The Joy of Stock

No, this hasn’t all of a sudden become a financial page. I’m talking about homemade stocks made by boiling bones and vegetables to extract the flavor and straining through a sieve. Or, in a more nouveau sense, boiling vegetables alone for a much shorter time to extract the flavor and then straining through the sieve. The actual real deal of broths, so much better than what comes in a can or a box (or a cube) from the grocery store.

I save my carcasses in the freezer. One carcass isn’t enough to make a decent pot of stock, I think; might as well save it until I have some more. And then, when I have enough, I’ll often look at them and think, I just don’t have the time to deal with them right now; I’ll do it later.

I finally gave myself a proverbial kick in the pants over the weekend and used my beef and lamb bones to make the tastiest stock de viande I’ve had since…the last time I made my own stock. The truth of the matter is, it’s an easy process: cover bones with cold water, bring to boil, drain and rinse, add vegetables, cover with cold water, bring to boil, let simmer for hours, drain [or conversely, cover vegetables with cold water. Bring to boil, let simmer 45 minutes and drain].

While the stock is simmering, you don’t need to pay any attention to it. You can clean the house, watch tv, go to the store and run some errands, or even sleep! Heck, I did a combination of the above activities while my beef bones were boiling.

The real joy of making your own stock comes after it has cooled, when you pick up the container and you notice that the liquid inside doesn’t flow like water: it has gelled up due to the naturally occurring gelatin in the bones you’ve used. That’s a sign of a well-made stock. For an even more intense flavor (and greater gel effect), reduce your resulting stock until it coats the back of a spoon that you use to stir it (50-75% reduction). Be careful not to scorch the stock while you;re reducing it, or it will get bitter; but properly done over very low heat, you will get glace de viande, or in nouveau terms a beef stock reduction sauce. It is the essence of the hearty beefy flavor,and a small amount drizzled over steak or perogies makes an intense impact on your palate.

So, want the the skinny on making your own stock? Keep reading for semi-exact instructions on what to do. If you want clarification on any of my instructions, don’t hesitate to ask.

Red meat bones take a minimum of 6-8 hours, but letting them go for 12 won’t cause anything more than an intensely flavored stock. Poultry bones require a minimum of 4-6 hours, but letting them go for 8 or 9 won’t cause any problems other than intensifying the flavor either. Vegetable stocks can become bitter if left for much more than 45 minutes, especially if you include broccoli, asparagus, and/or peppers in your vegetable mix.

The traditional vegetables to use in making stock are onions, carrots, and celery. I often include apples, mushroom stems, turnips, and tomatoes. The best time to make them really is this time of year, when the weather [ought to be] cold [not like today, when it's a freakish 60 degrees F in Pittsburgh] so that you can chill your stock in nature’s walk-in cooler. Trying to chill a large amount of stock in your own refrigerator can lead to a rise in its internal temperature and can lead to a shortened life span for the rest of the fridge’s contents. If you want to make stock when the temperature is greater than 40F outside, divide the resulting stock into several containers and immerse them, uncovered, into an ice bath. Be careful to make certain they will stay upright as the stock cools because if water gets into your stock, it’ll destroy your labor.

For an even faster cooling method, wash and save several water or soda bottles. Fill each 2/3 full of water, and freeze as you make your stock. They will serve the function of “ice wands”: large plastic containers filled with water, frozen, and used in the commercial kitchen to chill large pots of stock and soup quickly.

7 Responses to “The Joy of Stock”

  1. Sherri Says:

    Thanks for the ice wands tip!

  2. Alex Says:

    Just wanted to let you know that we linked to your post on our website,
    Question, what do you think? is the boiling really important or could you just do make the stock in a crockpot. Also I once had a friend whose stock was ruined because after cooking for 8 hours the pot had given off a metallic taste. Granted that was in the third world… what is it, aluminum pots that one cant use for long cooking?

  3. Rob R. Says:

    Thanks for the tips on making stock.

  4. jwsharrard Says:

    I don’t have a crock pot so I can’t really speak to its use/disuse from personal experience, but I understand from others who swear by their crockpots that it’s incredibly easy to make stock with, especially the [i believe] newer ones that have a greater control over the range of temperature.

    For my purposes, a crock pot makes way too small of a yield. I use a very large pot over low heat on my gas range and still have no need to pay attention while it simmers.

    I don’t like using aluminum pans for anything. Aluminum is a soft metal, so it’s easy to scrape some of the pan into your food. It also reacts very easily to acidic foods (for proof, use a piece of aluminum foil to wrap a cut tomato or a pan of lasagna and see what happens to the foil!) Not only does aluminum impart a flavor to the food, some studies suggest that aluminum consumption is a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s Disease (another product affected by this link is underarm antiperspirant, as one common ingredient is an aluminum salt that is absorbed through the skin). For most purposes, I prefer cast iron.

  5. Aurora Says:

    As someone who organizes Jesse’s freezer, I might recommend for those of you who are already saving (or are starting to save) carcasses that I highly recommend clearly labeling what type of animal the carcasses are from (e.g., beef, chicken, pig, or other) and the date they enter your freezer; then, put them all in the same place / shelf / drawer of your freezer. When you get enough (or too many) carcasses in your freezer, you’ll know because they won’t be mixed in with the rest of your frozen goods, and you’ll start off on making your own awesome stock.

  6. Tommy Says:

    Ah yes, thank you for giving me just the kick in the ass I needed to do something with the Christmas turkey carcass in my freezer. Turkey stock is officially on my weekend to do list!

    Here’s an old Julia Child (I think) trick: Once the stock is finished, pour it into plastic ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop out the cubes and store them in freezer bags (not a bad idea to double bag). If you’re careful to pour the stock evenly into the trays, one cube should be almost exactly 1/8 cup.

  7. Paul Says:

    Thanks for the article.

    I just have questio for all of you regarding beef jus, or ‘glace de viande”. Is it just the gelatin that makes the sauce thick? Jello does not seem thick when it is warm as beef jus does. You know what I’m saying?

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