Thursday, October 13, 2011

Flavor Profile: Stock

Stock is the basis of much cooking which is why we inevitably end up needing it eventually. Making stock is a little like making bring everything to a slow boil and then steep the ingredients for a period of time until you've extracted the flavors into the water. Then you strain the ingredients out, and what's left is the broth, or stock, which is then used to flavor all sorts of things.

But why bother? That's what bouillon cubes are for, or those cans of Swanson's, right? Sure, you could buy those, but homemade is soooooo much better. A lot of the ready-made varieties, particularly at conventional supermarkets, contain ingredients I don't like: too much sodium, yeast extract, artificial flavor enhancers, and sometimes chemicals. There are more natural versions without all these mysterious ingredients available at the health food store or Trader Joe's and sometimes I buy them in a pinch. But by making your own you can more readily control the sodium level as well as use ingredients you like best, and it's a whole lot fresher and healthier. That is a huge bonus, I think.

Ingredients for chicken stock
So I would encourage you to make your own whenever possible. You can make a bunch and freeze half of it for later use. Making stock is not hard, and the reward for doing it is a broth loaded with flavor. Stock can be added to rice or other grains instead of plain water when cooking them; to vegetable purees for more intense veg flavor; to poaching liquid; and of course it is the basis of nearly every soup. Since it's Fall and the beginning of what I like to call "soup weather" (just as soon as this heat wave leaves us!), I plan on making stock.

Veggies ready for roasting
Stocks come in a variety of different forms: meat, chicken, vegetable, and something called court bouillon which is typically used to poach fish. Vegetables added to any of these stocks can be either raw or roasted before-hand for an even deeper flavor. The flavor combinations are really endless.

Collect the scraps of vegetables used throughout the week and by the weekend you should have a good amount. You don't want any decayed or badly bruised parts (nothing you wouldn't eat), but ends or the outer leaves of things work well. For meat stocks, bones and other non-edible parts that would normally be thrown out are perfect.

Not every vegetable is suitable for stock-making, however. There are some that are not ideal. Those include cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, artichokes and bitter greens. Some cookbooks mention that asparagus also doesn't make a good stock ingredient but others say it's fine to use. Some books also advise against starchy veggies such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, but then I find them listed in other recipes. Experiment and decide for yourself. 

These, though, are notoriously great for stock:

green onions/scallions
parsley and other herbs
squash (any kind)
green beans
bell peppers

It's important to start with cold water, add the ingredients and more water, if needed, to cover everything, and bring this to a boil. Simmer vegetable stocks for about 30 minutes, meat stocks for about an hour. Strain out the chunky stuff, add salt and maybe some pepper, and voila! you have stock.

So get out that large stock pot you have and rarely use and fire up some broth. And next week, when it's cooler (let's hope), you are ready to start making soup. That's when I'll share with you my absolutely favorite soup recipe.

1 comment :

  1. Wonderful! I wanted to make my own stock but was intimidated by the recipe books. You make it sound so easy and affordable - I can't wait to try it!


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