Monday, November 23, 2009

On the importance of stock: battling water in a world of flavor

The emphasis on stocks in the culinary world used to baffle me a little, but as I’ve matured, my love for a good stock as surpassed just about everything else. I don’t necessarily mean “stock” in the classical sense, so much as any flavorful liquid derived from ingredients. (though that is pretty much exactly what stock is)

In the building flavor, water is the enemy. It dilutes, muffles, and puts a general damper on the good taste the cook is trying create. For this reason I strongly advise against just adding water to a dish in order in increase moisture. One should always hold out for a more flavorful liquid: wine, beer, coconut milk, apple cider. . . or a really good stock.

Great stock is really what sets apart the best soups and saucy preparations. It sets the foundation on which to build depth of flavor. Something you can’t achieve from a can, box, or little cube of msg. (each of which you can find in my kitchen, I’m not an elitist, just an idealist)

This recipe will yield a healthy two quarts of stock, a nine dollar value at the store for around six to seven dollars. Of course the flavor blows the store bought stock right out of the water . . . flavorless drab water.

And yes- it takes a little more effort. But done right, stock is the gift that keeps on giving. First of all it helps you extract great flavor from things you wouldn’t otherwise eat (shells, bones, herb stems, veg. scraps) capitalizing further on maximum value. And while I’m not a fan of the stockpot-is-my-trashcan mentality, stock is a great way use older ingredients on the edge of edible.

AND after I make this chicken stock, I go back and pick the meat off the wings for chicken salad.

Roasted Chicken Stock

Ingredient amounts are rough, reasonable variations will still make a good stock.
3 lbs chicken wings (any bird bones or carcass will do)
3 medium onions, skinned and roughly chopped
3 large carrots, rinsed and roughly chopped
5 large celery stalks, rinsed and roughly chopped
5 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp black peppercorns
2 bay leaves

- 2 cups of wine (I even try to cut back a little on my water use when making stock)
- herbs: thyme, rosemary, sages, parsley, etc etc. in fact about the only herb I wouldn’t put in is lavender. We’re making stock, not soap.

Just don’t add anything from the cabbage family, (broccoli, Brussels, radish, turnip) as they release sulfur in a long cooking process, not something you want in your stock.

For more extensive list of stock do’s and don’ts go here.

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degees. In a baking sheet, spread out your wings and roast for 40 minutes, or the they are nicely browned.

They should get beautifully tanned like this, it makes for great character in the stock.
2. Scrape your roasted goods into an eight quart stock pot and add the remaining wings and your veggies. → This step really only applies if you’re using wings; because callogen cooks out of the wings when roasted, adding a few raw at the end really adds some body to the stock.
Optional: warm you baking sheet over a low burner. Once hot, use a cup of white wine to deglaze. Scraping up and dissolving all the yummy caramelized bits. Add this liquid and bits to the stockpot. This is optional because it can be tricky to manage a lot of hot liquid in such a shallow vessel.
3. Using COLD water, cover your stock fixins by about two inches and set over a low flame. Allow to come to a simmer (just a few bubbles constantly surfacing).
4. Over the next four hours, occasionally take the time to skim the scum of the top.
5. Through a fine sieve strain out the liquid and allow to cool.

Today's addition:
I had this king oyster in my fridge for a while. It didn't have any foreseeable uses coming up, so I thought he might be good for the stock, but I browned him well before adding him in:

Thin slices of mushroom browned well can add huge flavor.

Further crazy ideas: Because I’m nuts, I like to freeze my stocks in ice cube trays. It’s the perfect portion size when pulling together meals for 2-6 people. Just drop in a cube or two of stock and you’re good to go.

Once cold, the finished product should be jelly-like, implying good body and viscosity.
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