Stocks and sauces play an important role in the culinary world. Here's how to master the art of stock...
Before last year, my home cooking skills were, shall we say, basic at best. I could make a mean spaghetti bolognese from scratch, my roast potatoes rivalled those of a carvery, and if I was ever feeling particularly adventurous (read: waiting for payday), I'd even manage a homemade spice bag. But that was it. Anything else I'd eat would be courtesy of dining out or an Old El Paso kit.
Then the pandemic hit. Suddenly I was tasked with cooking every breakfast, lunch and dinner for the foreseeable future. No more picking up an apple on my way out the door to work and calling that breakfast; no more €3.50 lunch deals and certainly no more enjoying dinner at my favourite restaurants with friends. At first, I relied on those same three meals I knew how to cook and ringing up my local takeaway. But after a while, food boredom struck and I was left with no other choice than to step into my kitchen. All of a sudden, I was digging through spice racks, experimenting with unfamiliar produce, and devouring online cooking classes like never before.
Now, I fancy myself as a decent home cook. It may seem selfish to perfect fancy dishes during a pandemic, but my kitchen has been my main comfort during moments of panic. Every new ingredient I’ve purchased or dish I've learned to create has helped to distract me from panic-checking Twitter every five minutes. But as any good chef will tell you, there's always more to learn. That's why I've been inspired to create this series: One Thing Well. Each week, I'll be picking the expert brains of chefs all across the country to learn how to cook one thing well.
This week, Jenny Flynn, head chef at Faithlegg, Waterford, is on hand to deliver a masterclass in stocks.
What is stock?
Stock is a staple in kitchens all across the world as it delivers an abundance of flavour to a variety of dishes, including soups, stews, one-pot meals, sauces and more. At its most basic, stock is the liquid (technically a water extract) that results from simmering animal bones, meat, and/or vegetables with water, often with the addition of aromatic herbs and spices. "It has a direct impact on the finished dish," tells Flynn. "The base of every great dish is a good sauce which is helped by a great stock. It is really popular now to call it bone broth instead of stock but it is the same process."
Stocks are often confused for broths – but as a general rule, a stock is made from bones, where a broth is made from meat and other protein trimmings. Traditionally stock is thicker than broth, since it’s made just from the animal bones—no actual meat—and requires longer cooking to become flavorful. But to make things even more confusing, as Flynn mentioned, stock is also sometimes called bone broth and vegetable stock, which contains no bones at all and is basically the same thing as vegetable broth.
How to make stock:
As is the case with most food staples, ready-made stock is available to pick up in most supermarkets to save you the time and effort of making your own from scratch. But just how homemade pastry trumps store-bought, homemade stock is worth the time – and with Flynn's clever freezer hack, all you have to do is make stock once for it to last a long time. "When the stock is finished, I pour it into ice cube trays to freeze and pop it into stews or make sauces straight from the freezer."
Making stock at home allows you to have complete control over the flavour of a finished dish. Store-bought stocks often contain extra sodium and preservatives, which can make your finished dish taste oversalted. Homemade stock also allows you to use up ingredients that would otherwise end up in the bin –fish heads, chicken carcasses, leek greens– so is also a great way to reduce food waste.
As for the exact how-to, well there's a recipe for that below. But before we can get to that, we first need to understand what ingredients we'll need. "The professional kitchen has a lot of dos and don’ts, for example: always preheat your oven, wrap your herbs in kitchen paper or never season mussels until after they are cooked. Another one is: taste the stock," advises Flynn. "But the main thing to note when making homemade stock – and in everything you do – is to only buy the best ingredients available to you. The old saying 'you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear' - the same is true for a good stock!"
A simple stock recipe
- 2.5kg beef bones
- 3 onions, not peeled
- 1 whole head of garlic
- A sprig of hard herbs as I call them (herbs that can take a lot of cooking robust herbs like thyme rosemary and sage )
- 2 carrots
- 2 stalks of celery
- 4 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp. of black peppercorns
- Put your bones in a roasting tray with the onions that have been cut in four and the garlic that has been cut in half across the middle, I like to put about 500ml of water in the base of the roasting tin to save the base of the tin. Put into a preheated oven at 200C for about 40 minutes just to caramelize the bones - this is where you get the colour for your stock.
- Meanwhile, place a large stockpot on the stove – have about 4-5 litres of water in a jug beside. In the pot add the remaining ingredients, when the bones have reached a nice brown colour add to the stockpot and add the water, scraping down the brown bits from the tin.
- Pour in the water to cover the bones and bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 4-5 hours adding more water if needed.
- After the time, taste to see if your stock has a nice flavour – if not, simmer for longer.
- Strain the stock of all the solid ingredients and put back into the pot and reduce the stock by half. You can freeze this and use as needed for stews etc.
- When making a red wine jus, I dice a shallot and 350ml of red wine and a sprig of thyme, reduce and whisk in a knob of butter in the end for a nice glaze.
- At home I normally make a chicken stock it takes less time I use the carcase of a chicken, when the stock is finished, I pour into ice cube trays to freeze and pop it into stews or make sauces straight from the freezer.
READ MORE: David Bodas' guide to brine