Called fonds de cuisine in French, fresh stocks are the lifeblood of any good restaurant. They are the foundation upon which flavor is created and refined.
In 1903 Georges Auguste Escoffier wrote a book that changed French cuisine, and therefore world cuisine forever, Le Guide Culinaire. In it he begins his first chapter stressing the importance of stocks.
“Indeed, stock is everything in cooking, at least French cooking. Without it, nothing can be done.”
True dat. This is why I deplore the use of anything resembling a bouillon cube. God knows when you use Knorr, and so does Escoffier.
So I will give you a brief run down on how to make your own stock. In the restaurant we made it every day but at home the practical thing to do is to make a batch and freeze it in portions. Wrapped well it can be held frozen for 2-3 months.
So what is a stock? A stock is an infusion, much like your chamomile tea. But instead of dried flowers, we’re going to use dead animals. A stock can be made from any type of base from beef, veal, pork, chicken, fish or even vegetables. The key is to simmer it slowly and give it plenty of time for the flavor to infuse.
Let’s take for example chicken stock, perhaps the most versatile type of stock. I recommend buying chickens whole when possible so that you have the bones and carcasses to make your stocks from after you butcher the chicken.
There are essentially two types of chicken stock, white and brown. Brown chicken stock requires just one more step than white, roasting the bones. A chicken stock should simmer for 1-2 hours whereas a beef or veal stock you would want to give a good 6 hours.
Most butchers and grocery stores sell chicken neck bones and carcasses pretty cheap. Also wings and feet are good for stock. It is very important to include the mirepoix aromatic vegetables as they really give the stock better, more complex flavor.
As the stock simmers, the tendons and cartilage in the bones will break down and release gelatin into the stock, giving the stock body. If you want to increase this you can add feet or oxtail if it’s beef.
Brown Chicken Stock
5 kg chicken bones and carcasses
2 medium onions
2 celery stalks or leeks
3 cloves garlic
3 bay leaves
8-10 sprigs thyme
6-8 parsley stems
1 tsp black peppercorns
Preheat oven to 200c/400f.
Rough chop mirepoix vegetables. Break down chicken carcasses into smaller pieces and rinse the bones until the water that drains off is clear. Lay them out flat on a sheet pan or roasting pan.
Roast the bones until they are brown on all sides turning as needed. They will not brown at the same rate so be sure to remove those that are darker to avoid burning them.
As the bones roast they will render both fat and water. Carefully pour off any excess fat and use caution when opening the oven door as they steam will rush out.
Once the bones are evenly roasted remove them from the pan and place them in a stock pot and add your mirepoix, herbs and peppercorns. Cover with cold water until the ingredients are just submerged. Use water (or white wine) to deglaze or wash the brown bits off of the roasting pan and add that to the liquid.
Put on high heat on the stove until it comes to a boil. As soon as it boils reduce the heat to low.
The boiling will cause the proteins to coagulate and rise to the top. You will see a white foam appearing on top of the liquid. Carefully skim this off periodically as your stock simmers.
Be sure that the stock is not simmering at too much as this will affect the flavor and clarity of the finished product. You should just see a couple bubbles rising to the top.
Once the stock has cooked for about 1 1/2-2 hours you will see the carcasses have begun to break down. Now is the time to strain.
I recommend straining it twice. Once through a strainer to remove the large pieces and again through a fine mesh strainer to remove the rest.
Allow the stock to cool uncovered and then cover and refrigerate.
With this valuable base ingredient you can make literally hundreds of recipes. Try reducing it to make a sauce, flavored with herbs, mustard or any other ingredients. You can use it as a braising liquid and then as a finished sauce once it’s complete. Or gravy, mmmmm….
In this case I used it to make a soup. When you have a finished chicken stock it’s quite easy to make a really good soup.