True Brew IV: Take Stock

The Kitchen

    It has been argued that man took over this planet because he learned to use fire to better convert the nutrients in food into fuel. And even greater nutritional development came about when the cooking might of fire was combined with the solvent properties of water. The spoon was still a few years away.
    The middle ages saw a steep rise in the popularity of complex brews.

Fillet of fenny snake
In the cauldron.
Boil and bake.
Eye of newt,
Toe of frog,
Pancreas of possum ...

That sort of thing.
    By the 18th century, such brews, or stocks, had become the foundation of all cuisine, meaning, of course, French cuisine. Sauces, soups, broths, glace and bouillon, were all born of the stockpot. The question is, do stocks and stock-making have a place in the modern American cooking portfolio?
    If you ask me, the answer is yes. In fact, I'd be willing to say that stocks offer a better return on investment than stocks ... if you get my drift, or commodities, or bonds, for that matter. I mean, not only are culinary stocks fine examples of edible recycling, they can often replace the texture and mouth-feel of an ingredient that most us would rather feel a little less of, fat.
    So, stick around, because it doesn't take a broker to tell you that stocks are a good investment. Not to mention ...

The Kitchen


    Earthbound critters may be held down by gravity, but they're held together by connective tissues, like collagen, reticulin and elastin. These fibrous, extra-cellular proteins are responsible for making our skin plastic and elastic, holding our muscles to our bones and keeping our guts from just kind of floating all around. Now when some of these are cooked, namely reticulin and elastin, they can become even stretchier and tougher then they are when they are raw.

    Collagen, however, possesses the ability to hydrolyze, that is, dissolve in hot water. When it does, it becomes gelatin, and when gelatin is chilled, it becomes a solid gel. Add some flavorings and color, and you've got America's favorite dessert.
    When heated, it turns back into a liquid, which can add an unctuous body to anything from pot roast, to chicken soup, to more sauces than you can shake a Frenchman at, and it does it without fat. Mmm. Tastes just like chicken. That's because this is chicken stock. Now, gelatin may add body, but it does not add flavor. Luckily, chicken does, with a little help from its friends.

    The first ingredient in chicken stock? Surprisingly enough, chicken, or at least the remains of chickens. Every time I cook a bird, I save the neck, wings, backs, ribs, whatever I can salvage. And I don't' care if it's a chicken. It can be hens, turkey, whatever. I'll freeze them up and save them for when I make stock. All of these are raw but cooked chicken parts can be used. How many parts do you need for a batch? Well, it kind of depends on how much stock you plan to make and how often. But if you ever find that your needs outstrip your supply, you can always use wings. They're cheap and loaded with collagen.

Chicken ... remains

    Next up, the classic aromatic veggie combo known as mirepoix: carrots, celery, onions, and sometimes leeks. Now please note, this vegetation is all high quality. If you learn anything from this half-hour, please let it be this: stock is just like a computer, crap in, crap out. Got it? Okay. How much will we need? We'll get to that later.

Mirepoix: French for "2 parts onions + 1 part carrot + 1 part celery."

    Last, but by no means least, we have herbs and spices. We don't use a lot, but they do a lot. Now, I've got some garlic here, some pepper, parsley, sage, bay and thyme. Sorry, Simon and Garfunkel fans, but rosemary just makes things taste really woody. Now since all of the solids are just going to be strained out of this later, don't bother tying this up into a complicated bouquet garni or shoving it into a tea ball. Herbs & Spices

Bouquet Garni: French for "tied up little bundle of herbs."

    Of course, it doesn't matter how much flavor we have if we can't extract it. For that, we need the universal solvent, H2O. As is true of any brewing process, from coffee, to tea, to beer, to stock, water matters most. And I prefer either a bottled mineral water or water that has been filtered through an activated charcoal filter. Whatever you do, don't use distilled water, which is too chemically, well, squeaky-clean to be an efficient solvent.

Bottled Mineral Water
Filtered Tap Water
Distilled Water

    Now if your tap water tastes good, by all means use it. But you'll still want to capture it and move it in either a pitcher or a jug, because we're going to be talking about 24lbs of water because we've got a 12 quart stockpot ... or I need a 12 quart stockpot. Excuse me.

Cooks Warehouse: Atlanta, GA – 12:11pm

GUEST: Lance Niedermeir, Assistant To The Assistant Mgr.

LANCE NIEDERMEIR: Wow! I'd heard that you shopped here, but I thought it was just an urban legend. You know, like giant alligators living in the sewers of New York.
AB: You mean giant alligators don't live in the sewers of New York?
LN: You know, you're just as funny in person as you are on TV. Speaking of which, you know, I've got every episode of your show on videotape?
AB: No.
LN: Yeah! And I've won three Good Eats trivia contests.
AB: No!
LN: Yeah! Go ahead, ask me anything.
AB: Anything?
LN: Anything.
AB: Okay, how many times do I use the word "now" in episode one?
LN: Eighteen.
AB: Nineteen. Not bad though. Is W around anywhere?
LN: Ms. Wong is on vacation, but you can count on me. Lance Niedermeir, at your service.
AB: Hi, Lance.
LN: Hi. I see that you have your eye on a new stockpot.
AB: Really, I was just ... I've got to put money in the meter.
LN: You know, manufacturers tend to call anything over eight quarts a stockpot, but personally, I feel that shape matters just as much as size.
AB: Yeah, how's that?
LN: Well, take these for instance. Both these pots hold eight quarts, but the taller, narrower version is better for stock production.
AB: Why, pray tell?
LN: Well, a narrower opening means less surface area, and therefore less evaporation.
AB: I see, good.
LN: Try that 12 quart model on for size.
AB: Ooh, heavy.
LN: It's clad in stainless steel, my friend.
AB: Whew, pricey too.
LN: Well, if you want a bodaciously big boiler that won't bust your budget, you might want to consider the cunning conductor that is aluminum.
AB: Why are you talking like that?
LN: AB-speak. I'm just learning.
AB: I don't talk like that! Besides, isn't that surface susceptible to both scratching and staining, and if acidic ingredients were invited to the party, would not funky flavors be formed?
LN: Is this a test, Sir?
AB: Maybe.
LN: You know, we're talking about anodized aluminum here.
AB: Meaning ...
LN: Well, anodization refers to the process by which a layer of aluminum oxide is deposited onto the surface of an aluminum pot by suspending said pot in sulfuric acid and then passing electricity through it.
AB: To what end?
LN: Well, the resulting surface is a) super Hard, b) it's non-reactive so acidic foods are A-Okay, and c) being aluminum, the pot is lighter than steel.
AB: Anything else?
LN: Yep. Look for a heavy, tight-fitting lid, look for nice wide loop handles, and, as I said before, narrow is better.
AB: Words to live by. I'll take it!
LN: Allow me to carry this to the register for you, Mr. Brown.

AB: Kid seems to know his stuff. Still, something about this scenario seems suspiciously sinister.

The word "stock" comes from an ancient word for
stump and refers to something that is built on.

The Kitchen

    Now that we have secured a pot, we may begin the build. It starts with four pounds of chicken parts. Necks, carcasses, things like that. You can see that I definitely left a little meat clinging to them. That's a good thing. 4 lbs. Chicken Remains
    To that, we will add our aromatics, four carrots. Since they're going to be cooking so long, I really don't worry about cutting them up. Just scrub them clean, break them in half and go with it. I also have four ribs of celery. Treat it likewise. One leek, but you are going to have to split it and wash it to get the grit out before it goes in. One onion, quartered. A nice little bouquet of herbs. I've got about ten sprigs of parsley, and ten sprigs of thyme. There we go. Eight to ten peppercorns, just for a little, you know, bam? Two cloves of garlic, if you like, and two bay leaves. Just bury that right down in there.

4 Carrots
4 Ribs of Celery
1 Leek White Only
1 Onion, Quartered
10 Sprigs Parsley
10 Sprigs Thyme
8-10 Whole Peppercorns
2 Garlic Cloves, Peeled
2 Bay Leaves

    Now I want to keep all this submerged during cooking, so I like to just to take my steamer basket, and just kind of press it down on top there. That'll keep things underwater.

    How much water? Well, we're talking just enough to cover everything by about an inch. There we go. I'm starting with cold water here. Well sure, we could start with hot water. It would come to a boil a lot faster. But when it comes to stock, faster is not necessarily better.

2 Gallons Cold Water

    From a distance, most bones look perfectly smooth, but if you come closer, closer, closer, you'll see that they are actually pocked with a galaxy of pores. Now they may be small, but they're not so small that hydrolyzed collagen cannot pass through into your stock. However, if you plunge this bone into boiling water, those proteins will coagulate, therefore plugging up these pores and keeping all the goodness trapped inside, which just wouldn't be right. By starting with cold water, this travesty may be avoided.

The bones of young animals contain more collagen than those of
their elders which explains why chefs generally like veal stock best.

    As soon as you see bubbles start to break the surface, turn the heat on your stock from high, down to, say, medium low. What we're looking for here is a bare simmer. Now ordinarily I would just stick a thermometer in there and see what's going on. The problem is that the probe might hit some little pocket of liquid in all that solid that could be either hotter or colder than the rest of the pot. So we're going to have to do this the old-fashioned way and bubble-watch.
    So what does a bare simmer look like? Well, we're going to let you be the judge.

    Is it stock number One, who enjoys piña coladas and walks in the rain?

Stock #1

    Is it stock number Two? Stock Number Two enjoys motorcycles and gourmet cooking.

Stock #2

    Or is it stock number Three, who just wants to grow up one day to be a chicken noodle soup.

Stock #3

    So it's up to you. Is it stock number Three, stock number Two, or stock number One?
    Well, I'll tell you this. It's sure not stock number One. As far as I'm concerned, this is a boil, and a boiling stock is going to be dirty-looking stock because all that particulate matter is going to be broken-up. And what about all this steam? Wasted water! We're not making a reduction here. I'm going to have to add water to this every five minutes.
    And it's also not stock number Three. There's not enough heat in there to extract flavor from a carrot, much less a chicken.
    That leaves our old friend, stock number Two. This is already perfect. All we have to do is keep it that way. Believe it or not, it won't take very much heat. I'm going to move this all the way down to low. See how the scum is starting to collect? That's an excellent sign. More on that later.

Not Much Later

    Ever gone to the beach on a really windy day? You probably noticed a considerable amount of foam on the water. That's called spume, and it's essentially bubbles that are just reinforced with a lot of protein. Now the stuff that rises to the surface of a simmering stock, is exactly the same. Only it's not called spume, it's called scum, and it's got to go.
    Some cooks prefer to do their scumming with a ladle, but I find that a little bit tedious, so I use a fine wire-mesh strainer. Just make sure you've got some cold water around to rinse.

    Now, here we go. Just scoop and rinse. That's all there is to it. Now skim or scum every ten to fifteen minutes during the first hour of simmering. After that, every half-hour should do.

Skim often during the first hour of simmering. After that, twice an will do.

    Oh, and keep a supply of hot water around, too. Even at a bare simmer, we will eventually lose enough water from this pot to beach the bones. So every now and then, just add a little bit of hot water, enough to maintain submersion. It already smells good, doesn't it? Can't get that from a can. Sorry.

Keep Hot H2O Nearby For Restocking Stock

    So how long does it take to actually cook a chicken stock? Well, it depends. It depends on a lot of factors. It depends on the age of birds involved, the size of the batch, the actual exact temperature. But by and large, I'd say it takes between six to eight hours.

6-8 Hours

    There is one way to know absolutely for sure. Just go ahead and remove the steamer, and whatever sticks to it, and dig around for a bone. It shouldn't be too hard to find. Now here is how you tell. [takes a bone out and breaks it apart easily]

Yes, even bones contain connective tissue.
When it's all gone, the bones crumble easily.

The Kitchen

    Now the real challenge of stock making is how do you take a pot that weights twenty-something pounds and separate out the solids without either making a mess or ending up in the burn ward? Well, in a restaurant, it's simple. You take the biggest pot you can find, you take a really big colander, put inside it, and then just kind of dump everything in there, as carefully as you can.
    Well, the problem for me, and I'm imagining for at least some of you, is that this is the biggest pot that I have. So, we're going to have to use two pots. Okay? And since the pouring is harder right at the beginning, I'm going to use the biggest pot first. That's thinking, huh?
    All right, that goes in the sink. Now, as for the straining part, two wire-mesh strainers, equal in dignity, with a nice piece of cheesecloth, double-folded inside. That goes right in the pot. Now, since that's obviously not going to hold all the solids, what we're going to do is we're going to re-insert our steamer basket, only inverted.
    All right, right down on top of the solids. I've got this on a towel, so I can slide it. I'm going to hold this down with my tongs, and notice my hands are.... Well you probably already saw that. Grab hold and pour.
    And when that pot is full, which it is now, we simply trade out the strainer, carefully move this guy away and come back with our five quart casserole and finish straining. All right, so the steamer lid fell off, but besides that, all of our other solids are trapped in here for easy disposal later.
    Congratulations. You've made several quarts of your own chicken stock. Yep, liquid love. Yep, you've gone and done it all right. You've gone and manufactured several quarts of nutrient-rich, low-acidity liquid.
    What were you thinking? Don't you know if you can't get this stuff out of the danger zone, that's 40 to 140 degrees, lickety-split, you're just going to be inviting bacteria? See? [a "monster" is seen sipping on the stock]
    Yep, you're in trouble now. I don't know what you're gonna do. Oh, you think the refrigerator's gonna help you? Think again! By the time you slide all that hot mass in there, come back in an hour, you'll have hot stock and hot bologna and hot tuna and hot broccoli and hot apple jelly. No, you're in serious trouble. I don't know what's going to save you now. Okay, maybe one thing.
    Your family cooler, with about two inches of ice in the bottom. Just take your two pots and carefully position them right on top of the ice there. Now the heat will move out of the stock through the metal, and into the ice. And of course, as it melts, it'll sink down into the ice, which means it'll work even faster. Of course, you are going to have to stand here and stir, right? Otherwise the heat will stay in the middle of the liquid and, yeah ...
    Unless, of course, you've had the forethought to freeze several partially filled bottles of water. Just put, I don't know, fill them about halfway full, freeze them, and drop them in. This will be chilled in about an hour. Danger zone? What danger zone?

Danger Zone: 40° - 140° F, the temperature
range in which bacteria breed the fastest.

The Kitchen

    As soon as your stock cools to below 40 degrees, slide it in the refrigerator. The next day, you'll be rewarded with this view. Voila! Now that is not stock! That is actually chicken fat. It's called schmaltz, and it is darned good stuff culinarily speaking. So just scoop it up and wrap it in something airtight and keep it. I like to make soups and sauté with it.


    Now as for your stock, this is what you want to see. See how thick and jellied that is? That means that you have done your job as stock maker. It may not look very pretty, but it tastes good. Now if your stock doesn't look like that, just bring it to a boil and reduce it until it's about half the volume, then try again. It'll set up right away.

Gelled Stock

    Now, if you've made stock, you're going to want to contemplate storage scenarios. It doesn't keep very well in the refrigerator. In fact, it'll go sour in just a couple of days. So what I like to do is to portion and freeze. And I like three different sizes. These I froze in muffin tins. Perfect for enriching stocks and adding to braised dishes and whatnot. I like one-cup containers for building soups, or maybe soups for two. And I like larger multi-quart size for building big batches of soup.

Muffin Tin Size
1 Cup Size
1 Quart+ Size

    Whatever you do, I don't care if you're using fresh stock or frozen stock, you want to bring all stocks to a boil for two full minutes before using. Just in case any nasty bugs moved into the neighborhood.

Always boil stock 2 minutes before using.

A consommé is simply a stock that has been clarified by simmering
with egg whites, ground meat, and sometimes...blood.

    I realize that just about every cookbook and food magazine published in the world contains at least one recipe calling for homemade chicken stock. So odds are, you don't need any suggestions from me, but just in case, here's my favorite.


    Take one quart of your chicken stock and bring it to a boil for about two minutes. Then add three-quarters of a cup of diced onion, three-quarters of a cup of diced celery, about a tablespoon minced fresh garlic. Lower the heat and let that simmer for about two minutes, then add two to three ounces of cooked egg noodles. Let that simmer for about another five minutes and then serve with some fresh herbs and a nice big squeeze of lemon juice. Mmm.

Bring 1 quart chicken stock
to boil for 2 minutes.
Add 3/4 cup of diced onion, 3/4 cup of diced celery, and
1 Tbs. minced garlic.
Lower heat and simmer 2 minutes.
Add 2-3 oz. of cooked egg noodles and simmer another 5 minutes.
Serve with fresh chopped herbs and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

    What's that? Oh, you say there's no chicken in my chicken and noodle soup? Yeah there is. See you next time.

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Transcribed by Carrie

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010