Soup on Sunday....Stocks

Day 6 of the 31 day challenge

Day 6 of the 31 day challenge

If you cook very often, especially if you like soup, you already know how often recipes call for stock,  also called broth.  You may be like I have always been, and just reach for a ready-made preparation in a box or a can.  They come in a variety of flavors including chicken, beef, vegetable, no-chicken chicken, seafood, and mushroom.  Sadly many of those boxes are full of sodium and other additives and light on nutrition and real ingredients. So no great surprise that we spent a whole day learning about stocks. 

Stocks are one of the most basic preparations in the professional kitchen, and arguable are important to the home cook as well.   In French cooking they are called the "fonds de cuisine," or the foundations of cooking.  So what is a stock?  It is a flavorful liquid made by simmering bones or vegetables in water with aromatic vegetables until their flavor, aroma, body, and nutrition are extracted. You can use a stock to prepare soups, sauces, and as a poaching or braising liquid.  You can use it to cook grains like rice, and is a nice way to add flavor without adding extra fat. 

What kinds of stocks are there?  There are three basic kinds of stocks: white stocks, brown stocks and fumes.  White stocks are made by combining the raw ingredients with cool water and gently simmering. Brown stocks are made by browning bones and vegetables (or just vegetables for a vegetarian version) with mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery)  and tomato paste in fat until they turn a nice dark brown.  You can do this on the stove top or in the oven.  You then simmer this mixture with water.  Fumets are made by lightly cooking the ingredients, adding white wine, and then simmering.   The pot used to make stocks is typically taller than it is wide.  This gives a a smaller surface area so there is limited evaporation while cooking.  Cooking stocks take time.  Vegetable stocks take at least an hour and meat stocks take from 3 hours to 8 hours.  Clearly you can't wait until you need stock to start cooking it!  

I have been of the mind set that stocks are too much effort for the result.  You have to plan ahead, and the flavor you get is often not very robust. Rebecca Katz, one of my favorite cookbook authors who wrote "The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen" and "The Longevity Kitchen" - two excellent cookbooks- has two stock recipes (broths) in her cookbooks, calling them a nutritional powerhouse. She actually calls her preparations "Magic Mineral Broth" and can be made either vegetarian or with chicken. She says her broths are "a rejuvenating liquid, chock-full of magnesium, potassium, and sodium, (that) allow the body to refresh and restore itself. "  So I have been rethinking my position on stocks.  If you put the time into making them, you can add substantial amounts of nutrition to your food.  You might as well get the most out of every food you eat, right? 

We made and tasted 7 stocks in school:  Basic vegetable stock, roasted dark vegetable stock, white stock, dashi stock, mushroom stock, roasted garlic and herb stock, and sweet vegetable stock. All were tasty, some more so than others.  I recommend reading through a variety of recipes, and deciding what will work for you.  (Just ask the google, you will find a ton!) You should plan your stock based on what you want to do with it.  Dashi (a seaweed stock) is great for miso soup.  Roasted garlic and herb would be great for cooking rice.  Roasted vegetable would be great for soup. Taking a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon to make stock for the week or month (you can freeze them) is well worth the time.  Here are some general rules to follow: 

  1. Use fresh, good quality ingredients.  The stock pot is not a garbage pail. If you use old, wilted vegetables, or a random hodgepodge without a plan it will show up in your stock, with a muddy tasting or bland stock. 
  2. If you have the time, roasted vegetables make delicious stock.  You roast the vegetables first and then simmer them in water. 
  3. After you simmer the ingredients,  strain the stock before using or storing.  Use a fine mesh strainer.  Taste after straining, adding salt to taste.
  4. The longer you cook a stock the more intense the flavor will be.  The professional guide is to cook vegetable stock only an hour and then to reduce it  after straining to concentrate the flavors.  This is not practical for the home cook.  Just cook it a couple of hours to get the best flavor.
  5. The smaller you cut vegetables the larger the surface area exposed to the water.  The smaller the cut, the more quickly the flavor will be extracted.
  6. Meat stocks can be delicious and very healthy if you chose to eat meat.  Bones are roasted or cooked to extract flavor and nutrients, especially calcium and phosphorous.
  7. Don't use powdered, ground spices.  They will make your stock gritty and cloudy. 
  8. Avoid strong tasting vegetables as they will be too dominant and strong in your stock.  These include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, and rutabaga. Avoid beets which will make your stock pink, and onion skins and artichokes as they will make your stocks bitter. 
  9. Consider the flavor of the vegetables as you add them to your stock:  Sweet potatoes, winter squash, and corn add sweetness.  Mushrooms will add earthiness.  

Here's the basic recipe for vegetable stock:

  1. Put 5 pounds of (mostly) non-starchy vegetables (carrots, celery, onions, leeks, tomatoes)  chopped in medium size pieces into a stock pot with 5 quarts of cold water.  Add a sprig of thyme, 4 parsley stems, 1 bay leaf, and 1 tsp of whole pepper corns. 
  2. Bring to a simmer and cook for an hour or until there is a nice balanced flavor. 
  3. Strain and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate or freeze until needed. Makes 1 gallon (4 quarts). 
  4. Variation: Combine chopped vegetables with 2 Tbsp olive oil and spread into a single layer on a roasting pan. Roast at 400 degrees until evenly browned on all sides, about 20 minutes  Continue with steps as above. 

If you aren't convinced that homemade stocks are the way to go, or you get in a bind and don't have time, Pacific brand broth is pretty good.  The cartons are BPA free, recycleable, and they use all real ingredients, no additives, artificial colors or flavors, are all organic and don't use MSG or GMO ingredients. 

I plan to make stock and keep it in the freezer.  Put it on to cook one  Sunday afternoon while you watch football.  Strain, cool, and then freeze. Just plan ahead, thaw as needed, and amp up the nutrient content of your food!  

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