Taking stock.

From M., 28 October 2010, stock – the basics.

Q: I have a frozen chicken carcass left over from roasting it. I would like to make chicken stock, as a useful stand by stock for stews etc. Can you help?

A: Thanks for writing. I’m glad you asked this question – I’ve been waiting for someone to ask. Stock is a kitchen essential. Our reach in is full of stock – chicken, game bird, duck, pork, veal, beef – and these golden liquids make an appearance in many dishes. Making a weeknight soup? You need stock. Preparing a gravy, sauce, or reduction? You need stock. Braising some short ribs or pork belly? You need stock. Stirring up a risotto? You need stock. Consommé? You know the answer … stock.

Let’s talk about the role stock plays in a dish, so you can understand why it’s so valuable; this will help you make a better stock. Strictly speaking, stock is the essence of bones, a liquid extraction of gelatin, aromatics, and – to a lesser extent – meat. Gelatin is a product of collagen, broken down by heat; as you well know, it has a distinctive mouthfeel. When you add stock to a dish, you impart that mouthfeel – that gelatinous quality – to varying degrees. In a thin soup, it’s barely perceptible; in a reduction, it’s vital. You also lend the hint of complex underlying flavors – leek and onion for savor, carrot for sweetness, celery for a vegetal quality, and the faintly resinous sense of thyme and bay.

So to make a stock, you need the following: bones, cartilage, and other trimmings; vegetables; and aromatics. What vegetables and aromatics? The ultimate purpose of the stock should guide your choice, and your vegetables should never overpower the stock. For non-Asian dishes, that generally means a traditional mirepoix of leek, onion, carrot, and celery. Some people like to leave out the carrot as it can make the stock too sweet; I like it, but I don’t use much. Some other vegetables are fine additions – mushrooms can add umami, parsnips can yield a sweeter stock, and tomato paste is a common addition to beef stock – but others should be considered off-limits. Peppers, crucifers like broccoli and cabbage, and bitter vegetables like radish or eggplant have no place in stock; starchy vegetables like potatoes and squash belong in a finished dish, not in stock. For Asian dishes (particularly Chinese and Korean dishes), a cleaner, purer stock usually features spring onion or scallion, and no other vegetables, although some Asian stocks include a mild radish like daikon.

Similarly, your choice of aromatics depends on the ultimate purpose of the stock. For non-Asian dishes, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorn contribute an herbal quality; cloves also are a popular addition for warmth. For Asian dishes, ginger lends a clean, spicy flavor. Avoid overwhelming herbs like mint, sage, and rosemary, and spices like coriander and cumin.

You said you plan to use a frozen chicken carcass left over from a roast. Excellent. Stock is an excellent way to use bones and trim left over from roasting. That said, your stock will taste cleaner and have more body if you use other cuts as well as – or in lieu of – the leftover bones. Choose collagen-y cuts like chicken or duck wings, necks, backs, and feet, and veal and beef knuckle. For chicken stock, I save and freeze wings, backs, and necks whenever I break down chickens. Roasting the bones will yield a darker stock with a sweeter taste (sometimes a desirable thing, sometimes not). It is an essential step in preparing fond brun (brown stock), but a no-no for fond blanc (white stock). How to decide? If your stock is going to be a silent partner in the dish – as in most risotti, braises, and some sauces – make a white stock and don’t brown the bones or vegetables first. If your stock will be the main attraction – for soup and consommé, or certain other sauces – then roast the bones, and, if you want a sweeter stock, the vegetables.

The basic recipe below provides a good basis for other stocks, like duck stock or veal stock. Fish fumet is similar, but requires white wine and should not be simmered for more than about 20 minutes. For brown veal or beef stock, add a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste to the vegetables and bones when roasting. One caution about making stock to freeze: fish/shellfish fumet does not freeze well. In my experience, it takes on a fishy odor within a couple of weeks. If you aren’t in a position to use your fish stock within a couple of weeks, don’t make it.

After several hours of simmering, you get a pretty good stock. If you like, after straining, use the bones again to make remouillage (literally, rewetting). Simply cover the bones again with cold water and bring to a simmer again for some more hours, skimming as necessary. The remouillage can be used for glace de viande, a highly concentrated stock rich in gelatin and an essential component in sauces.

Basic chicken stock

Many people believe that chicken stock is the most neutral stock, accounting for its widespread use in recipes. Not actually. Chicken stock is the easiest stock for the home cook to prepare, because it relies on ingredients readily available to the home cook, and prepared chicken broth is widely available and an easy substitution. In my opinion, though, fond blanc de veau (white veal stock) is the most neutral stock, and also the most useful. Because veal calves are younger than mature cattle, they are richer in collagen. Veal stock lends the most body to a dish with the least incursion on flavor. That said, chicken stock is fairly neutral, especially if you don’t brown the bones first, and an excellent stock to store for future use.

If you have a pressure cooker, you should consider using it. I previously discussed the role of pressure cookers in producing quick weekday braises, but I didn’t get into their stock-making uses. After reading an article about pressure-cooked stock by Dave Arnold and Nils Noren on their excellent Cooking Issues blog, I asked some reliable sources for their experience-based opinions. Most agreed with Dave and Nils – pressure cooked stock is cleaner tasting and a snap to prepare. And in fact, I now prepare stock at 15 psi. For more on Dave and Nils’s findings, check out their second post on pressure-cooked stock.

Of course, you can make stock in a lesser quantity (the recipe below yields about 6-8 quarts). If you have only a pound of bones, use that; reduce the vegetables by about half and use a small bay leaf. A pound of bones yields about 6-8 cups of stock.

5 lbs chicken bones, especially necks, backs, wings, and feet (if available)
One leek, washed well to remove all dirt and grit and roughly chopped
One medium onion, peeled and halved
2 carrots, scraped and cubed
2 stalks celery, diced
For brown stock only: 2 c dry white wine
One head of garlic, halved around the equator
3 cloves
1 large or two small bay leaves
About 4-6 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together
6-8 black peppercorns

If you wish to make a brown stock, roast the bones in a 400F oven for about 20-40 minutes, or until they begin to turn golden (time may vary widely depending on the type of bones you select). On a separate sheet pan, you may roast some or all of the vegetables as well, although you should not allow these to brown significantly unless you like a sweeter stock. Pour the bones into a large stockpot and deglaze the pan with white wine, scraping up all the brown bits before adding to the pot. If making a white stock, proceed without browning.

Place the bones in a large stockpot. Cover with filtered water, making sure there remains enough room for vegetables. Bring to a simmer. Be sure not to let the stock boil as agitation makes the stock more cloudy. As scum rises to the surface, skim it off with a spoon into a small bowl and discard. Simmer in this manner for about 20 minutes.

Add the vegetables and aromatics and add additional water to cover if necessary. Return to the simmer and skim additional foam or scum. Simmer, partially covered, for about five or six hours. Longer simmering won’t necessarily hurt, but you don’t enjoy that much additional benefit. Add water if necessary.

Strain through a chinois or a fine sieve, lined with cheesecloth if possible. Some people claim that coffee filters work reasonably well for this purpose if you can’t find cheesecloth, but I think the weave is probably too tight. Cool quickly; I generally use a bain marie filled with ice, but you can make an ice bath by stopping up your sink and fill it with ice and cold water about 1/3 the height of your container, place the container in the sink, and stir continuously until the contents are cool.

To store, ladle into freezer-safe containers, perhaps 3-4 cups each, and freeze. A layer of solid fat usually rises to the surface. Remove the fat before using the stock.

Note: To pressure cook, throw everything into the pressure cooker with about 6 quarts of filtered water. Cover tightly and pressure cook for 30 minutes (at 15 psi; don’t include the time it takes to get to 15 psi).

Chinese chicken stock

This is always a white stock. Use it as the basis for clear Chinese soups. Pork actually is quite a bit more common in Chinese soups than in non-Asian soups; if you are inclined to make a pork stock, substitute pork bones for the chicken bones and add 3 1-inch slices of daikon radish to the pot.

One note: the classic dish called Hainanese chicken yields a broth quite like this stock, except without much gelatin. You may want to consider making that dish – which has the advantage of providing delicious poached chicken – using this recipe.

3 lbs chicken bones, especially necks, backs, wings, and feet (if available), or pork bones if making pork broth
One leek, washed well to remove all dirt and grit and roughly chopped
4 scallions, sliced about 2”
4-inch lobe of gingerroot, sliced about ½ inch thick
3-4 black peppercorns
Optional: several slices of daikon radish
Optional: about 2 tbsp Shaoxing wine or dry sherry

Place the bones in a large stockpot. Cover with filtered water, making sure there remains enough room for vegetables. Bring to a simmer. Be sure not to let the stock boil as agitation makes the stock more cloudy. As scum rises to the surface, skim it off with a spoon into a small bowl and discard. Simmer in this manner for about 20 minutes.

Add the vegetables and aromatics and add additional water to cover if necessary. Return to the simmer and skim additional foam or scum. Simmer, partially covered, for about 2-3 hours. Add water if necessary.

Strain through a chinois or a fine sieve, lined with cheesecloth if possible. Cool quickly; I generally use a bain marie filled with ice, but you can make an ice bath by stopping up your sink and fill it with ice and cold water about 1/3 the height of your container, place the container in the sink, and stir continuously until the contents are cool.

To store, ladle into freezer-safe containers, perhaps 3-4 cups each, and freeze. A layer of solid fat usually rises to the surface. Remove the fat before using the stock.

Glace de viande

Technically, a glace de viande is a reduction of brown stock. This glace made with chicken bones is glace de volaille. I doubt anyone outside a French kitchen run by sticklers will hassle you about the difference in names. Use this thick reduction to fortify sauces – the gelatin will lend terrific body and the meat essence amplifies the flavor. Add to pan sauces near the end of cooking, just before incorporating butter. You also can reconstitute it with water to make stock – sort of like a bouillon cube, but better, and less salty.

Bones from stock preparation above
water

After straining the stock, return the bones to the pot and cover again with cold water. Bring to a simmer and skim additional foam or scum. Continue to simmer, partially covered, for at least six hours and up to twelve.

Strain through a chinois or a fine sieve, lined with cheesecloth if possible. Return to a clean pan and bring to a simmer. Reduce slowly, watching as the stock approaches the level of a heavy syrup once about half an inch is left in the pan. Pour the stock into a small shallow pan and refrigerate to cool. When the glace has cooled, it should be quite solid. I generally cut the glace into cubes and freeze.

You may wonder whether it’s possible to make glace de viande/volaille using stock. Definitely – just reduce as specified. Tinned broth, however, cannot be transformed as it contains very little gelatin (if any).

2 thoughts on “Taking stock.

  1. Mark says:

    Very nice summary on the basics and awesone information on all those unpronouncable French variations.

    The pressure cooker idea is one of those slap-yourself-on-the-forehead, why didn’t I think of that things. Gonna go get some bones and shanks and make some soup. Right now!

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