Cooking School – Making Stock
Stop what you’re doing; go to your pantry. Yes, right now. Grab those boxes of dehydrated bouillon cubes or powders, and toss them out. You won’t need those sodium-laden products anymore. From now on, you’ll be able to make your own stock. You can even store it in the freezer, ready at a moment’s notice.
You’ll need just a few tools. First, if you don’t already have a good-sized pot, go out and buy one. It doesn’t need to be huge, just large enough to fit at least a couple of pounds of meat, chicken, fish or vegetables. Second, you’ll need two mesh sieves and a package of cheesecloth (available at any grocery or kitchen supply store). Third, make sure you own enough plastic, freezer-safe containers to hold your finished stock. Don’t use containers that are too large. You’ll end up having to thaw a lot of stock if you only need a little. Look for containers that hold between three and six cups of liquid. Another tip is to freeze stock in ice cube trays, then transfer the cubes to a plastic freezer bag. That way you always have perfectly measured amounts of stock on hand. Four, labels. Once frozen, all stock looks the same regardless of whether it’s meat, chicken, fish or vegetable. Make sure you mark the containers accordingly.
Stocks usually begin with a variety of ingredients. You can use as much or as little as you’d like. You can even mix up the meat and chicken for an interesting flavour variation. All stocks include vegetables, usually carrots, celery and onion. You should also toss in a selection of herbs and spices, usually parsley and peppercorns. Sometimes I throw other ingredients into the mix, too, like a piece of cheese or lemon rind.
Once you’ve added the ingredients to the pot, add just enough water to cover all the meat and vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about two hours. At that point, taste it to see if it’s as flavourful as you’d like it to be. If not, continue reducing it.
Just a word about salt: classic stocks do not contain even a grain of it. After two or more hours of simmering, a stock might have reduced by three or four cups, which concentrates not only the flavour, but, if you added salt, the saltiness, too. It’s best to add salt either at the very end, or not at all. I admit, however, that I have tossed a pinch or two into the stock as it was reducing on one or two occasions. What can I say? I’m partial to salt!
Straining the stock
This is where you pull out those mesh sieves and cheesecloth. Line one sieve with moistened cheesecloth. Hook it onto the edge of the container. Hold the other sieve a few inches above it. Pour or ladle the stock through the sieve that you’re holding. That one will catch the large pieces of meat, fish or vegetables. Meanwhile, the liquid will seep down through to the cheesecloth-lined sieve, which will catch the small bits that remain. If you don’t own two sieves, all you need to do is first strain the stock through the mesh. Once that’s done, rinse the sieve well. Line it with cheesecloth and strain the stock through a second time. The cheesecloth can actually be cleaned and used again by rinsing it under the tap, boiling it for 15 minutes in water, a pinch of salt and a bit of vinegar. Rinse again in warm water, and hang to dry.
Removing the fat from the stock is actually very easy. Let the strained stock stand for a few minutes until the fat has risen to the surface. Then drop a sheet of paper towel down onto it. When the paper towel has soaked up the fat, remove it. Repeat the process until the surface is free of fat. The method I prefer is to refrigerate the stock. After a few hours, the fat will solidify, and you can scoop it off easily.
If you’d like your stock to be very clear, you’ll have to cool it to room temperature. Drop a few egg whites into it, and they’ll catch all the particles that remain. Strain the stock once more through cheesecloth.
You’ve probably noticed that you can play with the elements that make up a stock. A little of this … a little of that … Add your own favourite ingredient and see what flavour combinations you can create.