The Complete Guide to Stocks
Stocks serve as the backbone to the food of any good restaurant. They add flavor to dishes and create rich, delicious sauces. Good food is made great by a good stock. A bad stock only diminishes a dish. While there are powdered versions of stock available, they are no substitute for the real thing. The flavors of a powdered stock don’t come close to a properly cared for stock that’s been made from scratch.
Types of Stock
There are four types of stock: White, Brown, Fish and Vegetable.
White stock is most often made from chicken carcasses, but can also be made from the bones of white meats such as pork or veal for a different flavor. White stock will have an almost delicate meaty flavor. If used to make sauces, the meat flavour may be easily overpowered by aggressive spices or herbs. It is one of the most common stocks used in a kitchen due to it’s versatility.
Uses: Sauces, Soups, Risotto, Consommé, Poaching, Gellé
Brown stock is usually made from beef bones, but can be made with the bones of any red meat. Replacing beef bones with veal bones for a brown stock will result in a more complex and rich meaty flavor and will quite often gelatinize more than the beef would’ve. Brown stock has a deep, roasted meat flavor to it that holds up well, wherever it’s used.
Uses: Sauces, Soups, Consommé, Charcuterie
A fish stock takes much less time to cook than a white or brown stock - only 20 to 30 minutes. Fish stock is always white and is never made with salmon remains for that very reason. The pink flesh of the salmon could discolour the stock. Fish stock also contains an acid, usually white wine The wine helps speed the process by bringing the flavor out of the other ingredients. Fish bones and trimmings are used in a fish stock.
Uses: Fish sauces, Poaching liquid, Seafood soups
Vegetable stock is usually made with a specific purpose in mind. The vegetable stock will have similar base ingredients to a meat stock, but it will have a specific vegetable flavour. It may just be made from a mixture of vegetable scraps, or a specific vegetable to give it that flavor. For example, an asparagus stock might be made from the hard ends of asparagus that would otherwise be thrown out and then used as the base for a sauce for salmon. Like the fish stock, vegetable stock usually only needs 20 - 30 minutes to cook.
Uses: Often specific to the recipe or cherf, poaching liquid, sauces, soups, Gellé
Method for Making Stock
A Note on Mirepoix
Mirepoix is a classic aromatic garnish used in french cuisine. It consists typically of carrots, onions and celery. The ratio for mirepoix is 2:2:1, carrots : onion : celery, or, put more simply, equal parts carrot and onion and half celery. Mirepoix should be under 30% of the total of the bones. If you add too much vegetable flavor, it'll take away from the meaty flavor of the finished stock. In White stocks, carrots are often omitted from the mirepoix because they may discolour the stock.
The Rules of Stock
- Never salt a stock - Stock is usually reduced to make a sauce or a soup. If you add salt at the beginning, then there will be too much salt later on.
- The stock is not a garbage can - The stock pot is a good place for some scraps to go, but don't just put everything in. Everything that's added to a stock will affect its flavor, so don't add anything that doesn't belong.
- Cool it quickly and keep it cool - The stock should be cooled as quickly as possible, to prevent the growth of bacteria and to prolong the life of the stock.
- Skim the surface frequently - The foam at the top of the stock is a collection of impurities, this alone should be enough of a reason to remove it. Removing it will also result in a clearer stock, with a cleaner taste
- Use cold water - You must use cold water at the beginning of your stock if you want it to be flavorful. While the cold liquid is heated, it extracts the flavor of the bones and vegetables.
- Never boil the stock - Boiling a stock may seem like a good idea to make it go faster, but it won't have nearly as many flavor dimensions as a stock that was cooked slowly. Also, boiling a stock will result in it being clouded with protein particles.
- Don't leave a stock unattended - Even though the stock is being cooked as slowly as possible over a long period of time, it's dangerous to leave it unattended with the flame on. You may return to a boiled over mess, or, if you left it overnight, a burnt, unusable disaster.
- Cool the stock before refrigerating it - If The stock is put straight into the fridge after cooking, it will change the temperature of the fridge, likely faster than the fridge can keep up. I've seen a walk-in fridge go from 2C to 10C because of 1 pot of stock. This fluctuation may result in the spoiling of more delicate foods and ingredients, particularly dairies.
- Taste the stock throughout the cooking process - It's important to taste the stock at different stages, so you can determine how the flavor is developing. This way if there's a burnt taste, you can remove overly browned bones.
- Take the time to do it right - Making stock can be a time consuming process, but take the time to do it right, and you'll reap the rewards.
Knowing how to make a good stock is a necessary skill when working in a professional kitchen. It’s a time consuming process, with quite a few steps, but the results are well worth it. A stock made from scratch is a beautiful thing. It’s a unique sense of accomplishment one feels when they check their stock in the fridge the next day and find it nice and gelatinized. As I tell my cooks at work,” a good stock is one that punches you back”. With a finished stock, there are so many things you're able to do, but more on that later.
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