Stock is a kitchen staple, a base ingredient. You can buy it in boxes or cans, or even those insidious little bouillon cubes. But really, you should make it yourself. For one thing, it’s dead easy. For another, it’s a brilliant way to get rid of any excess vegetables and chicken carcasses you might have lying around (presumably you’ve already mastered how to roast a bird). More than any of that, a good stock adds unparalleled depth of flavor to soups, stews and sauces — it’s the difference between a good meal and a meal that’ll blow guests away.
Because let’s be honest: how many people actually take the time to make their own stock? There isn’t any one right way to make the stuff. There’s no one essential recipe, no standard, just the dictates of tradition and technique. Julia Child had her way. Mark Bittman has his, as do Emeril and Jamie Oliver and the Barefoot Contessa. In the end, the process is pretty personal. We took the question of how to make stock to Michael Steh, executive chef of The Chase, one of Toronto’s best restaurants (and, depending on whom you ask, one of the best in all of Canada, too). Steh learned his technique from two masters of the Toronto culinary scene, with wildly different backgrounds: Suser Lee, a Chinese-influenced chef, and David Lee, who’s as classically French as it gets. The one thing they have in common: a hounding need for flavor. That’s what stock is, essentially, just in concentrated form, and the wise stock-maker does his best to make the most of the ingredients at his disposal.
And if you don’t have the time to work your way through the steps below? Don’t sweat it. “My mom never said it, but I know she used those bullion cubes in her stocks”, says Steh. “Hate to say it, but that addictive flavor is pretty awesome when you have a crappy cold and all you can down is some broth and noodles.”
If you are going to put in the time, though, here’s how. (Note: this approximate recipe is for chicken stock, but the process is more or less the same whether you’re using beef, turkey or vegetables):
1 Find the right bird. Or bird parts. “Go to old Italian or European grocers and buy boiler chickens”, says Steh. “This keeps the cost down, and if you use a boiler chicken you can reserve the meat for a pasta or to use in a soup.” Whatever you use, just make sure it’s fresh.
2 Make yourself some mirepoix. That’s the traditional mix of aromatics: carrot, celery, and onions. “For one chicken I usually use about a cup of peeled and coarsely chopped carrots, 2 celery stocks, and a sweet onion, peeled”, says Steh. “I also like to use some smashed fresh garlic, bay leaves, black peppercorns and Lovage, which is a european weed-like herb that is amazing in stocks.”
3 Use a big damn pot. One that’s big enough to fit the chicken in, raw and whole, with about 2 or 3 inches of water on top. Boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes, then skim the fat.
4 Add those veggies. “If you add the veg at the beginning while skimming”, says Steh, “you may take some flavors away that you wanted to keep.”
5 Skim again. Then simmer for about 2 hours. That’ll work for an average three-pound bird. A bigger one will take a bit longer. There’s no science to it; just look for the meat to be tender and cooked all the way through.
6 Cool, and strain again. That’s it. Use it within a few days, as a base for soup or anything else you’d use store bought stock for, or freeze immediately.