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What Is Stock?
Stock is the liquid—technically a “water extract”—that results from simmering animal bones, meat, and/or vegetables with water, often with the addition of aromatic herbs and spices. It makes up the base cooking liquid for soups, stews, and grains, but also is used in smaller amounts to flavor sauces and braised meats and vegetables.
What's the Difference Between Stock and Broth?
Stocks are often confused for broths. As a general rule, a stock is made from bones, where a broth is made from meat and other protein trimmings. Traditionally stock is thicker than broth, since it’s made just from the animal bones—no actual meat—and requires longer cooking to become flavorful, during which time collagen is released from the bones, making stock thick and gelatinous. Confusingly, stock is also sometimes called bone broth and vegetable stock, which contains no bones at all, is basically the same thing as vegetable broth.
Why Make Homemade Stock Instead of Buying From the Grocery Store?
Making homemade stock allows you to have complete control over the flavor of a finished dish, which is especially important if you’re reducing stock to make a concentrated sauce. Store-bought stocks often contain extra sodium and preservatives, which can make your finished dish taste oversalted. If you use store-bought stock, make sure it is unsalted so that you have control over the seasoning in the dish. Homemade stock also allows you to use up ingredients that would otherwise end up in the trash—fish heads, chicken carcasses, leek greens, and the like.
4 Tips for Making Stock at Home
- Be discerning about what you put in your stock. Stocks often start with a mirepoix, a mixture of aromatic vegetables that are ultimately discarded. Classically, a mirepoix includes onions, carrots, and celery. Then use a variety of bones and tendons, cut to expose as much surface area as possible; the gelatin from them imparts viscosity and flavor. Stocks are often made with roasted bones, a traditional approach that adds flavor and color, but if you find the roasted-bone flavor too strong, you can use brûléed, or burnt, onions, and tomatoes for color.
- During the cooking process, never let your stock come to a boil. Violent cooking will break down the chicken bones and mirepoix, which will cloud your stock. A gentle simmer is what you want, keeping the pot slightly off-center on the burner to that the impurities gather to one side.
- Skim constantly as you go, keeping a bain-marie filled with warm water nearby so you can clean your ladle. Even as you remove impurities, you want to save the chicken fat, or schmaltz.
- The cookware you’ll use will depend on the type of stock you’re making. The longer the cooking time—roasted veal stock, for instance, is far more time-intensive than chicken or fish stock—the larger the pot you’ll need.
Making stock is a commitment, but it’s an invaluable pantry item—one that will change the way you cook more than any other.
3 Different Ways to Make Stock: Pressure Cooker, Stovetop, and Slow Cooker
- Pressure cooker: Making stock in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot will greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to create a flavorful stock, and because the ingredients are steamed, not simmered, in a pressure cooker, they give off fewer impurities.
- Stovetop: The traditional (and time-consuming) way to make stock is on the stovetop. Use an uncovered pot; you’ll have to cook it a lot longer than in a pressure cooker (about 8 hours for a meat-based stock), and due to evaporation in an open pot, you’ll have to adjust by adding more water throughout the process. You’ll also want to make sure that the bones (if using) are always submerged throughout the cooking process. How much water you need to add depends on how much water is evaporating from the stock—every burner, every pot is different. Make sure to cook at a gentle simmer and regularly skim impurities from the surface regularly.
- Slow Cooker: To make meat-based stock in a slow cooker, place aromatics (if using) in the slow cooker and set the bones on top. Cover with warm water so that bones are completely submerged by about an inch, and cook on low for 24 hours.
5 Different Types of Stock and How to Use Them
- Veal stock: Veal stock is made from the bones of young calves and has a milder flavor than beef stock, which makes it more versatile. Chef Thomas Keller’s roasted veal stock is made with veal osso bucco or meaty neck bones and prepared in a pressure cooker. Uses veal stock to make a sauce to accompany pan-roasted duck breast or braise short ribs.
- Beef stock: Beef stock is an essential building block in the kitchen that can add depth to many dishes, in addition to providing plenty of nutrients. Beef knuckles, joints, and feet give the stock a rich flavor and velvety texture. Use beef stock to make beef pho, braised short ribs, gravy, and French onion soup.
- Vegetable Stock: Used as a base for vegetable soup or vegan paella, homemade vegetable stock takes advantage of scraps to create a nourishing alternative to meat-based stocks. It’s also a great use for vegetable scraps: use the leftover woody stems of asparagus to make a simple asparagus stock to build out a spring vegetable risotto. Try using homemade vegetable stock in Chef Gordon Ramsay’s Charred Cauliflower Steak With Olive Pistou and Porcini Mushrooms.
- Chicken stock: Chicken stock can be used for cooking pasta and as a building block for sauces. Reduced and fortified, it can be turned into a delicious soup. Start by cleaning your chicken parts thoroughly—necks, backs, legs, and all—removing any blood bits, liver, heart, or other impurities. The cleaner your chicken, the brighter the flavors of your stock will be. Homemade chicken stock is a great way to reuse chicken bones: you can save bones from a previous chicken carcass in the freezer for later or make stock after stripping the meat off a chicken as you’re cooking the meat.
- Fish stock: Fish stock is great for seafood-based dishes like shellfish paella. Leftover salmon carcass is great for stock, as are red snapper bones and heads. Not all varieties of fish lend themselves to stock, however, so do your research.
How to Store Stock
Once you’ve made your homemade stock, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding the solids. Cool to room temperature on the counter (to prevent bacteria from forming due to rapid temperature change), then refrigerate. For meat-based stocks, remove the fat that solidifies on top of the stock, and save for another purpose.
For longer-term storage, freeze stock in plastic yogurt containers, jars, ziplock bags, or ice cube trays. If freezing in glass jars, be sure to leave enough head space above the stock—at least an inch—so that when it solidifies and expands in the freezer, the jars won’t break.
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