It is exasperating to watch American cooking shows or read cooking magazines with their constant mentions of store-bought meat or seafood stock.
There is no reason why we cannot prepare our own at home. It is a responsible, simple and economical use of the meat and seafood that we purchase.
In our household, we use stock all the time, not only for sauces and gravies but also for cooking vegetables and potatoes. Stock adds much more flavour than water and, if you make it yourself, it’s free.
What follows are stock tips!
Professional chefs say, ‘Stock boiled is stock spoiled’. That said, I have not noticed any difference in taste if I’ve inadvertently left the stock pot boiling.
To further reduce the liquid and intensify the flavour, keep simmering for another 45 minutes to an hour.
Leave the finished stock to cool and absorb more flavour overnight. If your kitchen is very warm, decant everything into a large bowl, cover and refrigerate.
The next day, strain the stock into a large mixing jug and use a funnel to decant into a clean soda/mixer/spirits bottle. Put the cap on and refrigerate.
To freeze stock, use small plastic containers with lids.
Stock made without aromatics — e.g. herbs, vermouth — will stay fresh in the refrigerator for at least two, if not three, weeks.
Stock with aromatics — and fish/seafood — will last a few days in the fridge but should be frozen if you have no plans to use it immediately. They go mouldy remarkably quickly.
I used to add port or Noilly Prat to meat and seafood stock, respectively, but I don’t bother anymore. I didn’t think they added much flavour to the stock and were put to better use once in making a sauce.
Fish and seafood
Chefs advise against using bones from oily fish (i.e. salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring) for stock. As for seafood, any lobster, crab, prawn or crayfish shells can be used. They can also be combined for enhanced flavour.
Bones from bass, bream and other white fish make good stock which can be used for fish sauces or stews.
As the bones do not supply a robust flavour, use a smaller saucepan. Put the bones and heads, if you have them, into the pan, add water to cover and let cook over medium-low heat just until they come up to the boil. This takes about 45 minutes. Turn down the heat, season with salt and pepper and allow the stock to simmer for another 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how concentrated you want the flavour to be.
Let rest overnight or refrigerate before straining the next day.
Generally, one can adopt Guy Fieri‘s ‘Everybody in the pool!’ here, with a few exceptions outlined below.
Seafood shells can also be combined with fish bones for extra flavour.
Crab and lobster: Both have feathery looking ‘dead man’s fingers’ — lungs — which are toxic. Remove and discard them before adding the rest of the shells to the stock pot.
Lobster: Depending on where you live, tomalley (from the Caribbean ‘tumali’) — the green stuff (liver, pancreas) in the head — may be dangerous or a delicacy. The US and Canada have warned people not to eat it because it is toxic and can cause paralysis. As we have no such restrictions in the UK, I add it to my sauces rather than the stock pot. In short, if you live in North America, throw it out with the dead man’s fingers. Those living elsewhere can use their own discretion. Tomalley, when untainted, has a marvellous, highly concentrated lobster flavour. It can be eaten raw or cooked.
Prawns: The heads have the most flavour, so be sure to add them along with the shells. However, the larger the prawn, the larger the waste canal. The really huge ones sometimes have waste slipping into the head. You can remove this with a kitchen towel and put the head in the pot. On that subject, once you remove the shell, carefully slide a knife lengthwise down the centre of the back of the prawn and prise out the waste canal. Discard immediately.
Skim any froth when cooking. Leaving it in may cause flatulence.
The higher the density of shells, the greater the flavour. Follow the instructions under Basics above for length of cooking, resting and decanting.
Sunday roasts are a staple in our house. They also mean we can have roast dinner the first half of the week, requiring simple reheating and fewer pots and pans. If more people roasted meat, they’d find cooking less of a chore. In most cases, it really is only a matter of putting a joint of meat into a roasting tin and sticking it in the oven unattended for 90 minutes at 180° C (350° F).
Before carving the meat, have a large pot set aside so that you can put any bones into it straightaway. That way, you free up room on the tray as you carve.
This applies to poultry (including the carcass), beef, veal and pork.
Follow the instructions under Basics above for length of cooking, resting and decanting.
Escoffier advised that one should always sear raw bones with a bit of fat in a frying pan before making stock with them.
Not only does the caramelisation add flavour but one also avoids the semi-solid lumps of meat and blood by-products that spoil stock’s appearance.
Making stock with raw bones takes 30 – 45 minutes longer because they need to be thoroughly cooked. After cooking, follow the instructions under Basics above for length of cooking, resting and decanting.
Why use raw bones? If you are stuffing chicken legs, breasts or pork chops — or curing your own bacon from pork belly — you can put the bones to good use rather than throwing them in the bin.
Taking a tip from my grandmother, I always boil rather than roast a ham. The cooking water can be decanted for stock and makes a great base for soup.
Ham stock is also excellent for cooking black eyed peas.
Purists often like to keep stock isolated by meat type, however, a professional chef on television recently used a combination of poultry and pork stock from the same container.
Because I sometimes have more stock than will fit in one bottle, I have another bottle on hand for the excess. My most flavoursome stock was a mix of chicken, pork and duck. I used it to make a soup which required very little extra seasoning.
So, yes, you can combine various meat stocks!
For gelatinous stocks, use cooking liquid from boiled bacon (ham) collar, pig trotters (your butcher can supply these) and poultry wings. Once chilled, the liquid becomes jelly-like.
I hope these suggestions pique more interest in the versatility of homemade stock. You’ll be delighted at the flavour they add!