My dear friend E asked me about making stock recently, and I figured I might as well do this in a blog entry instead of an email, so as to better share the wealth.
I make stock all the time. Basically whenever I have enough roasted birds carcasses collected in my freezer. I’ve talked about this before, but I didn’t really talk technical.
Stock is simple. It’s easy. If you think it’s difficult, you’re working too hard on it. In a nutshell, all you’re doing is putting bones, and usually vegetables, in a pan with water, and simmering for hours. That’s pretty much the whole story. You’ll find books – like Michael Ruhlmann’s Elements of Cooking – which will leave you thinking you need to devote days to making veal stock or why bother. Ruhlmann’s book is great, but he makes that mistake of speaking as if to experts when giving basic tips. Yeah, I’m sure his results are great, but so are mine even when I do everything different that he says.
Make it easy, or you won’t do it. You’ll buy a box or a can.
Now, boxed or canned stock/broth are ok; I’ve made fantastic soups with a can of fucking swansons. But it’s like using frozen or canned versus fresh ingredients; it can be good, or even great, but almost universally could be better with better quality ingredients. Stock is a base for other things, and always, your dish is the sum of what’s in it, and how it’s put together. When your ingredients are the best they can be, the chef’s first job is not to fuck them up.
There are all sorts of stocks; white (un-roasted ingredients), brown, poultry, beef, fish. Stock, in short, is simply a flavored liquid, and in it’s most basic form is just bones cooked in water until all flavor is extracted. But what I’m covering is a brown poultry stock, ’cause that’s what I usually make.
The best, and the easiest stocks are made from roasted carcasses. You can buy necks and so forth from your butcher and roast ‘em yourself, but I find I get just as good a result by just saving the bones from roast chickens and, when available, turkeys. Some time I need to try a roast duck and see what I get, but duck is a different entry. Mmmm, duck.
Here’s what I often do: I use those supermarket/deli pre-roasted whole chickens. Now this has a couple of benefits. First, a couple of these things will make dinner for a family, and leftovers for at least another meal, *or* the meat can be reserved for inclusion in a later soup. I dismember the birds and toss the bodies, plus legs and wings if I can get ‘em away from my kids un-chewed, all into a ziplock and stuff ‘em in the freezer.
One won’t make much stock; I try to collect at least three. The more chickens, the more flavor. One turkey makes an excellent large volume of stock, and unless you’re a purist who wants a turkey stock, toss in whatever you have. Don’t bother reserving the meat; it will impart a little flavor bot not all that much. You want the bones after you’ve cut away all the usable meat. YOu can though, make small volumes of stock as needed from one bird, particularly if you have a small freezer and can’t save up bones.
Now we come to the veg.
People will tell you to toss in everyting or anything. And ok, I guess you could, and it might be ok. But remember what I said about better quality ingredients?
I try to use organic locally grown stuff; but frankly I don’t always have time, so I don’t hold back. I do, however, insist on reasonably fresh (ok, a little wilted is fine), and I insist on stuff that’s good enough that you’d want to eat it.
Avoid the thought of putting in all sorts of vegetables; it might work but you don’t need to, and if you toss in something odd and you get an off flavor, you’ll have wasted your stock. Remember you’re concetrating everthing you put in, so if it takes a little like a shoe going in, your stock is going to taste a lot like a shoe.
All you need is the basics; mirepoix, which is fancy frog way to say onions, carrots and celery, chopped roughly (don’t bother demonstrating your chef skills here, it’s all going to be pulp in a few hours when you strain it, just hack it up however). We can add herbs to this, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Do not skimp on your vegetables, I’ll typically use a whole celery, at least a half dozen carrots and two or three onions along with a whole turkey carcass. The only issue is that these will impart considerable sweetness, so if you’re going for a very mild flavor, go easier. For a big bold stock though, you’ll want plenty.
Next, the question is, roast or don’t. If you’re making a vegetable stock, yes, roast. But if you’re starting with a well-roasted carcass, you may not need any more roasty flavor. If you’re trying to produce delicate stocks, you won’t want roasted vegetables. If, though, you’re going for something to use in pan sauces later, you’ll want as much roast as you can get. I tend to decide this based on how much time I have.
If you’re going to roast your veggies, just chop them roughly, put them in a roasting pan, toss with some olive oil and salt, and pop ‘em in a 400 degree over for a while. Watch ‘em, you want nice and brown but not burned; I think I usually do this for 20 or 30 minutes. You can toss in your bones at the same time if you want more roast flavor, or not, it doesn’t make a lot of difference.
When you’re done, you’ll want to deglaze your roasting pan, unless you’re roasting in your stock pot. I like white wine for this, but vermouth or any sort of non-sweet, mild-flavored aromatic liquid is ok, and so is water. Taste this to make sure it doesn’t have a burned flavor, and into the pot it goes, with your bones, and a lotta water; obviously if you didn’t roast your veg, just toss ‘em straight in.
Now, if you don’t have a big stock pot, go get a big stock pot. If you got this far and don’t have it yet, well, you’re screwed. You can’t make stock without a big heavy pot. Stock is mostly water when you start, because you need room to cover everything in your pot, and room to let it move around. So – big pot, and lots of water. Don’t worry, it’ll cook off later. If your tap water isn’t tasty, use bottled or filtered. Remember we’re gonna concentrate that flavor.
Turn up your heat. It’s gonna take a long time to get a big pot to boil. Bring your stock to a simmer, and they lower the heat. You don’t wanna boil it, you want it to simmer, and you want it to simmer a long time. When it starts to simmer, foam will form. Skim it off to produce a clearer stock – though to be honest, I don’t clare about clarity and don’t always do this. Don’t worry about skimming fat, you’ll do that later.
That’s – basically – it. At least the beginning.
Teh next question is flavorings. The stock will be great with what’s already there; but you can deepen it’s favor with herbs and seasonings. HOwever, remember this is going to be a small volume of very concentrated liquid when you’re done, so consider seasonings carefully.
I don’t salt til I’m mostly done; your birds may be salty, and you never want to make your finished stock salty to the taste. Garlic, chilies and herbs go great in soups, but I prefer to control those flavors in the finished dish, not in the stock. I do like to toss in whole pepper corns early, though only a few. Anything else strong, I’ll add when the stock is basically done, or when I’m using it later.
What I do like to add, though, is very green, mild-flavored herbs like parsley (an under-ranted herb if ever there was one, in american cooking), or cilantro. Don’t bother with the leaves, use them in something else or save them for your soup; use the stems. You’re gonna throw them away, but they’re full of flavor. You can use the leaves, but remember they’ll tend to make your stock a little bit green, which may or may not mater to you. These herbs add a richness, but you won’t really notice them in the finished dish.
The herbs can be added later in the process; I tend to throw them in after everything’s been simmering for an hour or two.
Now, after two hours you’ll have stock. YOu can use it, but it’s not done, by which I mean you’ve left a vast amount of flavor behind in the pan, which you’ll be throwing away. Personally I like to cook a stock for 8-10 hours, though if you’re on a deadline, just cook it as long as you can. I’ve left stocks on the stove overnight, but I don’t seen any added benefit after that 8-10. Keep your heat very low, add water as needed, and stir whenever you feel like it. Skim fat when you’re mostly done, though there usually won’t be that much.
At the end of all this, you’ll have a big pan full of bones and goo. This will have to be strained. If you’re working with a couple of chickens this is easy, just put through a rough collender, let it drain off, and then strain again a couple times through fine mesh strainers; cheese cloth would be even better, though I never seem to have any. If you’re working with a big volume, this winds up being a chore. I fish out the big bones with tongs first, and the work with a big ladle and strain small bits at a time.
Grinding up big turkey bones in a garbage disposal is not recommended, even if you, like I, have a commercial-grade disposal, though it will make an unforgettable sound though.
When you’re done with your straining, you have a couple choices. You may be putting this directly into something, in which case, go ahead. However, I like to reduce and freeze.
Reducing does two things; it concentrates flavor, and it reduces volume. On the other hand, it also tends to increase caramelization if done at higher heat, so use care of you want a milder flavor. When you taste a stock and it tastes like hot water, it means you need 1) salt and 2) reduction. The finished stock is going to be a fraction of the volume you started with. I tend to taste before I reduce, and if I’m going to freeze, I add salt at this point (it helps the stock keep longer). How much I reduce is mainly based on time and storage space, but you can reduce it a LOT, or just til it reaches the concentration you want for your dish.
I like to freeze in a container, like a tupperware, and then transfer into a ziplock; some people freeze in an ice tray so they can pull out tasty flavor nuggets to throw into things. This is a great idea, and I should do it. but I never do. Lable your package with date and what it is; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found mysterious stock packets in my freezer with no idea when I’ve made ‘em.
That’s it. You have stock. Make soups, combine with other stocks, add to gravies and sauces, add to braising liquids. Stock is concenrated flavor, and you will enhance almost anything. It’s going to be better than anything you can buy, and is one of the simplest, most satisfying things you can make.
Mmm. Now I’m hungry.