Stocks are the basis for many sauces, soups, and other dishes. As such, stock making is so fundamental it is one of the first things taught to aspiring chefs in culinary school. Unfortunately it seems as if it is a skill that is dying out. Stocks are being replaced by convenience products such as flavored bases that often have too much sodium. The really tragedy of it all is that stocks, while taking effort, are not difficult to make. All you really need is a little time and know how.
What exactly is a stock? A stock is a flavorful liquid typically derived from simmering bones in water with some selected ingredients. Some might be saying, “Well isn’t that the same thing as a broth?” Not exactly. Stock differs from broth in that a broth’s flavor is derived from simmering or boiling meat. Stock has a more intense flavor due to the fact that it generally cooks for a longer period. Stock also has a gelatinous quality to it that adds body. This is from the collagen found in cartilage and other connective tissue found in bones. Vegetable broth is the only exception, since there are no vegetable bones.
Stocks are generally classified by what the principal ingredient is with the slight distinction of being a white or brown stock. The only difference between the two is taking the extra step to roast your primary ingredient before making your stock. The ingredients needed for stocks are bones, water, mirepoix, and sometimes additional ingredients for flavor. Mirepoix is a basic mixture of onions, carrots, and celery in a 2:1:1 ratio. The ratio is not a hard and fast rule. It is not uncommon for kitchens to simply save the scraps from prep to use them in stock making. The additional ingredients are optional and consist of things like peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, parsley stems, garlic, and (in the case of beef stock) tomato paste. All these ingredients will give stock a well rounded full bodied flavor.
To make stock you need to start with cold water. Cold water allows impurities from the bones to rise to top so they may be skimmed off. Make sure you have a pot big enough to hold all your ingredients and that the water completely covers the bones. It is also important to gently simmer the stock. Never allow the stock to come to a boil, as this causes impurities and fats to blend with the stock making it cloudy. It is also necessary to frequently skim the stock.
Stock will take time to cook. Chicken stock takes about 5-6 hours while beef stock takes 7-8 hours. Fish and vegetable stock only takes about 30-45 minutes to cook. Once the stock is completely cooked it is important to strain the stock carefully so as to remove all solids. The best way is to use either with a fine sieve or a colander with several layers of cheese cloth. After the stock has been strained it can now be cooled and stored. After the stock has been completely cooled off any excess fat can be easily removed as it will rise to the top and harden. A good quality stock will be clear and have the consistency of loose gelatin when cool.
With stock in hand you have one of the basic building blocks of the kitchen. Without it, a chef simply cannot make quality dishes.
Photos obtained from Chow.com and Epicurus.com.