A vital ingredient in many sauces, soups and other foods is a stock. And no store bought stock can compare with a stock that is a home made one. To make a stock instead of having to use tender young ingredients it is best to use meat from older animals and mature vegetables. These are then simmered slowly for a long time to extract every ounce of flavor.
Some people, those that are purists, may insist on using only fish for a fish stock or beef stock in a beef stew but today we rarely have the luxury of such precision in our pantries.
Chicken and Vegetable stocks are the easiest to prepare and are the mildest in flavor and have become one of the most popular stocks to use in just about anything including fish soup and beef stew.
Flavor, body and clarity are the characteristics of a good stock and of the three flavor is the most important. To get a good flavor you need to use a high proportion of ingredients to water. The most flavorful stock is achieved by just covering the bones, shell, or vegetables with water. Additional water can be added should the water evaporate to below ingredient level before cooking is completed.
Cooking times for stocks varies. To get raw beef bones to give up all their richness and flavor will take at least 8 hours but chicken bones will only require half that time and vegetables require no more than an hour to cook. It must be remembered that simmering the stock past the recommended cooking time can produce an unpleasant bitter taste.
Once all the flavors and goodness have been extracted from the meat bones and vegetables the stock should be strained. To check, retrieve a meaty bone from the simmering stick and if the meat still has some flavor leave the stock to simmer for a while longer. Should the meat be tasteless and the bone joints are falling apart then the stock is ready for straining.
In a stock meat adds flavor whilst the bones add body. Bones from joints such as the knuckles or shoulder contain gelatin, which gives a stock body and a rich smooth texture. It is good to use bones with some meat on, this way you get the best of both worlds. By description a stock is made with more bones than meat and a broth is made from meat.
A clear stock tastes clean and fresh but a cloudy stock will seem greasy. To achieve a clear stock start with cold water. Allow the water to come to the slightest simmer then carefully skim any impurities, froth or fat that rise to the surface. By doing this you not only bring out the most flavor from the ingredients but also draw out impurities in the meat and bones that would otherwise cloud the stock. A stock should never be allowed to boil, as these impurities in the form of scum that forms on the surface will be incorporated into the liquid.