Stock is fundamental, but it’s also easy. All you have to do is remember to keep your bones, giblets, and shells. There is almost nothing as reassuring as having some stock up your sleeve.
Stock vegetables can be defined by what you have on hand, though you should not be too cavalier in your approach to stock, and it does not take too much trouble to have the right vegetables: onions (with skin on, chopped in half); a head of garlic (with skin on, chopped in half); carrots (peeled and split lengthwise); a leek (split lengthwise and cleaned); fennel; celery and its leaf; red onions if you want a darker stock (skin on and cut in half); mushroom peelings if you have some on hand; a bay leaf; herbs, or simply the stems of parsley; peppercorns: please feel free to express yourself.
Other essential ingredient is water; you want to cover your stock ingredients with enough to allow for skimming (which is vital), but not so much as to drown any possible flavor. Bring to a simmer, but not a rolling boil, as this will boil the surface scum back into the stock. I shall again say skim. To know when a stock is ready, taste and taste again, through the timings given below should be a good guide. Have the bones and vegetables released their goodness? Each creature’s stock benefits from it’s own particular approach.
The bits we add to vegetables and water:
You can simply use the carcass of your roast chicken, or your butcher will be able to supply you with chicken bones. Chicken wings are particularly good for stock as are the giblets and neck if your chicken comes with them. Chicken should simmer 1 ½ to 2 hours.
Duck and Goose
These should come with their giblets and neck. Use these, and once you have eaten your bird you can use the carcass. Similarly with game birds: hang on to their little frames once you have eaten the flesh, and pop them in the stockpot. These, too, should simmer 1 ½ to 2 hours.
All good butchers will have veal bones. Ask them to cut them up slightly, allowing the goodness from the heart of the bones to emerge and enrich your stock. Roast the bones to a golden brown in the oven before putting them in the pot with the vegetables (red onions would be appropriate here) and water. Because of the size of the bones this stock will need to simmer longer than the others, about 3 hours. At this point you have veal stock that you can use as is or reduced.
I myself am not a fan of the brown sticky reductions (jus) that many chefs seem partial to, so the following is as brown and sticky as I get—you can get a lot stickier. Brown a new selection of vegetables (including red onion) in a little oil in a pan, then pour in red wine (how much depends on how much stock you have, so at this point you have to make an educated guess as to how much wine your pot needs—between a quarter and a third of the volume of stock) and allow this to reduce by two-thirds. Now add the veal stock, Bring this to a simmer and allow it to reduce by half (stop if it seems to be getting too viscous). Strain out the vegetables and you now have a rich brown veal reduction.
If you are not filleting fish at home ask your fishmonger for the bones and heads of non-oily fish and remove their gills. I am sure if you ask nicely your fishmonger will do this for you. This may prove difficult, as the fish store seems to be disappearing, in which case, but yourself some cheap white but not fatty fish. If you are lucky enough to come by it, conger eel is very good. As regards the vegetables, in the case of fish stock I stick to the green and white varieties. In a little oil sweat your heads, bones, or fish bits, allowing them to color but not burn. Add the vegetables and water. Bring to a simmer, being careful not to boil them, which will give a harsh fish flavor; 45-60 minutes should do.
If you’re planning to eat crabs, lobsters, langoustines, even prawns, keep all their shells, as they make a splendid stock. Place the shells in a pot and crush with a hammer, or the end of a heavy wooden rolling pin, until you have a shelly pulp. In this case, chop your vegetables a mite finer than I have previously recommended, and sweat them in a little oil, not browning, until they are soft and sweet. Add a couple of canned plum tomatoes (not enough to make it tomatoey), crushing them in your hands.
Add the shell pulp and sweat until you smell splendid shellfish things. Add water and simmer until the shells have released their flavor, 1 ½ to 2 hours. When it comes time to strain, ladle the broth and pulp into a sieve and bash it through with the bowl of the ladle, then discard the dry beaten remains in the sieve.
The water you have cooked chickpeas in makes an excellent vegetarian stock.
*Remember: if you have boiled a chicken, ham, or beef, do not throw away the broth. You have created a stock for the next day!*
Recipes taken from The Whole Beast by Fergus Henderson and can be purchased here.
Once you have your finished stock you have the further option of clarifying it, which is the process of completely clearing it of fat and particles.
Some would say the perfect broth should have glistening spots of fat on the surface, to be sopped up with your bread. Certainly clarification is not essential, and then again, sometimes there is a certain splendor in a completely clear broth.
1 pound Raw Lean Flesh; from the same creature as your stock
1 Large, or two small, Leeks; cleaned
2 Egg Whites, with their shells
2 quarts Stock; cold
- In a food processor whizz the meat, leeks, and egg whites (with shells) into a pulp (if you have no processor, chop your meat, eggshells, and leek very finely and mix into fork-whisked egg whites).
- Whisk this mixture into the cold stock in a pan, place on the heat, and bring this up to a gentle simmer. Do not stir again. What will be happening is similar to making coffee in a plunger pot but in reverse. The meat and egg forms a sieve layer which will rise through the stock, collecting any detritus on its way until it forms as a crust on top of the stock. This is why the most gentle of simmering is required, otherwise the crust will break up and be boiled back into the stock.
- Once the crust has become reasonably firm, keep the pan on a gentle heat, otherwise the crust will sink, and lift off with a slotted spoon.
- Finally, if your stock is not clear, then complete the process by straining the stock through cheesecloth or a very fine sieve.