Taking Stock

Do you know how to make a great stock?  You should.

Stock is really one of the more basic building blocks in cooking.  There are plenty of varieties—chicken, veal, beef, vegetable, etc—and all are equally simple to make.  The flavor is usually built in layers from browning the base (chicken, beef, veal, or root vegetables), adding bones (if a meat-based stock), greens, more root vegetables, and aromatics.  Cover all this with water, bring to a boil, and then simmer for a few hours.  Easy, right?

Stocks are one of those things that you should always have on hand.  I know it’s easy to go to the store and buy a can or Tetra-Pak of “chicken broth” or “beef broth,” but you shouldn’t.  Here’s why: NaCl.  Salt.  Even the low-sodium versions have up to 60 percent of your daily intake of sodium in them.  They also have chemicals, preservatives, and artificial flavors.  There is one exception, however.  When I’m in a pinch, I use Nature’s Promise Organic Chicken Culinary Stock.  It also comes in beef and vegetable.  Check the ingredients… you can pronounce everything in there.  It’s well worth the premium you pay for it.

When I’m not in a rush, I prefer to make my own.  It’s surprisingly easy.  In fact, I have a batch of chicken stock simmering on the stove at this very moment.  While there’s no real “recipe,” it’s pretty straight-forward to throw together.  You’ll need the following:

One whole chicken, cut into parts, backbone reserved
2 unpeeled onions, quartered
2 carrots, halved lengthwise and roughly chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped roughly
2 turnips, quartered
2 parsnips, halved lengthwise and roughly chopped
2 leeks, rinsed and trimmed, halved lengthwise
several sprigs of marjoram and thyme
salt and pepper to taste

The chicken stock is easy, and if you use whole chickens a lot, you can save up the backbones in the freezer until you need to make stock again.  In that case, just substitute 3-4 backbones for most of the chicken parts (you should still throw in a couple of legs and wings).  You want to season the chicken parts generously with salt and pepper, then heat about 2 tbsp. of oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Place the chicken parts skin-side down into the hot oil and cook for 6-7 minutes to brown the skin well and render some fat out.  You may need to do this in batches.  You’ll notice a brown crust forming on the bottom of the pan, this is what you’re after—it’s concentrated flavor.

Once you’ve browned off all the chicken parts, you’ll add all of the vegetables at once, then just cover everything with water.  Add your aromatics, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for at least 2-3 hours and up to 5 hours.  At about the 2-hour mark, taste the stock and adjust seasonings as needed.  I find that you need a lot less salt than you think.  Usually the initial seasoning of the chicken plus one or two teaspoons is enough for my palate.  Your mileage may vary.

After you’ve hit your sweet-spot flavor-wise, line a large colander with cheesecloth, and strain the stock into another large stockpot.  Remove the chicken parts and place on a baking sheet to cool.  Press the remaining solids to extract all the liquid from them, and then chill the stock in the fridge until all the fat has solidified and risen to the top.  Scoop off fat and discard.  What you’re left with is 100% natural, homemade stock.  You can portion this out in ice cube trays, small plastic containers, or even zipper bags and freeze until you’re ready to use it.

Beef and veal stocks are easily adapted from this recipe.  You’ll need some cheap cuts of either meat (shank, chuck, and round work) as well as some bones.  The most desirable bones are called “knuckles,” as they have a high cartilage content and really help in the development of gelatin (the gelatin gives you that luxurious mouth-feel that a good pho has).  Most supermarkets sell soup bones, but if not, just ask your butcher.  The bones should be roasted at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes.  You can drizzle a little oil over them if you wish, but it’s not necessary.  You’ll want to season and brown the meat as in the chicken stock recipe, then add the bones, veggies, and water and simmer for several hours (5-6).

Yes, homemade stock is time-consuming, but so little of that time is actually active time.  Really, the end results are worth it.  Once you start making your stock you’ll (almost) never go back to store-bought.

~ by Dave on December 10, 2012.

2 Responses to “Taking Stock”

  1. […] 1 pint good vegetable or chicken stock […]

  2. […] 1 pint good vegetable or chicken stock […]

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