Taking Stock

Homemade stock is a secret ingredient of delicious food in the home kitchen.

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Although stocks are a game changer, they are pretty simple. They are made by simmering bones, meat, and/or vegetables with water, often with aromatic herbs and spices. A good stock should have a decent body, along with a mild savory flavor, that enhances, rather than competes with, the sauces, glazes, and soup bases you make with it.

MANY STOCKS TO CHOOSE FROM

There are a lot of different kinds of stocks. Here are a few common ones:

Vegetable – great use for vegetable scraps. Keep a bag in your freezer, and put any pieces in it. Aromatic vegetables like onions, leeks, celery and carrots are treasures. When it's full, you’ll have a great selection with which to make stock. Homemade vegetable stock will elevate any veggie-centric dishes, amping up flavor.

Chicken – this incredibly versatile stock uses chicken bones or carcasses. You can save bones in the freezer or make stock after stripping the meat off a roast chicken. Almost any time a recipe calls for a stock, you can use chicken stock.

Beef – uses beef bones, knuckles, and joints to give the stock a rich, meaty flavor and velvety texture. Often this stock is very gelatinous from the included bones. Use it to make pho, braised short ribs, beef bourguignon, beef gravy, and French onion soup! 

Shrimp / Crustacean – if you ever have shrimp shells or lobster bodies left over after dinner, these are perfect for stock. Similar to fish stock but it only uses the shells of fish. 

Fish – this stock, sometimes referred to as fumet, uses leftover fish heads, bones and carcasses. Great in chowder, paella, and other fish forward dishes.

Almost any time a recipe calls for a stock, you can use chicken stock.

PRO-TIPS

A tall, narrow pot is the best cooking vessel for stock, because it ensures a slow evaporation. When making stock, you want to coax flavor out of the ingredients you’re using, so start by adding them to cold water. This will result in a deeper color and more intense flavor. 

Stock times vary, depending on the protein. Fish stocks are usually simmered for a maximum of 30 minutes, while chicken stock should be simmered for about 4 to 5 hours. The key word is simmer. It is important not to boil your stock, since this will cause fat and water to form an emulsion, resulting in a cloudy, greasy mess. 

Similarly, stirring the mixture will cause the emulsification of fat and water. Throughout the stock making process, coagulated proteins often accumulate and float to the top. It’s a good idea to frequently skim off these foamy pieces, to help prevent a cloudy stock. Remember, don’t cover the pot, when making stock – slow evaporation is the goal, so that flavors can intensify.

If you don’t have time to make your own stock, it’s not the end of the world. There are some excellent packaged options on the market. Just keep an eye on the sodium levels, since they can be loaded with salt. While you might pay a bit more for organic, the meat with which it is made will be healthier and taste better.

It is important not to boil your stock, since this will cause fat and water to form an emulsion, resulting in a cloudy, greasy mess.

THE COOLDOWN

Stocks should be refrigerated immediately after cooking, since they are particularly vulnerable to bacterial growth. The quicker it cools off, the better, so chilling the liquid in a shallow, uncovered container or placing the pot in an ice bath works well. Stirring will help to decrease the temperature even faster. Refrigerated stock will last for between five and seven days or three months in the freezer. Freezing stock in ice cube trays is a great way to ensure you always have small portions available for adding to sauces, rice, and more.