Stocks Form a Foundation for Good Taste
Stocks provide the foundation for a variety of dishes. They are extremely versatile and depending on how they are made can be used in an infinite number of ways. Most commonly stocks are used as a primary ingredient for soups, sauces, and braises. Stocks are also used in poaching or steaming, as an alternative to water in such dishes as rice and polenta, and even as a substitute for oil in some vinaigrettes and pestos.
Stocks are prepared by cooking meat, poultry or fish bones, vegetables, herbs, and other aromatics in water for a long period of time. The end result is a very flavorful and complex liquid. While the ingredients that go into a stock may vary, the techniques used to make stocks and the ratio of ingredients remain basically the same. It is extremely important not to allow stocks to boil as they cook. This often causes impurities and fat to be dispersed in the liquid. The fat is extremely difficult to remove after the stock is finished. Instead, a stock should be simmered over a medium, even heat and the top should be skimmed frequently to remove anything that floats to the surface. The most commonly used stocks are white, brown, and vegetable.
Light White Stocks
White stocks are made with bones that are typically quickly blanched before they are combined with the other ingredients. The blanching allows the impurities, which may cause a stock to become cloudy, to be leached out before the bones are used for the stock, which results in a clear liquid. Typically only pale colored vegetables are used in these stocks to avoid imparting any color.
Rich Brown Stocks
Brown stocks are made similarly to white stocks, but in this case the bones and vegetables are roasted before they are combined with the water and aromatics. Most brown stocks include some type of tomato product and the ideal brown stock is rich in color and flavor. Often, after brown stocks have been strained and the fat that rises to the top removed, they are placed in a clean pot and put back onto the stove to cook down even further. The stock is simmered until it has been reduced to a fraction of its original volume and viscous and syrupy when warm and quite gelatinous when cold. This reduction is called a glace and is extremely concentrated in flavor. Glaces are often used as a sauce as is or sometimes with a few ingredients added to balance it out a bit. Glaces are also often used as the finishing component to many sauces and impart a deep, intense undertone and a lush, silky mouth feel.
Hearty Vegetable Stocks
Vegetable stocks are often made from left over end pieces, peelings, and scraps from any combination of vegetables used in the kitchen. This technique, however, often results in an imbalanced stock with one or two flavors predominating. A good vegetable stock should have an even balance of flavor and not be overwhelmed by any one taste. Therefore it is preferable to follow a set recipe rather than relying on only what you have on hand.
About the Author
After receiving degrees from the University of Wisconsin and the Culinary Institute of America, Andrea Rappaport moved into a full-time career in the restaurant business. For over 12 years, she worked in various culinary jobs, including as a cook for Wolfgang Puck at Spago, and ultimately as the executive chef and partner of the highly revered San Francisco restaurant Zinzino. For the past seven years, Andrea has worked as the private chef for one family in the San Francisco area, and continues to expand her culinary portfolio by catering, teaching, and consulting.