This week, I’m going to walk you through The Basics of another high-yield skill: making stocks. There’s a good chance you’ve got the message by now: don’t waste food! Everything from bones, herb stems– and even onion skins can give you an awesome base for the next meal. Even better– you can freeze it until you’re ready. Stock isn’t just good for soups and stews– it’s an awesome alternative for sauces, and essential for good risotto (which I’ll circle back to in the next post). Even if you don’t want to be that fancy, a good stock can make a huge difference.
I’ve put a lot of different soups and stews on here, but the stock-making process is usually an afterthought. This time, I’m going to bring in different examples to keep it flexible. Let this be your launch pad regardless of what you’re trying to make.
Choose your starting point: are you using meat/seafood, or just veggies? Do you have full cuts, or just bones/scraps? Either way, getting started is easy– gather up your main components, and heat a small amount of oil in a large pot. Go ahead and add your whole spices in (I’ll explain that later), salt lightly, and add in any aromatics like onions, shallots, leeks, garlic and ginger, and bring it to a boil. For meat stocks, you’re going to get a lot of flavor from the meat and fat, and body from the natural gelatin in the bones. If you’ve ever refrigerated ramen stock overnight, you know exactly what I mean! It’s the key to that hearty texture that can make soup filling.
Step 1: The Base
Now, I want you to get creative here: you can start a stock with nearly anything– I like to use shrimp shells, fish heads, carrot tops, mushrooms, and all the little pieces of things that would otherwise get wasted somewhere between prep and plating. If you’ve ever finished a wedge of parmesan, or other hard cheese, the rinds are even useful here.
All you need is heat and time to get the most out of your ingredients so that when you finally throw things away, you know you did your best! The timing is going depend heavily on your starting ingredients, and of course, the amount of stock you plan to make. Small batches might be ready in under an hour, but if you’re using that monster pot in the back of your cabinet (you know the one), you might need to clear your schedule for a while. Also, do yourself a big favor: cut up everything as evenly as possible so that things cook at the same rate!
Most of the time I start with olive- or vegetable oil, but I might add butter if I’m using things with almost no fat (like those shrimp shells). It’s a good idea to throw your whole spices in early to heat directly in the oil. You see, some spices dissolve better in fats than water, and when heated the oil does a better job of carrying the flavor. Got a few dried chilies on hand? Same– go ahead and toss some in (just remove the seeds first). You can start adding woody herbs (like thyme and rosemary) here too, but leafy herbs’ (basil, cilantro, etc) flavor might start to fade over time, so save them for later.
Once you’re satisfied with everything going on in the pot, top it off with cold water, and bring it to a low boil. Once I start to see bubbles, I lower the heat to keep it there.
Step 2: Seasoning
So, things are moving– you’re on your way with the base…now what? The next of multiple rounds of seasoning. Salt is is really important if you’re starting with water– but pace yourself. You’re going to reduce the stock over time, so everything you put in now is only going to get more concentrated. Let the stock boil for a while, and taste every thirty minutes or so. One pro-tip though: if you’re planning to freeze this for later, keep it simple. You’re inevitably going to forget what you put in there, and it’s usually better to have a neutral base to work with. All you have to do is defrost it, and make your revisions.
Step 3: Color
So this part isn’t really a step, but rather a style choice. Most of the stocks I make are light- to dark brown, either because of seasoning, soy sauce, or because I started with roasted bones. I wasn’t joking about the onion skins either; yellow onion skins, while not edible, give a good amount of flavor, and a caramel-like color to your stock.
If you need a lighter stock– say for classic chicken noodle soup, or ramen, try to hold it at a low boil (although cooking will take longer) to control all the reactions that make the stock change color over time (another food science topic that I don’t know enough about to teach…yet). Let it boil for at least an hour– or much longer to develop flavor. Once you’re happy with your stock, strain it and take it all in. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
If you’re looking for a clearer stock, try skimming the surface occasionally with a spoon to get rid of the “impurities”. I didn’t do it this time, but honestly, it was still delicious.
Step 4: Skim, Strain & Garnish
So now that you’re almost done, and all your solid stuff is removed, you can toss in more herbs, acids, and anything else your menu might call for. It’s better to add these things now to get the brightest flavors. Once you’re happy…and you’re going to be…let it cool down, strain it one more time, and it’s good to go.
Overall, this processes can take anywhere from an hour, to overnight. It really depends on your end goal– but with these basics in mind, you’re already 3/4 of the way there.
What are you going to make with this? Make sure you tag @craving_mad!