Making Stock -Virgil

Time to take stock

This was supposed to be an article about soup. I certainly started off with soup in mind, but the words have a mind of their own sometimes and seem to have veered off on more of a stocky tangent instead.  I guess you can’t talk about one without the other, so it’s all good.
I’ve never really considered soup to be a food, and certainly not a meal- having, as I do, a natural suspicion of things that don’t require chewing. But thanks to some very good restaurant examples of late, and a particularly stunning pumpkin soup executed by my best beloved [from the one and only pumpkin our garden saw fit to produce this summer], I’ve been revisiting my stance.
I’ve been starting to think that I might have been a bit unfair to soup and perhaps just a little ignorant too. While pondering this recently I came to the conclusion that it was all my mother’s fault. You see there are many advantages to being raised by a chef- you have the house to yourself for all sorts of monkey shines several nights a week, and you learn to cook from a professional. The down side to that though is you learn to cook like a professional- in other words complete meals: an unbreakable formula of protein, carbs, plants and sauce.  The idea of soup as a meal doesn’t really exist in the restaurant world, so it never really featured in my schooling.  At least that was my brilliant theory.
My mother however reacted rather strongly when I accused her of neglecting my souply needs.  She was able to tersely rattle off a comprehensive list of soups she made regularly for me when I was wee, including a couple I was taught to make.  Is there some bizarre reason I have suppressed memories related to soup?  That may be a question best left to a therapist at a later date, but what I do remember is being taught the importance of a decent stock. If there is one kitchen skill every adolescent should have under their low slung belt before they leave home (if they leave home), it’s stock making. And on that my mother didn’t disappoint.
Stocks are another one of those great culinary commonalities. They exists everywhere, probably always have.  They are the basis of multitudinous dishes, and the parent of all soups and stews.  Even the most ornate and elaborate soups are only as good as their stock base. 
There are only really 4 types of stock in my books- chicken, beef, fish and vegetable and every cook needs to know how to make them. Dashi, the super-subtle Japanese soup stock, is not without virtue, nor is miso, which is used as a stock in some situations, but while I appreciate both of these, they don’t often fit with my own style of cooking.  The less said about pork stock the better. Horribly piggy stuff- just try to get that smell out of your curtains. Ultimately it’s the big 4 listed above that really count.
 
Chicken
I find chicken to be the most useful of all stocks and therefore worth a bit of toil.  It can be used in practically any soup, risotto, pasta and many other situations. It’s best made from browned chicken frames or the leftovers from your last good roast. The latter is my only source of chicken stock these days; since acquiring my own laying hens I won’t touch anything chicken-related if it’s not free range. No problem when it comes to your roasting fowl leftovers, but I’m yet to find a butcher who carries free-range chicken carcases. This is a gap in the market just waiting to be filled.  Chickens are astonishingly stupid creatures, but they certainly don’t deserve to live shoulder to shoulder in smelly, cramped barns, under blinding artificial light with nothing but death to look forward to. Call me arrogant and judgmental, but if you can’t afford free -range you shouldn’t be eating chicken at all.
Anyway, boil the browned bird -bits in a litre or two of water with an onion, a carrot and couple of sticks of celery (Avoid celery leaves as they make for bitter stock). I don’t bother with herbs at this stage; they bring little to the stock and can always be added later.  Simmer for a couple of hours, topping up with more water from time to time. Your stock’s  done when it tastes rich and chickeny and has perfumed the whole house. Strain and use immediately, or freeze for a rainy, soup-worthy day.
My favourite uses: Tom kah gai [Thai chicken and coconut soup, pictured], Hainanese chicken rice
Beef
The same technique (described above) is used with browned beef bones to make beef stock. You’re going for a deep, caramelised flavour from the bones, so don’t skimp on the roasting and be sure to deglaze the tray. There is no moral dilemma about free range versus intensively reared with beef in New Zealand, as all our cattle roam free in the valleys and dales. What exactly is a dale?
I’ve been known to use those bags of dog-bones for making my beef stock (is this something I should admit to?), but any bones of a bovine origin will do.  If you can find them, marrow bones will add an exquisite richness to your stock- (if you can resist slurping out the marrow straight from the oven-hot bones. -this goes wickedly well on bruschetta).
Again, I digress. Traditionally it’s the French sauciers who are thought of as the master of stocks, which form the basis of so many classic sauces, soups and jus. However when it comes to beef stock I consider the Koreans to be the true virtuosos. Korean beef stock [Tang], used in many of this [grossly underrated] cuisine’s hearty, warming soups and noodle dishes, is as complex and multi- layered as a good wine or  whisky.   There’s not much to the recipe- it starts off as above but also includes star anise, ginger, cinnamon and cloves. In the hands of skilled Korean chefs this combination yields pure magic, almost too good to adulterate in any recipe.  In my far lesser hands it’s a pedestrian imposter but still an impressive step up from the usual boiled beef water.
My favourite uses: French onion/shallot soup, Swedish meatball sauce
Fish
Fish stock is a slightly different beast to beef or chicken.  According to most authoritative texts, it should be boiled for no more than 20-30 minutes. I’ve actually made excellent fish stock by boiling it for upwards of an hour, but it’s probably better to err on the side of caution here. Worst case scenario is [apparently] that the stock becomes bitter and unusable. I’ve never had it happen in my kitchen but I’m just sayin’…
A good fish monger will carry fish heads and frames.  They should be super-fresh and super-cheap. Accept nothing else. To make a gorgeous, richly flavoured stock, cover about half a dozen raw, medium sized fish frames with water. Boil for 30 minutes or until the fragrance makes you drool into your saucepan, and it tastes like a pure distillation of very fresh fish [which it basically is]. I don’t add vegetables to fish stock. The fish flavour is delicate and best left untouched. But thats just me.
To shunt your fish stock through the taste stratosphere, smash up a couple of crayfish carcases [also available at some fish shops] in a pan of sizzling butter.  Use a masher to work out all that gloopy brown gunk.  Add half a cup of hot water, half a cup of white wine and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and add to the stock as described above.  Used in chowder this will bring even a jaded palate to its knees.
Fish stock is best and most definitely safest when made and used on the same day. Overly cautious though it may be, I don’t mess around with seafood.
My favourite uses: Chowder, Bouillabaisse
 
Vegetable
This is probably the most neglected of all stocks, which is a shame. It’s more versatile than any of the above, and is the only stock I can be bothered making of a week night. Vegetable stock can be made with just about any vegetables you have in the fridge or garden. The only essentials are onions and carrots. I usually go for something like 2 or 3 onions, a couple of carrots, some celery, a couple of silver beet leaves and a handful of fresh herbs. Be careful with brassica leaves- two or three are ok but too many will make your stock smell decidedly flatulent, and may convey this special quality on to the consumer.   Cover with water and boil the buggery out of it. As always, use your taste to tell you when it’s done. Alternatively,  roast vegetable stock can be made with well browned onions, carrots, pumpkin and parsnip.  This can make a make very good substitute for beef stock.
Vegetable is now my stock of choice for risotto.  It produces a lighter dish with clearer, better defined flavours than the usual chicken stock versions. Believe me, I was surprised too by this discovery. You may have noticed my generally carnivorous leanings in previous articles, but I must concede that in the right place- and risotto is such a place-a good vegetable stock can be just the ticket.
My favourite uses:  Asparagus risotto. Roll on spring.
 
Note: Never salt a stock until it’s finished. Due to reduction from boiling it can end up tasting like the Red Sea.
 
Stock Cubes/Powder
Although I have been known, in a tight spot to make do with organic vegetable stock cubes, I don’t for a minute advocate their use. Their saving grace is that they contain little more than onion powder, yeast and a few herbs. The same cannot be said for chicken, beef and fish stock cubes. The fact that I have no idea what is in them, nor do I recognise their dominant flavours is most disturbing. I have a personal rule of only eating things I understand. Stock cubes are an enigma to me and I’m happy for them to stay that way. Avoid.
 
Carton Stock
A variable group but certainly more acceptable than cubes or powder. Basically, you get what you pay for here. I’ve tried some that were very close to home made and some that tasted more like [in the case of chicken stock] a chicken had bathed in the liquid rather than boiled in it.
Well, the soup article this was supposed to be will just have to wait for another week. There’s still a whole lot more winter to go, so I’m sure I’ll get to it eventually.
 In the mean time, what I’m keen to hear about is how many of you still make your own stocks? Do you have any particular stock tricks or gimmicks up your sleeves?  How and where do you use stock?
Over and out.

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10 thoughts on “Making Stock -Virgil

  1. Very informative and helpful. I confess I have used powered stock for convenience but also make my own vege or chicken stock. Just wondering, what about bacon bones in soup? Is that considered a stock?

  2. Great read, thank you. It’s been a treat to read this article; not only did I learn a little more about how to make delicious, nutritious stock, but more importantly, laughed out loud and giggled and sighed at some of the words and phrases employed. Thank you for the memorable recommendations.

  3. Thank goodness more people are cooking from scratch. There’s only a little Scots blood coursing through my veins but I can’t abide waste. I’ve been making stock for (mumble) years and today was a chicken stock day from my cache of carcases in the freezer and I did vege stock as well. It’s been so cold in Wellington today I thought it would cheer me up to have a warm stove and happy smells through the house. And it worked. One thing I insist on though – browning the meat and veges first. The flavour is lifted to a much higher level, not to mention the colour. I just bung them under the grill in a roasting dish, crank it up full blast and let them go. I also like to reduce them after I skim the fat by simmering for however long it takes without the lid. I freeze them in plastic containers then tip them into a snaplock bag. Divine.

  4. Without using a homemade stock for soup making (or other dishes), then don’t even think of insulting your family,guest or customer. I enjoy making stock as much as I do the subsequent soup. I produce soup on a semi commercial basis and have only ever used my home made stock in those soups. A great homemade stock is the essential base ingredient to any hearty, nutritional and welcoming soup. To know and hear of restaurants/cafes that use water and powdered stock to make soups which they charge $10-$15 for absolutely curdles my culinary pursuit. It is my claim that my homemade stocks alone, the chicken and beef in particular, contain more nutritional benefit, value and goodness than do many of the finished supermarket shelf ready made soups. My chicken noodle soup is one soup in point. Great for the ailing soul!

  5. Thanks Virgil! I’ve been wondering for quite some time exactly how to go about making vegetable stock and didn’t realise it was quite that simple.
    Bring on the weekend for a vegie stock-making fest!\
    We have been making our own stock for quite some time. I’ve used raw chicken and boiled the be-jesus out of it, I’ve used the carcas of the old sunday roast and they all come up absolute trumps. We started doing this as we love risotto in our house and wanted to give it a go and our risotto’s have never tasted better! Like you Virgil, I’m already hanging out for the first of the spring asparagus!!

  6. I knew there was something wrong with that Red Sea reference! I blame my diving-mad friend who was raving recently about the Red Sea. The Dead Sea, however is what I was meaning above. Thanks Lynette. Nothing wrong with Pedants- I’d be in serious trouble if there was!

  7. I have made my own chicken stock for ages but have only recently started making vegetable stock – haven’t tried beef or fish. I put all excess chicken bits – bones, fat, skin etc in a large plastic bag in the freezer and when it is full I tip it into the crockpot and cover with water. I usually add onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves and parsley and let it simmer on low overnight. In the morning I strain it and let it sit in the fridge till the fat has solidified so can be easily removed. I freeze it in 2 cup lots.
    I now also have a bag for suitable vegetable bits – carrot & parsnip peel and ends, the root ends of onions, parsley stems, celery ends etc. I used to put onion skins in too but the first lot of stock I made was quite bitter so I decided to leave them out in future.

  8. I am also a convert of homemade stock but confess to using the tetrapak variety when the freezer is bare or “out of stock” so to speak. I have a plastic container in the freezer into which I continually add chicken bones from chicken pieces and when the container is full, I boil them up to make stock. I also boil prawn shells to make a seafood stock that I use for Asian style seafood soups or a prawn risotto.

    And at the risk of being called a pedant, I think you mean the Dead Sea. :)

  9. I have only just started making my own stocks since my mother-in-law suggested freezing it in disposable plastic cups or old spread containers. At the risk of sounding a little thick (some dim?), I had given up after trying ice cube containers (too hard to freeze a decent amount because you need lots of flat freezer space to keep upright while freezing), or in zip lock bags (usually leak on thawing).

    Now if I have bones left from a roast, I make stock! Beef, chicken, lamb and duck. I agree about pig – the stock has that ‘essence of sludge’ that’s a bit offputting. I think I put the kids off for life after making pork noodle soup from the leftovers of a chunk of pork cooked in the slow cooker.

    I use my stock for… well… any recipe that calls for stock! Freezing in 1 cup portions is great for that.