Stocks are a versatile staple in the kitchen, and are made by slowly simmering bones, trimmings, vegetables and aromatic ingredients in water until the liquid has absorbed their flavor. The resulting liquids serve as the foundation for soups, stews and sauces, and can also be used to lend moisture and flavor to many other dishes, as well.
While similar, stocks are different from broths, both in preparation and usage. Broths are made with simmered meat in addition to vegetables and water, and can be seasoned with salt, spices or even wine. Broths are rich and flavorful enough to be served on their own.
Stocks are generally categorized as either brown or white. The principal ingredients of a brown stock are browned first, either in the oven or on the stovetop. Browning yields a darker, richer colored stock with more intense flavor. The main ingredients of a white stock are either blanched first or just simmered in water with aromatic vegetables. The resulting stock is lighter in color and somewhat milder in flavor.
The vegetables used to prepare a stock also influence its color and are selected accordingly. A classic combination of onions, carrots and celery, known as mirepoix, are staple components of stock. Other commonly used aromatic ingredients include thyme sprigs, parsley stems, bay leaf and peppercorns.
Get into the habit of saving stock ingredients and freezing them until you have sufficient quantity to make a batch of stock. Many cooks make a large batch of stock at one time, then divide into smaller portions and freeze for future use. Frozen stock keeps well for up to 3 months.
Tips for Successful Stocks
• Start with the best quality ingredients available to you.
• The ratio of bones to vegetables (mirepoix) in your stock should be about 5:1 by weight.
• Always start your stock with cold water. Cold water extracts flavor better and preserves the clarity of your stock.
• Simmer stocks slowly, uncovered and undistributed. A boiled or vigorously stirred stock will turn cloudy.
• Regularly skim the top of the stock to remove any grease or impurities that rise to the surface.
• Carefully strain stocks and cool completely in an ice water bath before transferring to a refrigerator or freezer. To make an ice water bath, place container with strained stock into a sink, then fill the sink with cold water and ice. Take care not to fill the sink so full that ice water spills into the bowl of stock.