Stock is how to upgrade the water in a recipe. It's the way to get more beef flavor into beef stew than you get from the amount of beef in the recipe. It is the way to make chicken soup with twice the cold-killing power of chicken. In vegetarian dishes, roasted vegetable stock provides a powerhouse of umami, that meaty, rich, and satisfying fifth flavor, after salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. Stock is what bouillon wishes it could be.
I made a pot of chicken stock recently, not because I am low on chicken stock, but because I am rich in bones. Most of the chicken we eat, I buy whole and rotisserie or oven roast. If the whole chicken comes with a neck or any other organ meats, I save them. After carving off the breast meat, legs, and wings of a roasted chicken, I freeze the rest of the carcass, with the raw neck and organs, in a gallon Ziplock bag. When I have a quantity of chicken bits, and time to make it, I do. On a day such as this, when I'm off from work and have some cooking to do, I'll make a big batch of stock and stick around the house while it simmers, keeping it stirred and not boiling too hard. Maintaining a gentle simmer the whole time, not boiling, gives the stock a lighter, more delicate color and flavor, while rapid boiling can bring out bitter flavors.
When I have a quantity of some other kind of bones or scrap meat, I'll make a batch of stock. When I roasted a whole duck recently, I made some stock the same night, rather than wait for another duck to fall into my lap, and the last time I bought a pound of unpeeled shrimp for pad Thai, I did the same thing. Shrimp stock is the easiest: just shells and a little salt. For poultry, and meat stocks, I add bay leaf, sometimes a little thyme, lots of parsley, an onion, a couple carrots, and some celery or celeriac. Use the same for a fish stock, and keep white, mild fish bit for stock together, and stronger fish like salmon separate from both the milder fish and each other.
Livers are the only organs I don't put in stock, because they have a very strong, unstocklike flavor. I save these separately, and when I have a pint or more, I make a batch of chopped liver. I hear they're tasty wrapped in bacon and broiled, too. I might actually try this with duck bacon for Passover.
Roasted vegetable stock is made of a mixture that includes carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, mushrooms, and any other vegetables you want to use. You don't want to use a lot of cruciferous vegetables—broccoli, cabbage, and their relatives—because they make the stock strongly cabbage-y. Likewise, any very strong flavors, like sea vegetables, should be used sparingly. I don't include garlic in the recipe here; you can add it, it's best roasted, and keep the amounts small, as it can be an overpowering flavor. You can always add garlic and other strong flavors to the recipes you're using the stock in, but you can't take them out.
The vegetables I listed above are the ones I always use, and the rest depends on the season. I have made summer stock with eggplants and zucchini, winter stock with turnips and parsnips. Both kinds come out a rich brown from the caramelized vegetables. Wash them thoroughly, but don't bother to peel them, and only trim bad parts, not stems or dry parts, like outer layers of onions. Roast the vegetables, then use them to make stock with the fresh herbs and seasonings. You can add dried mushrooms to the stock, as well as the strained water in which you reconstitute the mushrooms.
The amounts of meaty bits and vegetable and water will always vary somewhat from batch to batch. As long as you use sensible ratios of meat and vegetables, herbs, and water, what you make will be better than water. Usually, I get as much stock out as I put in water, cup for cup.
All-Purpose Stock Recipe
The recipe may be doubled or halved. Make sure you have a big enough pot.
3-5 lbs of meaty bones: raw and/or previously cooked meat, bone, and connective tissue; or
a similar quantity of fish parts (heads, fins, tails, bones, skin) or scraps from shrimp (shells, legs, heads); or
a similar quantity of raw vegetables (see discussion above, particularly for shrimp and vegetable stock variations)
1-2 cups fresh parsley
2 roughly chopped, unpeeled yellow onions
2 ribs of celery or equivalent amount of celeriac
1 bay leaf (optional)
Few sprigs fresh thyme, oregano or marjoram (especially in meat stocks), or dill (in chicken or fish) (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Water to cover (about 2 quarts)
For vegetable stocks, follow these steps:
- Chop all of the vegetables including onion, celery, and carrots, into pieces of similar size. Toss the pieces in a large roasting pan with ¼ cup olive oil, 1 tsp salt, and ½ tsp pepper. Roast at 400 degrees F, tossing the vegetables every ten minutes, until deeply browned on most sides, about 40 minutes or longer, depending on how crowded the pan is and how small the vegetable pieces are.
- Remove the vegetables from the pan. Set the pan on the stove top and turn the burners on low. Pour a cup of wine into the pan—red or white is fine, the drier, the better— and gently scrape the carmelized bits off the bottom of the pan. Let the wine bubble for a few minutes and get all the good stuff, off the bottom and sides of the pan, dissolved into the wine. Turn off the heat and set this aside.
- Put all of the ingredients in a very large stock pot, including liquid from deglazing the roasting pan, and water used to reconstitute dried mushrooms (if you use this, strain it well for sand before adding to the stock pot). The ingredients should not fill the pot more than about three-quarters of the way.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. Simmer the stock for as little as 30-45 minutes for very delicate matter like shrimp scraps and mild fish, a couple of hours for vegetable stock, or longer for meat, until flesh falls from bones and marrow cooks out of large bones. Do not overcook. Do not serve the boiled meat dressed as a salad or in soup, either: it's tasteless.
- Strain the stock through a colander into as many bowls as it takes, pressing down on the vegetables to release the liquid. Throw away the strained matter.
- Rinse the stock pot thoroughly. Strain the stock through a sieve, from the bowls back into the stock pot. Stir and taste for salt and pepper, adjusting the seasonings as desired.
- Let the stock cool thoroughly. You can remove excess fat from the top of cooled or (much easier) refrigerated stock, though this is not usually necessary. Stock will keep for several days in the refrigerator, or more than a year in the freezer. Fat will keep for a month in the fridge, more than a year in the freezer.