Stocks are flavorful liquids used in the preparation of soups, sauces, and stews, derived by gently simmering various ingredients in water. They are based on meat, poultry, fish, game, or seafood, and flavored with mirepoix, herbs, and spices. Vegetable stocks are prepared with an assortment of produce, or intensely flavored with a single ingredient, such as mushrooms, tomatoes, or leeks.
There are different French terms used for stocks, including; fond, broth, bouillon, fumet, and nage. The term fond, meaning base, is a fitting definition for these liquids because they are the foundation of many different food preparations. The terms stock, broth, and bouillon can be confusing but they are essentially quite similar. A broth is usually made from simmered meats, while a stock is made from the bones. A bouillon, from the French term bouillir, meaning to boil, can be any liquid produced by simmering ingredients in water. Fumet is a concentrated liquid that often contains wine, and nage, meaning to swim, refers to cooking ingredients in a court bouillon, and is often associated with shellfish.
Stocks are divided into white and brown categories. White stock is uncolored and subtle flavored, while a brown stock uses roasted components to create a rich color and robust flavor. Depending on the desired outcome, any stock can be white or brown. A stock can also be as simple as the Japanese preparation of Dashi, a light stock made with dried seaweed (Kombu), dried bonito fish flakes (Katsuobushi), and mushrooms (shiitakes).
Stocks are prepared with a few basic ingredients including bones, mirepoix, herbs and spices, and sometimes tomatoes or wine. They are often prepared using leftover ingredients as a cost-effective measure for the kitchen.
Always remember to make sure the ingredients are of good quality, a stockpot should never be a dumping ground for old leftovers that are past their prime.
Meat trimmings can be added, as long as they are cleaned of fat and gristle. Aromatic vegetables, usually onions, celery, and carrots, are typically incorporated. Substituting leeks for the onions, or adding garlic, enhances the flavor of a stock. Tomatoes are incorporated in brown stock for color and flavor; they also add acidity and help clarify the liquid.
When preparing a fumet, nage, or court bouillon, white wine is added for flavor and acidity. Standard seasoning includes parsley, bay leaf, thyme, and peppercorns. Other herbs and spices augment the flavors as desired. Vegetable stocks begin with a mirepoix of onions, celery, and carrots, enhanced by additional vegetables, leeks, garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, fennel, and similar ingredients.
Start with high quality ingredients.
Use bones from younger animals, because they have more cartilage that is rendered into gelatin, giving the stock better viscosity.
Cut the bones small, about 3”, to extract the most flavors in the shortest cooking time.
A combination of meaty and marrow bones gives the stock a rich flavor and body.
Meat trimmings are okay, as long as they are fresh and trimmed of excess fat.
Use lean fish bones with a neutral flavor; fatty fish (salmon and tuna for example) have a strong, distinctive flavor that is too assertive for most applications.
When using fish bones, remove the gills, which tend to have an off-flavor.
Mirepoix and Sachet d’epices
A proper balance of mirepoix vegetables, herbs, and spices, is essential to round out the flavor.
The mirepoix can be added at the beginning or end of the preparation process, depending on whether it is a white or brown stock. In a white stock, the mirepoix is added at the end of the process for a fresher flavor. In a brown stock, the mirepoix is often roasted with the bones.
Use a dominant vegetable to create an essence (mushrooms, tomato, fennel, etc.).
Vegetable trimmings are okay to use as long as they are fresh, and used in balance with the other ingredients.
Avoid turning the stockpot into a catch-all for leftovers that should be composted or thrown out.
Parsley, bay leaf, thyme, and crushed peppercorns are the standard seasoning. Other herbs and spices are incorporated depending on the desired results.
Because stocks are basic mise en place preparations, salt is usually not added directly to them, but instead added to later preparations.
Water is the common liquid used in stock preparation. To create a clear stock, always start with cold water
A cold remouillage (second wetting of the stock pot) can be substituted for the water to enhance the flavor of the stock
Ratios for Stocks
Cooking a Stock
Stocks are gently simmered, never boiled, to extract their flavors. They must be started in cold water to gently open and release impurities, caused by proteins in the meat and bones to rise to the top and be easily skimmed from the surface. The bones are sometimes roasted with the mirepoix for a robust flavor or blanched in water and rinsed for a clearer and lighter stock. Vegetables, herbs and spices are usually added towards the end of the cooking process (except when preparing a brown stock) to preserve their freshness and flavor. Once cooked the liquid is strained and can then be used immediately or cooled and stored for later use. The strained bones can be re-wet and cooked a second time with a fresh mirepoix if desired as a way to stretch and maximize the ingredients.
Use a tall pot to prevent too much evaporation, and one with a spigot to make straining the stock easier.
Blanch, sweat, or brown the bones (and mirepoix) if desired.
Start the stock in cold water. As it heats up, blood and other impurities will dissolve in the water and rise to the top.
For ultimate clarity, skim off the impurities as they rise to the surface.
To avoid a cloudy stock do not stir while it is cooking because the impurities will get trapped in the liquid.
Replenish liquid as needed if it evaporates but avoid diluting the flavor and body of the stock.
Simmer the stock gently – never allow it to boil.
Strain the stock using a chinois or china cap lined with cheesecloth.
Cool the stock quickly or use immediately.
There is much debate over how long a stock should cook to extract the greatest amount of flavor. The general wisdom is that fish and vegetable stocks take about 45 minutes to one hour. A poultry stock takes about four hours and meat stocks take up to eight hours. The deciding factor in the length of cooking, especially for meat and poultry stocks, is actually the size of the bones and other ingredients. The smaller the bones are cut, the less time required for extracting the maximum flavor. Famed French Chef Michel Roux states that cooking a fish stock for 30 minutes is sufficient. Poultry and meat stocks should be cooked no more than 2 ½ hours.
A remouillage is a second wetting of the stock pot. After the stock is cooked and strained, rewet the bones with fresh water, and cook a second time. Add mirepoix and a fresh sachet to the second wetting to enhance the flavor.
Glace and Reductions
Finished stocks can be further cooked to concentrate their flavors and increase viscosity. A glace or glaze is the reduction of a stock by 75% or more to a syrup consistency. These reductions can be used for sauces or as a natural soup base.
Tips to Improve Stocks
Cut bones 2”-3” to maximize the flavor and reduce cooking time.
For meat stocks, add gelatinous cuts like veal or pork feet that contributes a smoothness and richness to the stock; Un-smoked ham or pork shanks and pork rind can also be used for the same purpose. Use meat trimmings that are cleaned of fat.
If veal bones are too expensive for the kitchen budget, substitute chicken or turkey bones. A brown chicken or turkey stock can be quite versatile in the kitchen as a light substitute for brown veal or beef stock.
Make sure to balance the ingredients so that the flavor is harmonious. Too much mirepoix in a meat, poultry or fish stock will make it taste either too sweet or bitter and out of balance.
For herbs and spices, prolonged cooking results in loss of flavor; add herbs towards the end of the cooking process to give it a fresh flavor boost.
Avoid adding salt if reducing the stock later.
For brown stocks, caramelize the ingredients for added color, flavor and complexity. This can be done for any type of stock including meats, poultry, fish and vegetable.
Always start with cold water.
Don’t add too much water as it will only dilute the flavor.
Simmer gently and skim to remove impurities that rise to the surface.
For a clear stock, never let it boil and never stir it.
Avoid adding salt if reducing the stock later.
Concentrate the flavors by simmering the stock further after straining.
Make a double or triple stock by substituting a prepared stock or remouillage in place of plain water. Although this can be expensive, it may be suited for some operations that use stocks and reductions in place of classic French Grande Sauces like demi-glace and velouté.