Stock is the resulting liquid from foods that simmered in water, then strained out. The solids ingredients can be be vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, herbs, spices… Stock is rarely served clear, as a consommé or broth (broth is in fact a seasoned stock). Stock is more often combined with fresh vegetables or additional ingredients like noodles, rice, eggs, cheese… to make a tasteful soup or the basis of a specific sauce.
Stock is not essential to any soup or stew, but it greatly enhance the final dish… That’s why stocks preparations are sometimes the most kept secrets from renowned chefs, that make a difference.
The ingredients to make stock
Making stock is not expensive: it’s very easy to start with bits of vegetables that you have saved and frozen over the course of weeks, the trimmings of carrots, celery, onions, and other vegetables as well. Note that trimmings from vegetables that taste strong like broccoli and asparagus will bring a very distinct flavor to the stock, and this is something you probably don’t want at the end.
Concerning protein sources, save just about every scrap from trimmings of chicken, meat, or fish. But avoid chicken skin, fat and fish gills and organs.
Stock making is a good reason for buying whole chicken and cutting it up. The meaty raw bones of a single chicken, with a few vegetables, will provide enough flavor for a quart or two of stock. The same thing applies with seafood in the shell, whole fish, or any other meat on the bone.
Of course, it’s easier and better to begin with fresh, whole ingredients, but it can be expensive on the long run. Buy a carrot, an onion, a celery stalk, a chicken, some seasoning, for a few dollars, and you can prepare 3 liters of stock, which is enough for 2 or 3 batches of soup, or soup and a wonderful risotto.
You can put onion, carrot, and celery into your stockpot, but almost any ingredient can substitute for anything else: turkey for chicken, cooked meat for raw, change amounts of ingredients and so on.
Bones are also an important part of many stock recipes, especially for long simmering stocks, but they are not obligatory. Know that a stock made of bones only will taste bones rather than meat. Most raw bones you can buy are quite meaty, so that its not really a problem. If you are making a stock with leftovers and are using meatless bones, you should buy a few chicken wings, backs, or necks and add them with the bones so that you will improve the flavor greatly.
There are other ingredients you can add depending on what flavor you want to develop: a mild or hot chili pepper, cloves of garlic, some dried mushrooms (really good).
The stock-making techniques
There are in fact 2 considerations about fat and stock. First, stocks shouldn’t boil vigorously because rapid boiling can disperse fat then it becomes difficult to remove it. This leading to a fattier stock that will taste greasy. Moreover, a stock shouldn’t be greasy because it will spoil your future sauce or soup preparations. To cook stock properly, bring it just about to a boil, skim any foam that forms to the top, and then turn the heat down to medium-low, so it is allowed to simmer slowly.
Removing the fat from stock is simple enough, as long as you prepare your stock a day or two in advance. After cooking, you have to strain the stock and refrigerate it. When the fat rises to the top and solidifies — overnight or a day later — just skim it off with a spoon and discard it (you can also save it for cooking, especially if it is chicken fat). If you can’t wait, you can pour the strained stock into a degreasing pitcher or spoon off the fat that rises to the top of the stockpot. This last technique is tedious but effective too.
Roasting stock ingredients before simmering will make a darker and more complex stock, but not necessarily a better one. Stocks that don’t start with browning are brighter and cleaner in flavor. Browning will give a slightly smoked taste. It’s up to your choice!
When you strain a stock (usually through a sieve, lined with cheesecloth if you like or using a chinois strainer) you have 2 possibilities. If you press on the vegetables and other ingredients, you will intensify the stock flavors. But if you don’t force the ingredient, your stock will be clearer.
You will quickly learn that the less water your stock contains, the more strong the flavor will be. Concentrated stock makes a great flavor addition to any of your stir-fries, sauces, and steamed vegetables. But remember that salt doesn’t reduce, so if you want to reduce a stock by more than half, wait to season it until you’ve boiled off the extra water. If not, you might get some bad surprise!
In order to reduce a stock, begin by straining and defatting, then boil it down, stirring from time to time and looking to prevent burning (this can occur when the liquid becomes very thick).
Reducing takes a while: reducing a gallon to a quart can take half an hour or even longer. If you want to speed up the process, you should use the broadest pot you have or divide the stock between two or more pots so more of the liquid is exposed to the air, so it will evaporate a lot more quickly.
How to store stock
The main concern with homemade stock is that it’s so good that you run out of it and have to make some again. So it’s better to make larger stock quantities. Then it just becomes a question of how to store it properly.
If you store it in the refrigerator and bring it back to a boil regularly, you will be able to keep stock more or less indefinitely. Of course, freezing is more efficient. Simply ladle or pour the stock into containers (4 cup containers are usually good). Cover and freeze.
When you want to save more space, reduce the stock to about half its original volume to make a concentrated stock. A weird but useful option, is to store the equivalent of 12 cups of stock in an ice cube tray. To use your stock, just thaw a cube in a cup of boiling water! When using stock concentrate, don’t forget to add water when you start to cook… unless you want to obtain an hyper salty result!
You will keep frozen stock for weeks or even months, but note that it deteriorates in flavor over time.
Here are basic stock recipes to get you started with stocks. You will be quickly able to experiment some variations for your own recipes!