Today we venture into the area of food that is often overlooked: Stocks. They are always expected to be on the line in the kitchen. It's part of the mise en place that you don't even have to think about because it's so important. They're almost as important as salt and pepper on the line. Yes, that important.
Why are these flavored liquids so important to the production of good food? First let me say that stocks can always be replaced with water but what does water taste like?
NOTHING, exactly, moving along now.
A lot of people ask me, "What's the difference between stock and broth?" Simple. Stocks are made with the carcasses/bones of the animal and broths are made mostly with meat. I believe stocks contain more flavor than broths because of 2 things; cooking time and cartilage.
What? You don't know what cartilage is? Have you ever eaten fried chicken and at the end of the bone is that white, hard looking stuff? That's cartilage. It's the hard connective tissue in joints that hold animal (and our) bones together. You will get most of your flavor from the cartilage because it's protein. Normally it takes about an hour to make a broth because chances are the meat you're using to make the broth is going to be meat you use in a dish so even though you're cooking it for a long time in water it will still come out dry.
In professional kitchens stocks are usually made with items that you can't eat but still have loads of flavor such as the roots of celery stalks and carrot peels and bones of animals after deboning or filleting. A lot of recipes will say to cook stocks for about 4-5 hours. I say cook it for 8 hours!
And the best way to know if you've succeeded in making your stock is when it cools down it looks like jello, literally. While the stock has been cooking the cartilage breaks down and turns into gelatin (Jell-o is made of gelatin, FYI). So it literally MELTS into the liquid. Stocks can be used for numerous things: making sauces, thinning out a sauce that's too thick, making soups or glazing.
There are so many dishes made with stock that a lot of people aren't aware of. How do you think gravy for Thanksgiving is made or chicken pot pie? It's so easy to make but people are afraid of it. Three ingredients - flour, butter, stock. Make your roux and add stock and BAM! You have gravy.
For pot pie you would do the same thing but make it a little thicker and add your veggies and meat and then BAM! You have pot pie.
Risotto is also made with chicken stock but that's for another blog :)
The most important thing to keep in the back of your mind about stock is when a recipe calls for it, chances are you're going to get most of your flavor from the stock. So if you're making your own stock, LOAD it up with A LOT of bones! If you decide to buy canned broth you can always enhance the flavor by adding in some mirepoix and some herbs and some meat just to bring in a little more flavor. OR what I like to do, when making stock from scratch instead of using water use the canned stuff. That'll give it A LOT of flavor.
Making stocks are easy, really, it just takes a really long time. But the reality is, it's not worth it.
First, unless you have an actual butcher shop near you, it's going to be hard to find chicken bones or veal bones at your local supermarket because no supermarket butchers their own meat in-house. All meat comes in frozen. Chicken is a little easier to work with because you can use chicken wings. Not the whole wing but the last part of the wing that nobody eats because there's really no meat on it. Though there's not a lot of meat on them they contain A LOT of cartilage and they're cheap!
And unless you have your own garden you will have to buy at least 4 oz of each herb because you can't just buy 1 or 2 sprigs of Thyme or parsley. Same thing with the veggies, it's impossible to buy just 2 or 3 stalks of celery. So unless you plan on making 5 or 6 gallons (which is a lot) then just go with the canned stuff (nothing wrong with it, just remember to make it taste better). But if you really are going to make a couple gallons of stock you can always freeze it!
The next time you see a recipe call for stock/broth just remember to appreciate it and respect it. Make it taste as good as you can make it taste—and last but not least, ENJOY IT!