Sunday, January 09, 2011

How To Make The Perfect Stock

I’ve been cheffing in restaurants for the past few days trying to get my knife skills back up to speed before I head off on my cooking trip to California.

Although I’ve agreed not to write anything about the place itself (other than it’s a vastly overpriced restaurant in the Chilterns) I thought I’d share some of the techniques I’ve been (relearning) with you.

Some of you will already know all of this already, especially as there are some far more skilled chefs than me who read this blog, but I thought I’d post my thoughts anyway. Besides, isn’t that what blogs are for – to point out the bleeding obvious? And it’s always good to get other people’s slant on a cooking technique.

One of my main duties has been making the beef, chicken, fish and vegetable stocks, and reducing them for the demi-glace sauces, so I thought I’d start with these...

In my opinion, making stocks (not just because I’ve been doing it) is one of the most important jobs in the kitchen (obviously depending on what type of cuisine you’re cooking – in my case English and French).

Once you’ve got some good quality beef, chicken, vegetable or fish stocks you can make all manner of sauces, meat glazes, and jellies very easily. Popping in a few tablespoons of demi-glace to the cooking juices after pan-frying a steak or chop will completely transform the dish, and take your cooking from the perfectly acceptable to the sublime.

Indeed, the success of many famous dishes depends very much on the quality and richness of the stock. But don’t use cubes – they give an unpleasant taste, despite what Marco Pierre White is paid to say. And never buy the pre-made stocks you find on supermarket shelves – they cost a fortune and are as bland as Adrian Chiles.

Oh, and while we are on the subject of naffness, don’t use the words ‘jus’ or ‘nage’ when describing your offerings - they just sound pretentious, and belong solely in the domain of wanky gastropubs.

Every chef has a different method for making stocks, and the complexity varies enormously. Some Michelin-starred restaurants spend days making them, continually skimming, freezing and separating the fat so only an intense, perfectly clear liquid remains (the turbot stock at the Fat Duck takes a week to make for instance, which is why I was so fearful of dropping it when running to and from the prep room). Whereas other restaurants pad out the stock with cubes, gravy mixes, and other poisonous compounds and thicken it with corn flour.

Here is the best method for making a basic veal stock as far as I’m concerned. It will make a couple of litres of well-flavoured stock, or if reduced further, a small tub of rich demi-glace.

4kg of veal bones
1kg stewing or braising beef or veal
3 large or 6 small onions
1 leek
1 large carrot
4 celery stalks
1 garlic head
2 bay leaves
10 black peppercorns
2 tbsps tomato puree
1 star anise
1 bunch of thyme
4 juniper berries
1 bottle red wine

Place the bones in a tray and roast them for about an hour until well-browned. Slice the onions in half and blacken the cut-side over a gas flame until brown – this will release a lovely caramel flavour. Chop the rest of the mirepoix (leek, carrot and celery) into a rough dice and fry gently in a little vegetable oil in a stockpot or large pan.

When the vegetables are soft add the bones. Pour some boiling water into the tray the bones were roasted in to release the sticky brown bits of intensely-flavoured meat and juices stuck to the bottom. Pour into the stockpot, with about four litres of water.

Bring to the boil and skim a couple of times to clear the stock. Cut the garlic head in half horizontally so that all the cloves are exposed. Add this with the rest of the ingredients to the pot and simmer slowly for a few hours, skimming when necessary.

You can add trimmings to the pot – and in kitchens this is a good way of using left-overs, but be very careful what you put in. Never put in vegetables that will make the liquid cloudy - like potatoes, greens or broccoli stalks. But tomato trimmings, mushroom stalks, herbs and the like are all good additions.

Some chefs I’ve worked for never used fish heads when making fish stock, claiming it made it cloudy, but I’ve never found this, and most chefs use the heads, but cut out the gills with scissors because they have a bitter taste. Also never add the liver when adding giblets to chicken or turkey stock as this has the same result.

Other stocks can be made in the same way, by substituting pork bones, chicken carcasses, lamb bones, pheasant and venison bones for game stock etc. depending on the type you’re making. If you want a white chicken stock use uncooked chicken, if you want a brown chicken stock, roast the bones before you put them in, throwing in some onion skins for extra colour.

Then strain the liquid through a fine-meshed sieve, and return to the pan and reduce by a third. Either store in the fridge or freezer as stock to be used in casseroles and soups etc or reduce it by half again to make a demi-glace or meat glaze. This will set to a firm jelly when cool.

For a good meat glaze, you need to get the liquid boiled down so that it becomes syrupy and will coat the back of a spoon. You can then add it to the cooking juices and flavour it with say rosemary if you’re making a sauce for lamb, thyme for chicken, sage for pork, medlar jelly for venison, whisky for grouse and so on. And the glaze freezes well so you can make batches at a time. It’s a good idea to freeze it in an ice-cube tray so you can just pop a couple out when you need them.

That's it. Easy. So come on! Tell me your method...


Suzy said...

Thanks for the recipe! Not sure where I'll get veal bones from, but suppose I could use beef bones. My butchers prety good. He may know.

Suzy X

Lotte Duncan said...

Via Twitter

I know which restaurant you're at. Overpriced and far too pleased with itself!! I've guessed haha!

Christophe said...

Hi Lenny,

I follow the method detailed by Anthony Bourdain in his "Les Halles" cookbook. Does taste great

I roast some veal/chicken bones in oven. I rub some tomato purée on the bones beforehand. I get veal bones from my local butcher if Im lucky. He would just give them to me.

In separate pan I roast onion, celery and carrots.

Then I put all in a big pan of water with some peppercorns, bay leaf and bouquet garni and reduce.

The reducing takes ages. The recipe says that its a crime to ever bring to the boil, so it usually takes 18hr or so with the occasional filtering, till I can get stock in to ice cube trays

I remember asking you about this a couple of years ago, and you said that boiling it shouldn't affect the flavour. You still hold that view?

Anonymous said...

Wow that method takes me back years...we learnt at chef school back then that garlic NEVER ever went into the stock, but thats also the last place it didnt happen. I also see it in your recipe. I've always wondered about it though ( much like the salting-the-aubergine thing) Dig your blog tho.

Christophe said...

Yeah, I tried Garlic once in my stock and found it overpowered it.

Never used it since.

Lennie Nash said...

Hi Christophe,

Thanks for your comment about Bourdain's method, but I can't see that rubbing tomato puree on bones would make any difference at all, other than increasing the risk of burning the puree.

A lot of chefs fry the puree in with the mirepoix. So perhaps the direct heat does something.

I don't believe a fast simmer affects the flavour, but it does make it more cloudy. I suppose it depends on how much time you have.

Good to hear from you,


Lennie Nash said...

Hi there Epicureaddict,

Good to hear from you! I'm not convinced about the logic of garlic and stock. Heard a lot about it from both sides of the fence.

I prefer garlic in stock. I think it gives it a deeper flavour, especially in veg stocks. My view is that if you cook garlic for hours (as you would in a stock) it loses nearly all its pungent flavour, which is why a lot of chefs put it in nearer the end of cooking when they want the taste of garlic.

Just my opinion though. The lovely thing about cooking is the different view points.

All the best,


shthar said...

Running the stove for 18 hours doesn't make me think this is cheaper than buying at the store.

Better sure, but I sure can't see cheaper.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lenny.
Personally, I dont roast my bones. it doesnt add all that much to the sauce, so i see it as a pointless exercise.
I also dont add mirepoix at the beginning, as by the time you reduce the stock, the freshness of it will be gone.
try putting your bones straight into water, and simmering very gently for a good 12 hours, skimming continuously if possible.
then fry some sliced white onions in a little oil until dark brown (deglaze with a drop of water if it starts sticking to the pan just to lift it so you can take them down further)
then add some port, and reduce to nearly nothing, then red wine and reduce till nearly nothing.
2/3 red wine to 1/3 port. total alcohol should be 1/3 alcohol to 2/3 stock.
add the stock, and reduce gently until its about 10 minutes away from the desired consistency, again, skimming continuously.
then add a good handful of brunoise mirepoix and reduce the rest of the way.
strain through muslin cloth (double layered if possible)
and you'll end up with a crystal clear, fresh tasting reduction sauce. enjoy :D

Anonymous said...

Good method. When I trained at The Ritz, we did many different stocks there,and I was taught to coax and treat them with utmost respect. Agood method of skimming fat I was taught: Throw a load of ice cubes over the suface of the hot stock. It will cause the surface fat to solidify, thus making skimming easier.

his royal idiot said...

I've experimented lots with stock.
summer is currently here so why would you want a powerful rich sauce, heres what i do for a LIGHTER sauce.
I dont add garlic (garlic allergies are plentiful now) also if you need its "edge" you can slowly sweat garlic in a pan at later stage with shallots.
Tomato paste is "not" necessary, it makes it far too intense, sickly, overpowers the meat the sauce is being placed on.
with lighter sauces i use caramelisation as little as possible, ie: dont fry the vegetables, only the bones.
try this: use beef as the meat for your dish:
for the stock place mira poix in pan, roast the beef bones and scrape the trays after (not cook the trays on the burner as it burns slightly and boils in the left over oil with the beef parts on the tray)
add thyme and bay leaf.
do not boil!!
bring up to near boiling point skimming every 10-15 mins over the course of 6 hours - a slow simmer all times-
after every two hours add ice, it will instantly turn the fat into bit of lard and brings up any fat clinging to bones to the top. then re-simmer
after the stock is finished leave to settle for an hour.
carefully remove bones, then add ice to cool stock so any fat left over will form hardened matter or lard.
strain through a cloth or muslin cloth.
reduce to NEAR sauce consistency.

for the sauce:

in another small pan place 1/4 pint of expensive red wine vinegar and 2 teaspoon of white sugar, form a caramel (this with brighten and "CUT THROUGH" the finished sauce.
add reduced beef stock (stock needs reducing to almost sauce consistency, once in reduce to a lightly thickened gravy...thats it...add some thyme or extra herbs if you want...

remember... when you make a stock adding cheap red wine or white wine into stocks "KILLS" the meaty flavor, why add wine to a beef stock when you want it to taste of beef, it turns it into a "TYPICAL" or "same old" want a meaty result not a cheap imitation

try before you disagree with me
all the best