Hearty stock from vegetables and bones adds zesty foundation to many dishes

What most of us would throw into the garbage are the essential ingredients in what makes for great d

What most of us would throw into the garbage are the essential ingredients in what makes for great dishes — stock.

“I’m a person who doesn’t have the heart to throw anything away,” said Marjorie Druker, chef and author of “New England Soup Factory Cookbook: More than 100 Recipes from the Nation’s Best Purveyor of Fine Soup” (Thomas Nelson, September 2007).

But making stock is not about using up leftovers or the inedible parts of meat and fish. “Stock is the foundation of our cooking,” said Larry Schepici, chef and owner of Tosca Grille and Illium Cafe in Troy. Tosca’s kitchen always has a pot of stock simmering, be it lobster, fish, vegetable, wild game, beef, veal, duck or chicken. “A lot of us old-style chefs swear by that,” he said.

If you’re one to toss a bouillon cube into a cup of boiling water when your recipe calls for stock (and don’t be ashamed of this if you do, Druker said), you might want to read what chefs have to say about this flavor-packed kitchen staple. They’ll tell you that any dish goes from just OK to “wow” with the addition of a little stock. That’s why they say that even though it’s time-consuming to make, it is well worth the effort.

Basic ingredients

Stock is basically made with bones, vegetables, seasonings and water. The bones are essential because they contain collagen, explains Druker, which gives the stock body, texture, flavor, depth and strength. Some chefs will roast the bones in the oven before adding them to the pot. For example, to make beef stock, Druker buys beef bones and knuckles, brushes tomato paste on them, and then roasts them in a 375-degree oven for about 40 minutes. She adds these to the pot with water, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves and fresh parsley. She also adds some beef bouillon to enhance the flavor.

“People can cringe about using bouillon or base, but there are so many good products out there that you don’t have to be ashamed,” she said. That mixture simmers for about four hours, minimum. At her restaurant, some stocks even simmer overnight.

After roasting the bones for his stocks, Schepici deglazes the pan with some wine so that he can add all of that flavorful substance to the stock. If the thought of cleaning the pan turns your off, Druker suggests using a foil one that you can throw away afterwards.

The standard vegetables for stock are leeks, celery, carrots and onions, said Schepici. These make what chefs call the mirepoix. Other vegetables are fair game, too, and may vary depending on the type of stock. For example, carrots don’t go in fish stock, because they add too much color. (Fish stock also simmers for less time — two hours max — lest it become bitter.)

Add the standard spices — peppercorns, bay leaves and thyme — and stock is born. Variations are always allowed. Schepici might add a paste of sun-dried tomato to his lobster stock because of the color, flavor and body it gives. “Chefs all have their own little additives,” he said.

The water added to the pot should always be cold, Schepici said. That way, fat and any other impurities will float to the top. Stock should never be boiled, because that makes for a cloudy stock, he said. Once the water comes to a simmer, the heat should be turned down so the stock can cook at a slow, rolling simmer.

Tender care

At this point, the stock requires a great deal of babying, Schepici said. The foam and fat should be skimmed off the top periodically to make it clear. For a stronger stock, it can be cooked longer so that it is reduced. Once the stock is cooled, it should be strained. Schepici strains some of his stocks three times.

When a person laments to her that they put their stock in the refrigerator and it turned to a jelly-like substance, Druker says she congratulates them. “It has a wonderful gelatinous texture,” she said. “That’s when you know you’ve got a really potent stock on your hands.” In French, this reduced stock is called “glace du viande.”

For those who don’t have the time to spend in the kitchen, Schepici carries it already made in his recently opened gourmet market, Le Marche Vert in Troy. He cuts the glace du viande up into little cubes to use in sauces.

While making stock takes time, the benefit is that you can make up a large batch and then freeze it to use later. Druker said that her freezer looks like a grocery store, with different stocks frozen in quart and 12- to 16-ounce containers.

“When you go to this effort, make sure it produces a lot for you so that you have it in your freezer for when you need it,” she said. “It’s like a big fat ice cube that defrosts in no time.”

Some people like to freeze it in ice cube trays. Druker adds those small cubes to sautées or stir fries. “At the end, you can pop out two cubes of fantastic flavor and your little stir fry becomes a masterpiece,” she said.

Roasted Chicken Stock

Recipe by Chef Larry Schepici of Tosca Grille and Illium Cafe in Troy.

2 whole raw chickens, breast meat removed

3 cups onions

2 cups carrots

2 cups celery

Wine, enough to deglaze pan

Water

Tomato ends or a bit of canned tomatoes, if desired

2 bay leaves

1 sprig of fresh thyme

8 to 10 peppercorns

3 to 4 garlic cloves

Roast the chickens in the oven for 35 minutes at 375 degrees. Remove from pan and place in large pot. In the same pan, toss the vegetables with the drippings and roast them in the oven or sautée on the stove top until the vegetables are caramelized. Add to stock pot. Add a little bit of red or white wine to the pan to deglaze and add dripping to stock pot. Fill with just enough cold water to cover the bones. Add tomato pieces if desired. Add spices and garlic to pot.

Bring to a simmer quickly, and then reduce heat. Simmer for 21⁄2 hours, skimming the fat and foam off the top periodically. Cool the stock and strain it. If desired, reduce by half.

Lobster stock

Recipe from “New England Soup Factory Cookbook: More Than 100 Recipes from the Nation’s Best Purveyor of Fine Soup” by Marjorie Druker and Clara Silverstein.

3 lobsters (11⁄2 pounds each)

1 large squash onion, peeled and cut into quarters

3 ribs celery, cut into thirds

3 carrots, peeled and cut into thirds

11⁄2 cups white wine or vermouth

1 can tomato paste

6 to 8 sprigs fresh parsley

Kosher salt, to taste

3 bay leaves

8 to 10 whole peppercorns

Water, as needed

Fill and 8 to 10-quart pot with water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Drop the lobsters into the pot. Boil for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the pot and let cool until they can be handled. Remove the meat until ready to use. Reserve the lobster shells and bodies.

In a stockpot, place the lobster shells, onion, celery, carrots, wine, tomato paste, parsley, salt, bay leaves and peppercorns. Add enough water to cover the lobster shells by 3 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium high and simmer 11⁄4 hours, adding 1 to 2 cups of water if the stock reduces too much. Strain through a fine mesh strainer or sieve or a regular colander lined with cheese cloth. Discard the solids. Let cool and refrigerate up to 3 days before using.

Makes 10 cups

Fragrant fish stock

Recipe from “New England Soup Factory Cookbook: More Than 100 Recipes from the Nation’s Best Purveyor of Fine Soup” by Marjorie Druker and Clara Silverstein.

6 pounds of fish bones or shrimp shells

2 large onions, peeled and cut into quarters

6 ribs celery, cut into large pieces

3 large parsnips

4 whole cloves, garlic peeled

2 bay leaves

1 bunch fresh parsley

11⁄2 tablespoons whole peppercorns

2 cups Chablis

1⁄2 fresh lemon

8 cups water

Kosher salt, to taste

In a stockpot, add the fish bones, onions, celery, parsnips, garlic, bay leaves, parsley and peppercorns, Chablis, lemon, water and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium high and simmer for 35 to 40 minutes. Carefully strain the stock through a fine mesh colander or a regular colander lined with cheesecloth. Let cool and refrigerate up to 3 days before using.

Makes 8 cups.

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