes it turn cloudy. Bring it just t a boil, then immediately shift down to a simmer; this is often referred to as a “lazy bubbling.”
6. Avoid covering the stock while it’s cooking or cooling, it can make it taste a bit sour.
5. Avoid putting hot stock into a fridge to cool. It will simply heat up everything in your fridge. Instead, bring the temperature of stock down by pouring it into a shallow pan, in a bowl over another bowl filled with ice or once it’s below 180 degrees, plopping some zip bags with ice in them.
6. Stock lasts about five days in the fridge. If you boil it, you can keep it around another three days. Otherwise, put it into containers and freeze. Be sure to put the date on it. Frozen stock can be used for about six months.
One addition I’ve learned is to add in all the onion skins; this is controversial but I think it provides a little extra sheen and color. As you can see from the photo, I mark stuff with blue painters tape and a sharpie, a common practice in professional kitchens. Like my fancy plastic containers? Reduce, reuse and recycle, baby. I’ve got two versions for one. One allows you to make stock in an hour or so, the other is the more conventional version.
Recipe: Blissfully Simple Chicken Stock
Bones from one roast chicken
½ medium onion, quartered
1 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
Few sprigs of fresh thyme and/or parsley
1 clove garlic
Put all the ingredients into a five-quart or larger pot. Add four quarts of cold water to the bones. Bring just to a boil and then turn heat down until it simmers. Let simmer for at least an hour and up to three. Skim any foam or fat from the top with a spoon. Drain it in a colander or mesh sieve lined with a coffee filter or cheesecloth into a large bowl.
Basic Brown Stock
Another chef friend, Ted, once developed a 2,000-word missive on the perfect stock. This simplified version captures key points of his méthode. This recipe is for a ten- to twelve- quart stockpot. Adjust the recipe as needed to fit your pot. Like Chef John, I’m partial to backs and necks, or the leftover carcass from a roasting chicken or turkey. You’re after the bones, not the meat. I find that you can often get good deals on turkey bones right after a big holiday. Beef stock is made with the same method. Ask your butcher for “soup bones,” or joint bones such as knuckle with a bit of meat on them. I also keep any and all bones from steaks and freeze them until ready to make a batch of beef stock. If you can, add a couple of veal bones; the gelatin content will greatly contribute to the finished beef stock.
About 8 pounds (3.5 kg) chicken or beef and veal bones
8 quarts (8 l) pure, clean, cold water
1 pound (1 or 2 large) onions
½ pound (about 3 ribs) celery
½ pound (about 2 large) carrots
Parsley stems from one bunch
Few whole black peppercorns
Bouquet garni or bay leaf (optional)
Prepare and roast the bones
If bones are frozen, remove from freezer with plenty of time to thaw in fridge; this could take twenty- four hours. Place thawed and/or fresh bones in stockpot or bowl and cover with water. Let stand for fifteen minutes and then drain, discarding the water. This helps to remove salt, freezer frost, blood, and other undesirables. If making a white chicken stock, skip the browning step and put the bones into the pot with fresh water.
To make a brown beef or chicken stock, roast the bones in a 375°F/ 1 90°C oven for 40 minutes, then add the vegetables. Continue to roast until the bones have a rich brown color, for a total of about sixty to ninety minutes.
Simmering the stock
Transfer the browned bones and vegetables to the stockpot and then cover with water. Pour the fat out of the roasting pan, add water, and gently loosen the pan drippings. Pour this into the stockpot. In either case, the water level should be at least three inches above the bones. Apply high heat until the stock comes to a slow simmer. Then reduce the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. For the next couple of hours, use a ladle to regularly skim the foam and fat from the surface of the stock. Don’t let the stock boil; it will become cloudy.
At this point, add the vegetables, plus peppercorns and bay leaf if desired. Simmer the uncovered stock for a minimum of four hours for chicken and at least eight hours for beef, skimming every ninety minutes. Add water as needed to keep the bones submerged. I tend to let my stock simmer for about 12 hours, starting it in the morning and finishing it off before bedtime.
Straining the stock
A big stock pot with bones is both hot and heavy. Don’t try to pour out its contents. Instead, use a long pair of tongs to remove most of the bones and discard. Ladle or pour the remaining stock and vegetables through a colander into a clean bowl or bowls. Take care to avoid burning yourself.
Strain it again, this time through a colander lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Either use the stock immediately or cool the stock as quickly as possible. To cool, pour the stock into several bowls. Place these bowls over others filled with ice, or, after the stock has cooled to below 175°F/ 80°C, plop freezer bags filled with ice into bowls. Refrigerate and use the stock within five days. Mason or glass jars work well to keep in the fridge. Otherwise, ladle into freezer- proof containers and freeze.