Stocks are a foundation of cooking, and yet so few of us take the time to make them from scratch. This morning I went to a Stupendous Stocks class at Portland’s Culinary Workshop. Even though I’ve made beef, chicken, and turkey stocks before, I expected to learn something new. The more I learn about cooking, the more I realize how much there is to know! The basics are no different, especially because most of us learn them without really learning. We assume we all know how to chop an onion, but where were we taught how? I’m not saying there’s a wrong way, but I am saying there is a better way. That’s how I feel about this Stupendous Stocks class—what I knew before was working fine, but my stocks are about to get a whole lot better.
First of all, I had no idea that stock can be separated into two categories—white and brown. White refers to stocks made without pre-cooking the bones, while brown stock requires caramelizing bones before simmering them for the stock. I have only made brown stocks before today, and truthfully I will continue to make stock mostly when I have roasted bones to use up. I’ve also never given a lot of thought to the difference between stock and broth. Stock is a pure, basic building block. Its primary flavor should be the marrow of the bones. Stock has four basic ingredients: water; bones; sachet (usually fresh herbs, black peppercorns, and bay leaf); and mire poix (2 parts onions, 1 part celery, 1 part carrots or parsnips.) Stronger flavors such as leeks, fennel, and garlic should be left out so they don’t overpower the meaty flavor. The exception is if you want a stock that has a strong essence of something—such as lemongrass and ginger—and then you can add it in at an early stage. Keeping it basic gives you more flexibility, since you want to make a lot of stock at once. Stock can be turned into a soup broth by adding in salt and additional vegetables, herbs, and spices.
There are two more bits of wisdom I want pass along. The first is don’t add fat to your stock. It should be fat and salt free. Adding oil, butter, or simmering the skin along with the bones will not add flavor and you’ll just have to skim more fat off once it’s cooked. Since the fat rises to the surface, you should be able to ladle the fat off when it’s hot or skim it off after it’s cooled. The second is that a chinois or china cap is needed to strain your stock. Relying on a standard strainer will remove the larger particles, but it won’t give you that clear, particulate-free stock that you’re aiming for.
I’m freezing my stocks from class so I can be thoughtful about how to use them, but I’ll be sure to let you know when they make it into the kitchen! I’m already dreaming about French onion soup with the beef broth. If you have exciting recipes to share that could make the most of flavorful shrimp, vegetable, or chicken broth, please add them in the comments!