In defence of the humble stock

Stock isn't a cube

Stock isn’t a cube

One discussion that every chef will happily go on and on about with other chefs is the secret to making a good quality stock. Every chef reckons they’ve got the magical formula and that no other stock can match their technique.

What is a stock? Firstly let me address the issue of branding. Supermarkets and retail stores are in the business of sales and not food education. The goal is to move products off shelves at the lowest fee possible for the highest profit. Stock cubes are not stock, they’re flavoured cubes packed with flavouring (yes, some do have extracts of beef or chicken), sodium, some have MSG and other things. Those new stock pots of “liquid stock” are also not true stocks. I’ll applaud Woolies because for years they’ve been selling real canned stock but sadly they don’t market it.
A stock is a flavoured liquid made from various primary ingredients. You get white stocks, brown stocks and fumets. White stock examples include poultry and vegetable stocks and take about an hour to make. Brown stocks include beef, veal and lamb (these are the most intricate and time consuming). They take about 6 hours to make and its the stock that’s most used and the one chefs debate most about. Fumets tend to be made from fish and are the quickest to make as fish bones break up quickly and make the stock cloudy if cooked for too long.

Why is a stock important? Well, its the base of every sauce in good quality restaurants. Without a good well made stock your sauces will lack depth and will most likely be dull. Stocks are also used for poaching, for soups, for flavouring recipes and even marinades.

What defines a good stock? A good stock has depth of flavour, a clear consistency and colour, tastes of the main ingredient and is not oily. I’ll explain below how to achieve this. First let me list a few tips:

  • For meat stocks try use bones that have some meat still attached. This will enhance the depth of flavour in your stock
  • For brown stocks younger animals make better stocks as their bones tend to produce more gelatine
  • If using frozen bones, thaw them before hand
  • Rinse bones thoroughly first before using them
  • Make sure the vegetables are all properly cleaned and free of sand and silt
  • Cut your mirepoix (thickly diced vegetable mix made of carrots (or parsnips for a white stork), celery and onion) into evenly matched sizes
  • Cut a hand size piece of cloth and in it place a sprig of thyme, 5 short parsley stems, 1 bay leaf, sliced celery stalk and a teaspoon of cracked peppercorns. Tie the cloth into a small pouch with rope. This is called a bouquet garni and will be used in every stock you make
  • When making a stock use a tall thick based pot, it should be tall rather than wide
  • Always have another smaller pot filled with a bit of water alongside the main stock pot. This will be used for pouring the skimmed impurities into
  • Have a ladle, a large sieve and large plastic drum ready (the drum is for storing the final stock when done.)

Please note almost all chefs don’t measure when making a stock because vegetables and bones vary, we use experience to gauge how much of each ingredient to add. These are just rough estimates, with time you’ll get the hang of it without measuring

Brown Stock
4kg beef/veal/lamb bones
5litres cool water (can be more)
1litre dry red wine
180g tomato paste
500g mirepoix (see explanation above)
1 bouquet garni (see explanation above)
3 spoons vegetable oil

Method:
– Place the bones on an oven tray (if you have a drip tray then use that rather) and roast in the oven at 190 degrees celsius. Remove once they have browned.

– Pour the oil into a tall pot and heat on medium heat
– Add the onions first and allow to soften slightly. Turn the heat up and add the rest of the vegetables
– Stir the vegetables with a large wooden spoon. Keep frying until the vegetables have caramelized and browned slightly.
– Reduce the heat and add the tomato paste and keep stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan. Your goal is get a brown colour and paste.
– Add a cup of wine to the browned vegetable paste and allow to simmer off until thick again. Continue scraping the bottom of the pot with the spoon to “clean” it. Add another cup of wine and repeat this process until all the wine is used up and the paste is a dark brown colour.
– Using tongs (don’t use a spoon, you want to avoid as much fat as possible) add the bones to the pot, stirring to cover them in the paste.
– Add the cold water. Some fat and other impurities will rise to the top of the pot immediately. Using the ladle scoop these off the surface and dump it into the pot of water I mentioned above.
– Once the surface of the stock is clear of as much oil as possible add the bouquet garni.
– Allow the stock to simmer on the lowest heat possible for 6 hours. Every 30 minutes return to the pot and skim the top of impurities and fat.
– Never cover the pot. If the water evaporates too quickly add more cold water

After 6 hours (you may need assistance with this):
– Lift as many of the bones and vegetables out of the liquid as you can with a slotted spoon or kitchen spider
– Place a large enough pot or container IN a larger bucket of ice
– Place muslin cloth, cheese cloth or a piece of cotton cloth inside a sieve and strain the stock through the sieve and cloth and into the container in the bed of ice
– Once done, stir the stock until its cool and then allow it to settle. The fat will solidify and rise to the top of the stock. Skim it off.
– Store the stock in a fridge, more fat will settle on the top. Remove. If properly made, the stock should be gelatinous like a jelly and dark brown in colour.

Chicken Stock
6kg Chicken bones and meat (not skin or fat)
4 litres cold water
1 litre dry white wine
500g Mirepoix
1 bouquet garni
3 spoons vegetable oil

Method:
(Unlike the beef stock about this one is simple)
– Combine the cold liquid and wine in a large pot and place the chicken bones in it. Simmer for 2 hours (NEVER allow a chicken stock to boil)
– Keep skimming the surface of the water with a ladle. This will result in a clearer stock.
– Add the mirepoix after about 30 minutes and allow the stock to simmer for about another hour. Always skimming every few minutes
– Add the bouquet garni and allow the stock to simmer for another 45 minutes (you don’t want to cook a chicken stock longer than this as the vegetables will become bitter)
– Strain the chicken stock the same way as the brown stock (see above)
– Unlike a brown stock a chicken stock won’t get the layer of fat or become gelatinous so make sure you skim and strain it properly and thoroughly

Fish Stock or Fumet
5kg fish bones (of a non-oily fish!)
5litres cold water
1 bottle dry white wine (750ml)
3 spoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 bouquet garni

Method:
– Place the oil, vegetable and fish in a pot and cover with the lid to sweat for 10 minutes
– Once the fish bones are white and the vegetables a bit softer add the water, wine, salt and bouquet garni
– Allow the stock to simmer for 50 minutes whilst continuously skimming its surface
– Strain the stock as described above under the brown stock method

Note: Fish bones break up the longer your cook them resulting in a cloudy and unappealing stock. Don’t be tempted to cook this stock for longer and always ensure the liquid never boils

Vegetable Stock
1,5kg Mirepoix
1,5kg non-starchy veg mix (leeks, tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms etc)
5litres cold water
3 spoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 bouquet garni

Method:
– In a large pot pour the oil and add all the vegetables. Cover with a lid and allow the vegetables to soften (sweat) for 12 minutes
– Remove the lid and add the rest of the ingredients and allow the liquid to simmer for 15 minutes
– Strain and store.

Note: The reason this stock only takes 30 minutes is because vegetables break up after being cooked for a long time, making the stock cloudy. The other reason is because certain vegetables go sour if cooked too long. For a roast vegetable stock roast the vegetables until brown first

There you go! That’s how we make stocks in restaurants and professional kitchens. Like I mentioned above, every chef has their own tweaks and secrets but generally the standard classic techniques are followed. So next time a recipe asks for a certain type of stock, PLEASE don’t use those silly cubes. If making a stock seems too complicated for you remember that these are all liquids, they can be frozen. Make them in large batches and store them in small freezer friendly bags or containers. Grab one whenever you need stock.

Chef Lesego (@LesDaChef)

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