Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Meet a chef's best friend: a flavorful stock

Ever wonder how your grandmother and restaurant chefs effortlessly make delicious soups and sauces while we struggle?

Well, the secret's out and the good news is that it's way easier than you think: just start with a great meat or vegetable stock and the rest is simple. Plus, you can make stock in a huge batch days or weeks in advance and freeze it until you need it. And finally, the ingredients in stock are often the cheapest in the supermarket.

Because stocks are the foundation to many dishes, a good home-made one can take your food to the next level. Here's what you need to know to make each type of stock. Don't forget to check out the helpful tips at the end!

1. Chicken Stock

To make a great chicken stock you'll need: 1 set of chicken bones or a whole chicken carcass, 1 onion, 1 celery stem (without leaves), 1 small carrot, 1 herb bouquet.

You can buy a chicken carcass from the butcher counter at any supermarket. They also typically have a set of chicken bones for sale for making stock. Better yet, after you've roasted a chicken for dinner, save the scraps for a stock.

An herb bouquet is a mixture of herbs you can buy or make yourself. A traditional bouquet consists of parsley, thyme, and a bay leaf and is bound in cheese cloth so you can pull it out once the stock is made.

Making the stock is easy: in a large pan, heat some oil over medium heat and add the carcass, which you should brown while breaking it up with a spoon. The longer you cook the meat and bones, the more brown the stock will become. Next, add the vegetables & herbs and enough water to cover all the ingredients. Simmer for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Finally, strain the stock and it's ready.

2. Beef Stock

To make beef stock you'll need: a couple pounds of beef bones and some beef trimmings, 1 onion, 1 celery stem (without leaves), 1 small carrot and 1 herb bouquet.

For a brown stock, roast the bones and trimmings with a little oil in a roasting pan. Put the pan into a preheated 400 degree oven and roast until well browned. Once that's done, transfer the meat (and don't forget to scrape or deglaze the roasting pan to incorporate all the extra flavor into the water) to a large stock pot. Next, add the vegetables, herb bouquet and add water until ingredients are just covered. Simmer for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

For a light beef stock, you don't need to roast the meat, you can add it raw to the pot with the water and vegetables and simmer until cooked.

3. Vegetable Stock

To make a vegetable stock you'll need: 1 onion, 1 celery stem (without leaves), 1 small carrot, 1 leek (only the white part) and 1 herb bouquet.

Put a little oil into a stock pot and saute the vegetables gently. Next, add enough water to cover the vegetables and the herb bouquet. Simmer gently for 30 minutes. Remove the herbs, strain and it's done!

4. Fish Stock

To make a fish stock you'll need: 1 fish skeleton (cod or flounder are good, or for a seafood stock shrimp or lobster tails & shells), 1 onion, 1 celery stem (without leaves), 1 leek sliced (only the white part) and 1 herb bouquet.

In a stock pan, add a little oil and the fish scraps. Cook over low heat and then add water, vegetables and the herb bouquet. Simmer very gently for approximately 20 minutes. Remove the herbs, strain to remove the fish bones and shells and you're done!

5. Tips to Remember

- Simmer at a very low temperature, just at the point the mixture begins to boil because this will allow the flavors to infuse gently into the stock.
- Avoid adding celery leaves as these can make the stock bitter.
- Don't add salt and pepper to the stock, you can use these to season the final soup or sauce.
- The bones, meat scraps and vegetables can all be discarded after cooking because their flavor will be in the stock.
- For very clear soups, such as consomme, allow the stock ingredients to sediment then ladle the clear fluid from the top.
- Stock can always be separated into portions and sealed and frozen for future use.

Now you have all the tools you need to incorporate a great stock into any dish, soup or sauce calling for one.

Have additional tips? Post them in the comments section!


  1. Home-made stock is also incredibly nutritious - loaded with minerals! I often have a bowl of plain bone/vegetable broth to start my meals.

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