cucina bene; mangia bene (why you should make your own stock)
We all use stock, broth, bouillon cubes, powders, and pastes in our cooking, but do you know the difference between them and when best to use them? Stock is typically made with bones and some vegetables and aromatics (carrot, celery, onion, peppercorns, bay leaves, etc.), Broth is made with meat, but can also contain vegetables and aromatics. Bouillon in its various forms is dehydrated broth with salt added. It is a very convenient way to make ‘instant broth’ when you need it and don’t have any homemade on hand. I use it to flavor and salt dishes when I don’t have any stock (like the grains and legumes I’ve listed below). The problem with bouillon is that it’s primary taste is salt. The other problem is that it isn’t always made with natural ingredients—-there are too many unpronounceable words in the list of ingredients which is always suspect. But let’s get back to stock. Stock is a flavor base, meaning that it can be used to make sauces or soups (just add meat, veggies, grains, or legumes), and it can be used in place of water when cooking rice, beans, lentils, or other legumes or grains. It can also be added to mashed potatoes instead of milk or cream for a lighter version of a favorite comfort food.
We make our own stock when we have bones from a chicken, turkey, or most recently, pork roasts. I took those bones and roasted them in the oven until they were nicely browned. I then added them to a pot of cold water along with onion, carrot, celery, parsley, bay leaves, and peppercorns; the result was a nice pork stock that I used to make Italian style beans with rosemary and garlic. Stock can be made from any type of animal bones. I made all kinds of stocks while in culinary school in both NYC and Italy: venison, rabbit, pork, fish, shrimp, veal, chicken, guinea hen, and lamb. Vegetable broth is not considered stock, even though the term is used, because it has no bones. We were taught to always save the bones from the animal that was being used for the dish and make stock from them. Not only is homemade stock better than what you can buy commercially, it is less wasteful. Stock is wonderfully easy to make and the measurements or rules on what to use in it are not exact.
When I worked at the restaurant in Italy, we made fresh fish stock from whole fish carcasses everyday. It was used in everything and whatever was leftover at the end of the day (which wasn’t much) was thrown out. The veggies that were used in the stock were all the veggies that we were taught in school never to use: tomatoes, zucchini, carrots (OK to use in meat stock but too strong for fish), and peppers. The stock pot at the restaurant was the catch all for the veggies that were a little past their prime, or were used for something else and were leftover and it was always delicious.
I made turkey stock on Sunday from the turkey we had on New Year’s day. The turkey had been roasted, so I took the carcass, which still had meat on it, and put it in a pot with cold water (there are a few rules for stock making and using cold water is one of them). I added onion, carrot, celery, a few past-their-prime mushrooms, parsley leaves, black peppercorns, bay leaves, and leek. I brought it to a boil and then turned down the heat to a simmer. The other rules are that stock shouldn’t boil because it makes it cloudy, and all the impurities that rise to the surface in the form of foam should be skimmed from the pot as they can give the stock an off flavor. After 2-3 hours, the stock was done and it was time to strain it. The other rule is that once the stock is strained, it should be cooled in an ice bath and quickly refrigerated or frozen to get it out of the temperature danger zone (40-140 F) which can cause food borne illness. Over the past three days, I have used homemade stock to make the mole sauce and the beans we had with our turkey on New Year’s day, paprika gravy, and a spicy sauce for tofu. Who knows what it will go into as the week progresses??
The last rule to remember when making homemade stock is to never add salt (ever) or any really strong herbs such as tarragon, thyme, rosemary, mint, or dill unless the stock is going to be used for a specific dish that will build upon the herb flavor. I hope I have inspired you to go out and make your own stock; it’s easy, delicious, and better for you. Buon Appetito!