Learn to make a good stock, and a great soup will follow. Thats what Chinese kitchen master Martin Yan (Yan Can Cook) says.
Many good stocks start with what were tempted to toss in the trash: the very carcass that has been picked clean. Thanksgiving ritual includes dropping whats left of the turkey into a deep pot. Carrots, celery and onions from the vegetable platter get dropped in, too. Cold water covers the remnants of the holiday table; its brought to a boil, then reduced to a slow simmer. Hours later or even the next day you ladle up the magic. Good soup often makes the most of whats simply left over.
Anyone who can make a good pot of turkey soup can just as easily make a great stock. Oven-roasted or sautéed meats or poultry with dark, caramelized skin and plenty of bones make the richest-flavored soup bases. Adding a mirepoix (carrots, onions and celery), a bay leaf, and a few patient hours on simmer is the classic formula used to create the depth and complexity most restaurant chefs require.
We can do a simpler version at home and get equally good results. We can even toss the whole chicken in the pot, stripping the meat for later use in that cure-all for winter ailments, chicken soup, and end up with something not too shabby.
Two stocks one beef and one chicken can be had for less than $15 worth of ingredients and can be the start of several great soups or sauces. Once youve made homemade stock or even its step sister, broth, youll do as our immigrant forefathers did, and forget about buying it off the grocery shelf.
Moreover, making stock while doing laundry, watching football, even while writing a feature about uh, making stock, is one of a few multi-task kitchen creations that doesnt suffer while the cook is distracted. (Unless of course, the pot evaporates during an overtime nail-biter...)
The initial prep time for a chicken stock can be less than 15 minutes. Get the pot on the stove on a Saturday morning, walk away and return hours later to a distilled fragrance of what French playwright Moliere claimed was even finer than words.
If it is a beef stock youre after, start with a roasting pan big enough to toss in beef shank, chuck roast, arm blades or short ribs. The more bones, the better. Half a couple of onions, carrots, celery and parsnips. Salt liberally, roast uncovered, and then pour the mess into a 6- to 8-quart stock pot. If youve opened a bottle of red wine, save some for the roasting pan. Deglazing the roasting pan with wine removing all the bits of browned pan juices adds another dimension of flavor. Add 2 quarts of water and simmer slowly for about 3 hours. Time is not critical, but for better flavor, you may want to skim off the foam every 20 minutes or so.
There are probably a half dozen methods for creating stock, but none are precision recipes. Stocks are among the most forgiving of all things that can grace a stove top. Recipes for stock tend to be inexact and many suggest short cuts that range from shattering bones with a tenderizer to pulverizing seafood shells in a blender for fish stock. Depending on what part of Europe or Asia your ancestors called home, the soup simmering on the stove would likely contain the bumper crop from the garden, combined with meat juices from the Sunday roast. Or the heads of the fish left on the platter.
Home gardeners know that less-than-perfect onions, including their tops, can be coarsely chopped and sautéed to jump -start any stock. Onions are essential, the aromatic that carries every other vegetable. Carrots and celery can be sweated with chopped chicken or beef. The idea is to get the ingredients, especially the meats, to quickly release their juices. Salt also is essential. Peppercorns and bay leaf, even garlic, frequently are added. Avoid cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage. While these vegetables may make fine additions to soup, the pungent flavors do not belong in stocks.
Within the fat lies the flavor, but stocks need not be fatty. After the flavors have been concentrated, the bones and vegetables are removed with a slotted spoon. Reserved meat can be used later. Straining the stock in cheesecloth or even through a fine screened sieve or colander removes bone fragments, preserving a concentration of flavor.
Refrigerating the stock overnight brings the fat to the surface, where solids can be easily removed. Pouring cooled stock into muffin tins, freezer bags or plastic containers allows pre-measured amounts to be frozen for later use. As long as stock is sealed tightly, these can be stored in the freezer for up to 4 months.
Finally, you can make a stock in several steps, always refrigerating in-between. Flavors tend to marry overnight, so dont be in a hurry.