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Quevun

How much of an effect do stocks really have?

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It has always been emphasized in many cookbooks and websites that stocks are very important and key to amazing dishes.

Out of curiosity, I carried out comparison experiments to find out how each ingredient affect the flavor of stocks.

 

I started out really simple: a comparison between pure onion stock and an onions+carrots stock.

They do taste very different, I found that the carrots seem to mellow out the pungency of the onions.

 

But here is the problem, I used the two different stocks to make two batches of potato leek soup.

It was extremely hard to tell the difference between the two batches.

 

I repeated the experiment several times with different ingredients: celery, leeks, parsley, tomato

Again, they do taste different if the stock is tasted alone, but makes no difference when used as a base for another dish.

The only exception was the tomato which adds a lot of acidity and umami.

 

I think I must be doing something wrong or have misunderstood something, but with all these results, I wouldn't be surprised anymore if sugared water yields the same results as onion stock.

Could someone perhaps share some insight regarding the topic?

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I think that the "stock" that people get all rapturous about and say how much it improves things is not the vegetable stock you're working with.  It is the long simmered animal bones.  That extracts gelatin and really does have a nice effect on mouthfeel that boxed broths don't match.  Recipes often suggest that water is OK to substitute for vegetable stock...

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Another variable in stock making is whether you use filtered water or tap water.  Filtered water yields a cleaner stock.

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Without disagreeing with @cdh, I always thought that this comparison was about whether you use stock or just water.

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There are vast differences between various typesof stocks or broth, the concentrates or powders,and whatever your notion of the genre is. I am constantly offended by recipes that offer substitutions. Really! If a particular dish requires a specific building block say so. Otherwise just say "add more umami to taste"?  I swear the whole adding chicken broth to make everything better?! - only a great marketing tool for Swanson et al

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Indeed. Broth isn't water, but it isn't stock either.  I suspect many recipes say stock but mean broth. 

 

Stock is a moderate PITA for the average cook and isn't worth the effort for them. I make it, but cooking is fun for me. 

 

the commercial shortcuts are all lacking...at least the ones I've tried. Knorr is way too salty but has gelatin. Better Than Bullion is too herby and celery-y and still a little salty and no gelatin. Demiglace Gold is pretty good but is low on gelatin. 

 

So so when I don't thaw a tub of stock I'll use DG and throw in a leaf of gelatin. 

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This is kinda one of those rabbit holes.

Depends on the stock, which, depends on the result you ultimately seek, depends on the dish, depends on the the specific ingredients used (not all onions are the same, not all carrots are the same, etc., etc., etc.)

The resulting stock is also different based on the method used to produce it—the result is often usually vastly different.

Ignore rhetoric and find what works best for you—we all perceive stuff differently, we have our unique preferences.

Experiment and go with what works for you.

There is no guru, but you!!!

 

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Posted (edited)

@cdh, I haven't tested meat and bones yet, but assuming that they do vastly improve a dish, I would still question whether it matters that much if you add vegetables to the meat stock. No doubt it will improve the stock, but does it affect the end dish at all?

 

@heidih, despite the discouraging results I got, I find it hard to dismiss stocks because many good cooking references take stocks very seriously. For example, even in the very rational, experiment-driven cookbook Modernist Cuisine, they listed the exact ratios of each of the stock ingredients (weight of onions should be 33% the weight of water etc.). If even Modernist Cuisine think that each ingredient in a stock is important, I can't help but think I'm doing something wrong here.

 

@DiggingDogFarm, maybe you're right that it depends on the result I'm looking for in a dish. Perhaps the usual onion, carrot, celery combination is more of a general purpose stock and somethimes it does not matter whether you have celery or carrot in it.


Edited by Quevun (log)

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Sometimes, water is the favorite choice. I personally prefer french onion style soup made with water, no beef stock. I think there's a stronger onion/thyme flavor and with beef stock it just gets muddied. With water you can sometimes get cleaner, truer flavors. I make my potato leek soup with water, trusting that the leeks and a dash of rosemary will be the stars of the dish. Simple things like rice might give you a better way to taste flavor differences.

 

That said, I am also an advocate for stock, and experimenting. In terms of clean flavor, I tend to prefer single ingredient stocks. For example, I make my NM style vegan green chile stew with celery stock. It adds a distinctly 'green' flavor background to a stew that has a lot of different flavorful ingredients. Soups and sauces are where stocks made from bones really shine, due to their mouthfeel. The classic consomme is simply all about stock it doesn't need a dozen aromatics added to it.

 

In a restaurant,  stock making is a good way to use scraps and trimmings. Having several types on hand means that you can have a more interesting menu. Instead of serving the same rice pilaf with your beef kabab dish and your chicken cordon bleu, you can make two pots each with their own flavor profile. There is a little more work here, but no extra cost. And, I think customers appreciate having different flavors on a menu.

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Posted (edited)

@Lisa Shock I was recently surprised when I tasted the water I boiled mushrooms in (for pickling). It was way way more mushroomy than when I cook them in chicken broth for soup.

 

 


Edited by gfweb (log)
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One way to think about stocks is that they let you front-load much of the labor. If you have a traditional stock that balances a basic meat flavor, gelatinous mouthfeel, and aromatics, then you have much less to worry about when assembling the final sauce or dish. But this isn't the only way to do it. We have many other ways to control texture and mouthfeel now, so it's not mandatory to extract gobs of gelatin. Some chefs prefer to leave the aromatics out, because it's more efficient to add them toward the end when you won't lose so much to evaporation. Basic meat flavors can come from pan drippings or sous-vide bag juices.

 

If your final dish is already full of meat or texture-enhancing ingredients or aromatics, then you'll be depending on the stock much less for these contributions. The stock qualities can become matters of subtlety rather than the broad strokes of the dish. 

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This conversation just brought to mind a thought-- now that we live in a world with such technological wonders as juicers in it, is there a point to making vegetable stock, when instead, you could weigh out 2:1:1 onions, carrots, celery  and a sprig of parsley and run them through the juicer?  If the aromatic flavors are the objective, why not have an ice cube tray of aromatics juice to use on demand?  I should do the experiment myself... but has anybody thought along these lines and done any investigation in that direction?  Juice, clarify, freeze, drop into recipes as needed?

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The original post seemed to be addressing only vegetable broth vs. water. I can't think of any soups that involve meat or chicken or fish that don't depend on or benefit from broth made from the same critter. Most of the "vegetable" soups I make, such as tomato or blended greens use chicken broth or stock, so they won't work for my husband's family, many of whom are strict vegetarians. The only exception is a recipe that has been a staple in family dinners which is really more like a stew or main dish, and that is a black bean and corn chile with a load of fixings and a tomato/red chile base. The nostalgia factor is big, and mine has morphed over many years. It's pretty good made with dried beans and fresh corn.

 

A truly good vegetarian soup is one of the most challenging things to make, in my opinion, and a vegetable stock is very helpful if it is flavorful and well balanced. Most all the commercial veg broths seem awful to me, so I find it necessary to make a broth. Thomas Keller has one that is pretty good. I admit that I am lazy, and when faced with cooking for vegetarians I rarely make soup a part of the meal. Another issue, and I don't know if anyone besides me feels this way, but vegetable broth does not freeze particularly well. I make lots of chicken stock to keep on hand in the freezer, but find that vegetable stock is better when fresh. So that adds one more chore in making vegetarian soups. 

 

 

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3 hours ago, cdh said:

This conversation just brought to mind a thought-- now that we live in a world with such technological wonders as juicers in it, is there a point to making vegetable stock, when instead, you could weigh out 2:1:1 onions, carrots, celery  and a sprig of parsley and run them through the juicer?  If the aromatic flavors are the objective, why not have an ice cube tray of aromatics juice to use on demand?  I should do the experiment myself... but has anybody thought along these lines and done any investigation in that direction?  Juice, clarify, freeze, drop into recipes as needed?

 

You could do, but I'd be loathe to add raw onion juice to a sauce in place of a stock.  I have a feeling that it would remain very harsh, even with further simmering.

 

And there would also be the issue of everything in your freezer being potentially tainted by the aroma of raw onion while it freezes.

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Those knorr stock cubes are the closest i have come to achieve a rich stock from retail products. They call for 3 1/2 cups of water, but i only add 2 cups.

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21 minutes ago, FeChef said:

Those knorr stock cubes are the closest i have come to achieve a rich stock from retail products. They call for 3 1/2 cups of water, but i only add 2 cups.

Do you mean the “jellied” ones?   Keep a bunch of those in my freezer.  

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55 minutes ago, FeChef said:

Those knorr stock cubes are the closest i have come to achieve a rich stock from retail products. They call for 3 1/2 cups of water, but i only add 2 cups.

These aren't the cubes. They are little tubs of Knorr Homestyle Stock. Even the reduced sodium is too salty

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1 hour ago, Anna N said:

Do you mean the “jellied” ones?   Keep a bunch of those in my freezer.  

 

The "jellied" ones now come in cubes?

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Just now, ElsieD said:

 

The "jellied" ones now come in cubes?

I don’t know.  That is why I am asking. I am suspecting he means the little tubs. 

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2 hours ago, gfweb said:

Even the reduced sodium is too salty

 

Yeah, they replace part of the salt (sodium chloride) with potassium chloride—reduced sodium, but just as 'salty.'

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30 minutes ago, DiggingDogFarm said:

 

Yeah, they replace part of the salt (sodium chloride) with potassium chloride—reduced sodium, but just as 'salty.'

Wow. I didn't notice that.

 

I love salt. I'm always saying stuff is underseasoned. I put salt (a little) in desserts. For me to say Knorr is too salty is something. 

 

If it weren't for the salt I'd like the product 

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I've taken to making very simple, minimalist stocks. The standard mirepoix style stock was a good choice back in the day when people were cooking 99% European food but we now live in a more multicultural world. In general, if I'm cooking some western dish, I'm already adding carrots and celery and herbs so the flavor is already present and doesn't need to be reinforced with a stock. I keep my stock to 4 simple ingredients: chicken, onions, garlic, salt.

 

I buy whole chickens and when I break them down, I toss all the carcass and trimmings with salt and then throw them into a pressure cooker and saute over medium heat until the fat has rendered out and the chicken is starting to lightly brown. Then I add one onion and 3 or 4 crushed cloves of garlic with more salt to soften and lightly brown before adding the lid and pressure cooking for 1 hour. I used to make unsalted stocks but adding salt afterwards always produced a one dimensional salt flavor compared to the more mellow flavor of salting throughout. At the end, the stock is mildly seasoned but could easily stand a 2x reduction without seeming too salty. The stock is versatile enough to pair with most any cuisine and is a good middle of the road that's halfway between a white stock and brown stock. That's pretty much the only stock I make nowadays, I no longer make beef stock as I've found chicken stock works acceptably well even in beef dishes. I do make a pork stock occasionally for certain Asian soups and I find it baffling that pork stock isn't at all a part of the Western canon as pork bones provide far more flavor to a stock than beef bones.

 

Electric pressure cookers are a godsend to stock making. The convenience of just being able to throw a bunch of stuff into a pot and get a perfectly clear stock at the push of a button has totally changed my stock game. 

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Another source of minimalist stock is plain old sous-vide bag juices. I accumulate them in the freezer to add them to stock, but in a pinch have used them in place of stock. The flavor is pure and intense. Definitely benefits from some onion / shallot, and wine or other spirit, and it needs acid. But a little goes a long way, the flavors can be pushed in whatever direction you want.

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I realized that I should have written the title differently. I am actually more interested in the effects of each ingredient in stocks rather than the difference between stock and water.

I ran experiments and found that varying the ingredients don't change the final dish much, if at all.

 

I think @paulraphael's explanation made a lot of sense. A stock's contribution to the final dish depends a lot on the final dish.

In my leek potato soup, the large amount of aromatics from the leeks probably overpowered the aromatics from the vegetable stock.

Maybe it would have benefited more from a meat stock since it does not contain any meat.

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For commercial stock/glace, there is no beating More Than Gourmet's products. They're basically made from Escoffier's recipes, contain a boatload of gelatin, no added salt, and are highly concentrated. I keep their roasted chicken stock and their roasted beef stock (glace de viande) on hand at all times. I get it in 16oz containers from Amazon. It keeps essentially forever in the fridge. For. Ever. Their website has a bunch of recipes for quick sauces. It's also useful to fortify other stocks or soups. One of the best things in my pantry.

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