Great sauces grow from great stocks! Whether it’s meat, poultry, fish, or veggie, stock is the aromatic backbone of the the lion’s share of the classic French “Mother” sauces. Stocks also provide the liquid context within which many great soups write their epic flavour stories…
Making stock is all about extracting the goodness – from meat, bones, seafood shells and aromatic veggies.
Let’s start with the simplest kind: Veggie Stock.
Veggie stocks are great for vegetarian and vegan recipes. All you need is a selection of vegetables whose flavours complement the dish you want to make – and each other.
The most common veggie stock blend is called mirepoix. It’s traditionally composed of 50 per cent Onion, 25 per cent Celery and 25 per cent Carrot. Simply peel and fine-dice the veggies, place them into a large saucepan or a stock pot, sauté them in a little vegetable oil until the desired degree of brownness is reached, and then add enough cold water to cover the dry ingredients.
Now is the time to add some aromatic herbs. The traditional French Bouquet Garni is composed of a couple of 3 to 4 inch ling (10 cm) celery stalks, a Basil leaf or two. a sprig or two of fresh Thyme and one of Rosemary. Tie them up snugly with cotton butcher’s string and just toss into the pot.
Bring the whole mixture to a boil. Then turn the mixture down to a gentle simmer and let it mature for about an hour. Some greyish-brownish-whitish scum might form on the surface of the water at this stage. Skim it off with a big spoon and throw it away. This will help ensure that your final stock will look and taste clear and fresh.
You can try other blends of aromatic vegetables, along with herb blends that complement them.
Do NOT add salt or pepper at this point. Only add seasoning when you are actually making the dish in which the stock itself will be an ingredient. This way, you don’t risk having too much salt in the final dish. Remember what the pros always say: You can always add more salt or pepper, but you can’t take it out if there’s too much!
You can accelerate the process of extracting the goodies from veggies by running them through your food processor rather than dicing them. The more finely they are divided, the faster they will liberate their flavours and nutrients into the stock water.
When the veggies have given all they’ve got to the stock. Strain out the solids using a fine mesh sieve and allow the finished stock to cool. Store in tight-sealing freezer bags or plastic freeze containers with tight-fitting lids. You can keep frozen stock for up to six months. But once you’ve started cooking with stock regularly, it probably won’t last anywhere near that long!
Poultry, Fish and Light Veal stocks
These light-coloured stocks are most commonly used in making Velouté style sauces and as the base for clear soups such as Chicken Noodle, Asian Soups (eg.- Vietnamese Phö, Chinese Hot and Sour, Egg Drop), and that all-time French classic, Consommé.
The best light stocks are made from the trimmings and bones of the various meats in this category. Some cooks like to include the organ meats and necks of poultry in their Chicken and Turkey stocks. Chefs commonly include fish heads and tails, bones left after filleting, and the shells of lobsters or shrimps (if used) in their fish stocks.
Note: The bones and trimmings of Pork, Duck, Goose and other extremely fatty meats are not usually processed for stock. Use Turkey or Chicken stock for Duck or Goose dishes. Try Veal or Turkey stock to complement Pork dishes.
You can use fresh (uncooked) meat or poultry trimmings and bones for stock, or raw (uncooked) materials. When starting with raw materials, drizzle them with vegetable oil and roast them off in a 375F oven for an hour or so. This will make the resulting stock much darker in colour, and much stronger in flavour.
Fish stock takes about 45 minutes to mature, at that all-important slow simmer.
Poultry stocks usually mature with 2-3 hours of simmering.
Veal stocks will take anywhere from 3-6 hours to mature.
As with the basic Veggie Stock, strain off the solids using a fine mesh sieve at the conclusion of simmering. Let the stock cool and skim the fat off the top before storing.
Cooling stock and other liquids
It’s important to remember that stock – and in fact any cooked food- should not be left out of the refrigerator for prolonged periods of time. Therefore, it’s important to cool your finished stock as quickly as possible and get it in the fridge or feezer.
Pros use a special sink with a running cold water bath to cool their stocks, soups and other liquid creations. You can use large sink, provided it’s big enough to hold the pot into which you strain the finished stock, with several inches of clearance on all sides. Place the stock pot in the sink and fill up the sink with cold water to the level of the stock inside the pot. Change the water in the sink frequently when it starts to get warm. Once the stock has cooled to room temperature, you can package it for storage.
Don’t try to package the stock while it’s still hot. You could scald yourself! And, if you put hot food into a cold fridge or freezer, you risk raising the temperature of the whole compartment to dangerous, non-food-safe levels, risking the loss of everything you have stored in the there!
Dark Beef and Veal Stocks
As with Poultry, Light Veal and Fish stocks, roast raw bones and trimmings for about an hour. Add Tomato paste or other Tomato product (juice, crushed Tomatoes, etc.) to the roasting pan to help give the stock body and a rich colour. You can even roast the mirepoix with the bones if you wish, to achieve the deepest, darkest, caramelized flavour possible.
Let dark stocks simmer for at least 8 hours.Some cooks let them go 10 hours or more. The longer you simmer, the more goodness you get out of the bones.
Strain, cool, skim the fat, and store as per the light stocks.
Some Stock hints…
For every-day home use, try freezing some stock in an ice cube tray. When frozen, pop the the stock cubes out and seal in a zipper freezer bag. Two or three cubes, right from the freezer, can really jazz up an every-day gravy or spur of the moment sauce!
Remember that your basic stocks will have no salt or pepper added. That means that you can control the seasoning of any dish you use them in. One basic Chicken stock can, therefore, be used in a wide variety of Chicken and Poultry dishes!
The flavour of stocks can be further intensified by simmering them by themselves, driving off some of their water and concentrating the goodness. We’ll be talking about this technique later in our Sauces series, under the heading of Glazes and Demi-Glazes…
See you in a few for Sauces Part III: Pan Gravies and Jus!
~ Maggie J.