Let’s Talk About, Stock, Baby…

Homemade stock is something EVERYONE should be able to do, but not everyone does. Why not? Well to try to tackle that I am going to take you on my journey into perfecting homemade stock. Hopefully, by the end you might be thinking twice before picking up that stuff off the grocery store shelf. 

So years ago I was given Tom Colicchio’s Think Like a Chef. In it he had a recipe for stock that ended up being my go to recipe. This was pretty much the classic recipe of putting a segmented chicken into a pot cover it with water, bring it to a boil, and then skim and rinse the chicken. Then cover the chicken with fresh water, bring to a simmer and simmer on the stove for 1 hour. Skim again. Then you add your chunked onion, carrot, celery, leeks, bay, and peppercorns and simmer for another 15 minutes. Add the parsley and thyme and simmer for another 5 minutes. Then it’s simply strain the stock cool and either store in the fridge or in the freezer if you want to keep it longer.

This is how most of us were taught to make stock. Some people were taught to use the carcass of a roasted chicken. In the end though it was hours in the kitchen standing over the stove having to keep and eye on the simmer and the results were inconsistent from batch to batch.

I would only make it for special occasions and even then it didn’t wow me with the result. Store bought seemed to do the trick and when you’re cooking say something like a thanksgiving dinner you don’t want to add at least 2 additional hours of cooking just to make stock and most of the time you don’t have the stove top space to a lot to it anyways.

That was until I got the cookbook Heston Blumenthal at Home that everything changed. First he explains that making stock with the carcass of a leftover chicken is perfectly fine and economical however there are times when you need something with real character. He then goes in depth on the hows and why of his approach. A couple things that caught my attention was explaining, when making chicken stock to use wings only. The wing houses a lot of gelatin and in his opinion is the key ingredient to any good meat stock. One thing to note is that the heat will make the gelatin breakdown which is what you want to have happen in a stock however a already cooked roast chicken will have already lost much of it’s gelatin in the roasting so your stock would have almost no gelatin if you made it with the carcass.

To get a consistent stock with amazing flavor uses a tool most home cooks either don’t have anymore or are maybe even a little scared of. The pressure cooker. There are all kinds of pressure cookers. Some go on the stove but my recommendation is for Breville’s Fast, Slow, Pro. This is a pressure cooker, a rice cooker, a slow cooker, and more wrapped up into on counter top appliance that gets the job off the stove and requires no attention paid to it.

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The pressure cooker keeps all that delicious flavor locked inside so your stock gets maximum yumminess. (Here’s an interesting thing to note: When you smell aromas in the air that means flavor is evaporating.) Another aspect of cooking stock in a pressure cooker is that you can cook it at a much higher temperature which means it extracts maximum flavor. To start this stock I first put the chicken in a pot cover it with water and bring it just to a boil and skim it. Then I move it all to the pressure cooker. Using a measured amount of water and a specific weight of each ingredient means that each batch will come out nearly identical.

The trick to stock in a pressure cooker is adding the ingredients in steps. Cooking the chicken. Then adding the veggies and cooking again but for a shorter period of time. I should note here that a key piece to adding vegetables is how you cut them. To get the most flavor out of them your want to have maximum surface area as it will allow all the flavor to come out and not be locked inside the thick quartered veggies in typical stocks. To do this I like a benriner. This is like a mandolin but I find it much easier to use. By do this you cut consistent slices which means even cooking. Then finally in the end he has you open the pressure cooker, add the herbs and simply let them steep. Cooking the herbs might muddy their delicate flavors.

Once the stock is cooked it’s all about straining. Depending on what you want to do with it in the end you might want to strain it thoroughly. Since I make large amounts when I make it and don’t know how I am going to use all of it I strain it as much as I can. So I start with straining the stock through a chinois. This is a wonderful tool to have in the kitchen if you ever do purées or anything that you want super smooth. It’s an investment as most will start at about $80 but for silky smooth soups and bisques this is an essential tool.  I then line a fine strainer with wet cheesecloth. It’s important that you wet it as this is what will catch all the small bits. Wetting the cloth makes the cotton fibers absorb the water so then you pour your stock through the weave is tighter letting less particles through and not absorbing as much of your great stock. (A note about cheesecloth: As you can imagine I go through a lot of cheesecloth. In reading Heston’s cookbook he kept referring to it as muslin. So with some digging I found there are thread counts to cheesecloth. I use Grade 90, unbleached  and I buy it in bulk from Cheesecloth.com.)

At this point you could use it but he has you chill it over night so that the fat will rise, the gelatin will set and skimming off the fat will be easier. When you reheat your stock it will liquify so don’t worry about it looking like jello. This only happens when it’s cold or greatly reduced for fine sauces.

Because we have a pressure canner we’re also able to can this stock. This was a total game changer for me in the kitchen. I can’t tell you the number of times I went to make dinner and realized that I never set stock out to thaw. By having it in my pantry I am able to use it at the moment I need to with out any preplanning.

A note about store bought stock and bouillon: These typically are not made with any meat rather a clever use of chemicals and additives that are to emulate the beef or chicken flavor as meat would be too expensive to use. Also canned stocks and broths in the store almost always are a dry power that is made overseas and then rehydrated here in the US and canned. Knowing all this is the primary reason I will take a day or two and plan to make large batches of stock.

 

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