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The Basics of Stock Making
Stock is essential to the creation of amazing food. For centuries, chefs and cooks have been steaming up their kitchens with vats of simmering bones, trimmings, aromatic herbs, and spices, all so they can easily add layers of flavor to the food they create. Stock is the foundation for soups, sauces, dressings, gravies, and more. Bouillon and broths have been created to replace stocks, but they lack the nutritional value and cost effectiveness that stock offers.
In the modern home kitchen, stock making is more important than it has ever been. With the price of food spiking it is an excellent way to stretch the budget. Homemade stock is a pure way to richly flavor your foods that adds no garbage ingredients and very few calories. In fact, homemade stock extracts many of the minerals that are present in bones and vegetables.
Besides adding extraordinary flavor and body to soups, sauces, sides, a well loved stock is a source of calcium, magnesium, iron, collagen, and so much more. Minerals in the bones are extracted into your stock, then later taken into your body where they replenish your own stash of vital minerals.
Incidentally, the human body requires minerals such as calcium, but does not produce them. It is up to you and your diet to ensure that your body gets the nutrients it needs. Homemade stock is an easy way to take in minerals. Minerals that are extracted are easily absorbed by the body because they are from natural sources that your body recognizes. By contrast, manufactured vitamins and supplements are often not made with the precise mineral compounds that the human body recognizes. Homemade stock prepared in the simple, traditional manner is not only delicious, but health enhancing.
Stock costs very little to make. It can be made with leftover bones and cuttings of vegetables. In a sense, stock is like a great food recycler. Save your chicken drumstick bones, bones from beef roasts and pork chops. Just wrap them up and toss them in the freezer until you have enough to do something with. Same for vegetable trimmings. Stock will extract great flavor from carrot tops, celery hearts, onion roots, and even wilty vegetables. Save these by wrapping and freezing or dehydrating.
The ultimate reward to keeping stock on hand is that you can whip up delicious soup or make a truly remarkable sauce with little effort. A good stock made with love from fresh ingredients is far superior to any box, can, or bottle that one could buy in a store. In a fine kitchen, the cook who is in charge of stocks, soups and sauces is typically the most respected cook in the kitchen, trusted with the foundational flavors of a distinctive kitchen. In your own Hot Kitchen, you can be the master of flavor and guru of wholesomeness by learning to love making your own stocks.
There is no one recipe for stock in a home kitchen. Instead, there are guidelines and formulas. The rest depends on what is on hand and how much time can be spent on the stock.
The essentials of stock are:
Bones: for meaty flavor and natural thickening power in the form of gelatin. Also the source of most of the minerals.
Mirepoix: a combination of aromatic vegetables. In western cooking traditionally it is 50% onions, 25% carrots and 25% celery. Vegetables are nice, but they can be skipped or substituted at will. Getting creative with the vegetables can impact the clarity of the stock, which is a concern if you intend to make clear soups. If that is not your intent, have fun with it. As a personal note, I have used carrots and onions, mushrooms, celery and onions, garlic and onions, sweet potatoes, pepper trimmings (no seeds), asparagus stalks, and other numerous combinations with much success. If the cupboards are bare, the bones of the meat that is flavoring the stock will do the job on their own.
Spices and Herbs: According to French tradition, parsley stems, fresh tyme sprigs, peppercorns, and bay leafs are added to the stock. Similar to the vegetables, switching up the herbs and spices can impact clarity, but can do awesome things for flavor.
Stockpot: An 8 quart stockpot is beyond sufficient for most households.
Cheesecloth: Pouring finished stock through several layers of cheesecloth is the best way to achieve a clear end product. For practical purposes, it is not required. A fine mesh strainer will do an effective job of filtering the stock. In a commercial kitchen, all stock is filtered because it results in prettier food. For the home cook it is an optional, albeit nice, step.
Fine Slotted Spoon: For skimming any film from the surface of the stock as it simmers
Let us say that you have just made homemade stock. Now what to do with it:
- Use it within 5 days to make a soup
- Freeze for up to 6 months
- Reduce and freeze or refrigerate (Hot Kitchen’s preferred method)
- Can (Follow USDA approved canning procedures)
- Reduce and Dehydrate
The best method I have found for preserving stock is to turn it into a glace (ultra concentrated stock) and freeze it in ice cube trays. Glace is a fascinating result of several hours of cooking time. It is a pungent package of flavor, body and texture that takes on a gelatin consistency at room temperature; a thick and coating consistency when heated. All of the flavor and love you put into it has been condensed, concentrated and made moldable, versatile and nimble.
To make glace:
- After straining the stock, return the pot to the burner
- Adjust heat and bring it to a low boil
- Cook off 90% of the liquid
- Pour the reduced stock into ice cube trays
- Pop the cubes out and store in a bag or tub in the freezer.
To Use: Use a cube or two to enrich sauces and side dishes. To reconstitute simply add about 8 oz water per cube of glace, then use in place of broth or stocks in recipes.