Cooking with Stock

Cooking with Stock

The terms stock and broth are somewhat interchangeable, but stock usually refers to the homemade variety, whereas broth often connotes a canned or store-bought version. Both are the result of cooking meat, fish or vegetables in water and straining out the solids. Brown stock is made with bones, which add flavor as well as body to the liquid. Stocks form the basis of countless soups, sauces and other dishes.

Making the basic

  • To make a basic chicken stock - Use a larger stewing chicken rather than a young roasting bird. The older chicken will have more flavor and more natural gelatin to enrich and thicken the stock. Put the meat (and bones, if using) in a tall, narrow, heavy-bottom pot that will hold the ingredients snugly. Add just enough cold water to cover the ingredients by 1 inch. Adding too much water will make a weak tasting stock. Also add a pinch of salt to help extract flavor from the meat and bones. Heat this mixture over low heat to gently draw out the impurities in the meat, which will float to the top of the pot. Skim off and discard the impurities with a spoon, then add aromatic vegetables and seasonings, such as onions, carrots, celery and parsley, to the pot to give the stock a more rounded and complex flavor. Cook the stock at a bare simmer for 3 to 5 hours. Avoid boiling, which could cause the solid ingredients to disintegrate and turn the stock cloudy. Strain the cooked stock through a cheesecloth-lined colander set over a large pot. Discard the solids and let the stock cool. If you are using the stock right away, blot any fat from the surface with a paper towel. Or transfer the stock to a covered container and refrigerate it. The fat will congeal on the surface and be easily removed.

  • To make a basic beef stock - Follow the directions for making a basic chicken stock (above), but use a flavorful cut of beef that can stand up to long cooking, such as chuck. Tougher cuts of beef that can withstand longer cooking have enough natural gelatin to enrich the stock with both flavor and texture.

  • To make a basic fish stock - Follow the direction for making basic chicken stock (above), but use the carcass and trimmings of lean fish, or use leftover shells from peeled shrimp to make shrimp stock. Reduce the simmering time to 40 minutes.

  • To make a basic vegetable stock - Follow the directions for making basic chicken stock (above), but use a combination of aromatic vegetables such as carrots, onions, celery and cabbage along with herbs such as parsley, bay leaf and thyme. Avoid very strong-tasting vegetables, such as broccoli.

  • To freeze stock - Pour cooled degreased stock into heavy-duty zipper-lock freezer bags, leaving a small amount of empty space for expansion. Press out the excess air, seal the bag and wipe off any moisture on the outside of the bag. Lay the bags on a sheet of waxed paper on the freezer floor or on a baking sheet so that they freeze flat. Then, stand the bags on edge for space-efficient storage. Stock stored this way also defrosts faster than stock stored in plastic tubs.

  • To easily measure and ladle stock into a freezer bag - Prop the bag in a bowl with the edges folded over the rim of the bowl. Use a liquid measuring cup as a ladle, and mark the plastic bag with the amount before filling.

Solving problems with stocks

  • To avoid over-salting stock - Add only a small amount (about 1/2 teaspoon) of salt during simmering. The salt flavor will become concentrated as the stock reduces. Add more salt at the end of cooking if necessary.

  • To save an over-salted stock - Add 1 thinly sliced potato and simmer until the slices are translucent (15 to 20 minutes), which means that the potato has absorbed its fill of salt. Strain the potato along with the other solids.

  • To prevent stock from turning cloudy - Cover the solid ingredients (especially bones) with cold water instead of hot water. When covered with cold water, the blood and other impurities in the bones will dissolve, rising to the surface when the water is heated. If covered with hot water, these impurities will coagulate and disperse throughout the stock, which can cause the solids in the stock to break down and cloud the liquid. Instead, cook the stock at a bare simmer. Be sure to strain the stock through a strainer lined with a double layer of wet cheesecloth to filter out any small particles of solids.

  • To clarify clouded stock - Stir in 2 to 3 egg whites for each 6 to 8 cups of stock while the stock is still hot. The egg protein will attract the particles that are clouding the stock and trap them as it coagulates. Remove the egg white with a handheld sieve, or by straining the stock.

Time savers

  • To save the preparation time - Whenever you cook chicken, set aside necks, backs and other unused parts and freeze them in zipper-lock freezer bags. Thaw them before using to make stock.

  • To make a quicker-cooking stock - Cut all the solid ingredients into small pieces. When more surface area is exposed, the ingredients yield their flavors to the liquid more quickly. By preparing ingredients in this way, you can make a stock in 1 hour instead of 5.

  • To make easy-to-use portions of stock - Freeze the stock in a muffin pan. Once the portions of stock are frozen, pop them out and store them in a zipper-lock freezer bag. When making a sauce, add a cube or two of frozen stock to a hot pan and heat to boiling.

  • To quickly thaw frozen stock - Immerse frozen bags or containers of stock in a bowl of warm water until enough stock has melted and the entire contents can be slipped out and into a pan. Proceed to melt the stock completely in the pan over medium-low heat.

  • To replace fish stock - In a pinch, when 1 to 2 cups of fish stock is required, use 1 to 2 bottles (8 ounces each) clam juice instead. Bottled clam juice is high in sodium, so taste the dish before adding any salt recommended in the recipe.

  • To make a stock from leftover roasted chicken - When making roasted chicken, save the bones, skin and trimmings and place them in a deep saucepan. Add 1 halved onion, 1 quartered carrot, 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon dried thyme and just enough water to cover. If desired, add any leftover vegetable trimmings. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 1 hour, adding additional water if needed to keep the ingredients covered. Strain and cool.

Flavoring Tips

  • To double-boil stock for more flavor - After making and degreasing a stock, simmer it gently until the liquid reduces by half.

  • To reduce stock to a glaze - Continue simmering meat or poultry stock until the liquid becomes a syrupy consistency. Refrigerate for up to several months. Or pour it into ice cube trays or a muffin pan and freeze until solid. Pop out the frozen portions of glaze and freeze them in a zipper-lock freezer bag up to 1 year. Add 1 to 2 portions frozen glaze to any dish requiring a richly flavored stock. Or reconstitute by adding it to 2 to 3 tablespoons boiling water.

  • To make a richer-tasting vegetables stock - Roast the vegetables before adding them to the stockpot. The natural sugars will caramelize and deepen the flavor of the stock

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