The ability to make a good, clear, flavoursome stock is an essential skill for any cook. It’s an easy but satisfying cooking project for a weekend, a working-from-home day, or a day off. You will be rewarded with a versatile base that you can use for stocks, braises and sauces.
There are a number of different types of stock you could make.
They include vegetable stock, fish stock (made with fish frames, heads, vegetables and aromats), white stock which uses uncooked bones, and brown stock which uses roasted bones for the depth of flavour and dark colour they impart.
Stock can be, but isn’t always, a lengthy process.
A vegetable or fish stock will take between twenty and thirty minutes to make. A white stock using fresh bones takes two to four hours. Brown stock will take four to six hours. Bear in mind when planning that you can’t put the finished stock in the freezer or refrigerator until it has chilled, so factor cooling time into your time plan and start early.
What can and can’t go into the stock pot?
Your stock pot up is not to be confused with your food waste bin! Not every vegetable is suitable for stock-making. Onion, carrot and celery are commonly used, as are parsley stalks, thyme and bay. You may wish to omit celery as it is an allergen. Too much carrot can make your stock a little sweet. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes and celeriac should not be used as they disintegrate during cooking and will make the stock cloudy. Cleaned button mushrooms are a good addition to a vegetable or chicken stock. They help absorb excess fat and lend a nice deep flavour. Fresh bones are ideal for stock making. You can use leftover bones from a roast though the flavour will be weaker. Once you start making stock more often, it will become second nature to save bones, herb stalks etc as you go along.
Don’t add salt to the stock.
If you add salt, it will become very concentrated when you reduce the stock after cooking. It (and anything you make with it) will taste too salty.
What special equipment is needed?
It’s worth investing in a tall narrow stock pot. This prevents rapid evaporation of the liquid. You will also need a ladle for skimming the stock; a J-Cloth or clean muslin; and a chinois (fine-mesh conical strainer), sturdy sieve, or colander for straining it.
Preparing ingredients for the pot
When cutting vegetables for a chicken or meat stock, keep the vegetables in consistent, fairly large pieces of around 5-6cm. Any smaller, and they will break down during the long cooking time. When cutting vegetables for a vegetable stock they can be smaller. When preparing chicken carcasses, remove any excess skin and fat from the inside and out as that will make the stock greasy and cloudy. Also remove any offal from inside the carcass; if left in, it will impart a bitter flavour. Leave any meat that’s still attached to the bone as that will add flavour to the finished stock.
Always start your stock with cold water
Heat the stock up over a medium high heat. Use cold water, not hot as hot water will melt the fat in the bones immediately and cloud the stock. With cold, the fat and impurities that escape from the bones will coagulate slowly which makes it easier to skim.
Slow, gentle simmering is the secret to a fine stock.
Don’t stir your stock as that will disperse any fats and impurities. Take care that bones and vegetables don’t catch and burn as that will infuse the stock with a bitter, burnt flavour.
The French culinary term ‘dépouiller’ means to ‘despoil’ or skim stock
For this technique, you need to have a jug of cold water ready for the first sign of a bubble. As the stock comes to the boil, you can pour in the water to cool the stock rapidly. This solidifies the fats and impurities on the surface making them easier to skim away. You may need to repeat this stage two or three times. Often liquid is lost during this process, so replace levels with cold water.
Passing the stock
To pass the stock, you need a J Cloth or clean muslin cloth and a chinois, which is a fine-mesh conical strainer. If you don’t have one, substitute a colander or sturdy sieve.
Begin by ladling the liquid through the chinois. The stock pan will be heavy so only lift it to pour the liquid once you’re confident you can do so safely.
Reducing the stock
Reducing the stock after cooking helps to concentrate the flavour and makes it easier to store. You may need to reduce it by as much as a half (or even two thirds for rich braises and sauces). You can use unreduced stocks for soups and braises.
It is important to cool the stock as rapidly as possible after cooking.
Bring it down to room temperature then move it to the fridge or freezer in suitable containers as soon as possible. If your meat stock becomes wobbly and jelly-like in the fridge, that’s a good thing. It’s a sign that the collagen in the bones has broken down into gelatine. When you reheat it, it will liquefy again. You can store stock in covered containers in the refrigerator for up to three days. Frozen, it can be stored for up to three months.
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