Post questions here: Simmering the Basic Stocks -- Q&A
Unit 2, Day 2, Monday: Simmering the basic stocks
By now you've assembled all your ingredients and equipment. From here on in the process of making stock is amazingly simple.
But before we start, let me encourage you, if you have a digital camera, take pictures. Just as I've documented my eGCI course materials, you have an opportunity to document your own. And on the Q&A thread, you can post pictures to make your questions clearer, or you can post them just because you want to share, or you can document a particular success or failure, or you may have something to add to the lesson that I didn't think of.
Now, on to stockmaking.
Preparing the aromatic vegetables
Halve and peel the onions, peel the carrots, and trim and rinse the celery. Though some people skip this step, taking a couple of minutes to prepare the vegetables this way will give you a cleaner-tasting stock and will aid the transfer of flavor from vegetables to stock. Depending on the size of your stockpot, you may also want to cut the celery and carrots into smaller chunks.
In the pot
The poultry stock
We'll start with the poultry stock, because it's the easier of the two stocks (though both are easy). When you do this in real life, however, you'll be multitasking and working on both stocks simultaneously. I just think, conceptually, it's easier to discuss and illustrate them separately.
Begin by loading the meat, bones, and aromatic vegetables (mirepoix) into the stockpot, and filling with cold water to cover. As mentioned in Unit 1, Day 1, the easy rule of thumb for the mirepoix is to get a three-pound bag of onions, a standard supermarket bag of carrots, and another of celery, for every 16-20 quarts of stockpot space, and to maintain a ratio roughly of 2:1:1 onions:celery:carrots. The carrots and celery combined should be about as much volume-wise as the onions.
All the ingredients, ready to go
If you're lucky enough to have a flexible hose on your faucet, use it to fill the stockpot; otherwise, put the stockpot in the sink to fill (if you'll be able to lift it afterwards) or use a smaller vessel to transfer water (if you don't relish the thought of lifting several gallons of bones and water)
Crank up the heat to full-blast at first. When the stock begins to show small bubbles, turn it down to a lower heat -- just enough to maintain a simmer. You never want to bring stock to a rolling boil, because this will damage the flavor and force too much fat and too many impurities to incorporate permanently into the stock. The simmer you want to achieve will have some of the surface bubbling and some of the surface placid -- the placid areas are where the fat will collect.
As the stock approaches a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer
Within a few minutes of reaching the simmer, or even before, scum will appear on the surface of the stock. Remove this with a skimmer, spoon, or ladle. You'll probably have to skim two or three times, at about 10-minute intervals, before scum stops appearing.
Skim the stock periodically, until scum mostly stops appearing
As an aside, if you happen to be basing your stock on whole chickens, as I've done, you'll want to utilize the breast meat. When the chicken is cooked (this really depends on the size of the bird and a lot of other variables, but for me these 3.5-pound chickens cooked nicely in approximately the first 40 minutes of simmering), pull it out -- I do so by sticking a big fork into the chicken's body cavity. I transfer the chickens directly to the sink because they tend to hold a lot of liquid, and I let them sit for a few minutes until they're cool enough to handle. Then I remove the breast meat with my hands -- it pulls off pretty easily -- and return the rest of the chicken to the stockpot. You can immediately make yourself a nice sandwich (or six) as a reward, or save the breast meat for chicken salad or any number of other preparations.
I also use this opportunity to pick off and discard most of the chicken's skin -- it comes off easily. There's no need to be fanatical about it, but mostly what the skin will contribute from here on in is fat that will need to be removed later anyway.
The chicken stock is now ready to simmer for a good long time. My personal preference is to let it simmer overnight. I usually start my stockmaking after dinner and pull it off the heat in the morning. To me, stock tastes better if simmered for 8-12 hours. But you can get good stock in 3-4 hours or less as well. It all depends on your schedule, and the desired use. In particular, if you truly want a white-ish stock, you will have to cut the cooking short -- any stock left simmering overnight is going to take on brown-stock-like properties.
I check the stock a couple of times in the middle of the night and top it off with a little more water as needed to compensate for evaporation. If you're not intimately familiar with the simmering properties of your stove, you probably shouldn't leave stock on overnight the first time you make it -- but eventually you'll be able to set everything such that there's no worry of the stock boiling or becoming too cool.
The meat stock
Stocks are traditionally divided into "white" and "brown" stocks. The chicken stock we've been making is a "white" stock. It will be an excellent base for -- you guessed it -- white sauces because of its mellow flavor and light color. But we easily could have made a brown poultry-stock instead.
Brown stocks have additional flavors (nutty, roasted) and more color (a reddish brown) than white stocks. The nutty, roasted flavor comes largely from roasting the bones prior to making the stock, and the rich reddish-brown color comes from a combination of the roasted bones and a tomato product. The easiest tomato product to use is tomato paste.
So, if we had roasted our chicken bones and added a little tomato paste, we'd have created a brown poultry-stock. In my opinion, however, poultry stocks are better suited to being white and meat stocks are better suited to being brown. But it's certainly possible to make a white stock from beef or veal -- in classical cooking this would be an important ingredient to have on hand.
In order to demonstrate the difference between white and brown meat stocks I started out making a white stock and then converted it over to a brown stock. You already know the basic process from the chicken-stock above, so this will be a little more elaborate. You can streamline as you see fit, or you can even split the stock into a white batch and a brown batch if you like.
Because beef bones give off substantially more scum and blood than chicken bones, it's easier to "wash" them than it is to throw all the ingredients into the stockpot right off the bat. What I would do for a white stock is put the bones in the stockpot, cover them with water, bring to a boil, pour off the water-and-scum, refill the pot, and repeat the process at least once more until the bones are boiling clean.
Begin with bones only, no vegetables yet
Beef bones give off a lot of blood very quickly
The scum generated by these bones is quite a bit more than what chicken bones would produce
Washed bones ready to be made into a white meat-stock
Now add the aromatic vegetables (same onion:carrot:celery ratio as with the chicken stock), fill with cold water to cover, and crank up the heat.
Meanwhile, I've been working on the necessary components of a brown stock. Those neck bones from the market got roasted for about 45 minutes in a 375 degree oven. The longer you roast them without burning them, the nuttier and more "roasty" they'll taste. Roasting bones can be extremely messy (lots of splatter potential), and if you do it in Pyrex or uncoated metal you may find yourself with a nasty cleanup job. What I like to do is roast in a non-stick pot like the one shown here. This contains much of the splatter and makes cleanup very easy. But you can roast in anything, including disposable aluminum foil trays -- a good option.
Now, a demonstration of the difference between white and brown stock. Thus far I've brought this stock along as a white one. But I don't want a white stock. I want a brown stock. As explained above, much of the color of brown stock can be achieved by use of a tomato product. The images below show my stock first as it was coming along on the path to being a white stock, and then 60 seconds after the addition of one spoonful of tomato paste.
On the way to being a white stock
Immediately, a brown stock
Afterwards, I added the roasted bones for their additional nutty flavor. Needless to say, if you're just making a brown stock, you can skip all the theatrics above and just make your stock with roasted bones and tomato product in the first place. When you do that, go ahead and actually "paint" the roasted bones with a few tablespoons of tomato paste before adding them to the pot. This adds a deeper, more roasted flavor than just mixing the paste into the water.
Your meat stock, too, will have to simmer for a long time. Again, I prefer 8-12 hours, but this is not strictly necessary (and some would argue that you get a cloudier stock if you simmer for so long -- but as a home cook I don't really care about cloudiness and other cooking-school/professional-chef-geek aesthetic standards).
My stocks, ready to settle in for a night of simmering
Depending on whether you've chosen a daytime or a nighttime stockmaking schedule, you'll move on to Unit 3 either today (Day 2, Monday) or tomorrow (Day 3, Tuesday). See you then.
Post questions here: Simmering the Basic Stocks -- Q&A
When you are ready for the next step, go to Unit 3
Simmering the Basic Stocks - Unit 2 Day 2
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