A 3-year-old’s birthday party and overtime Bedlam basketball in Stillwater have kept me occupied all day but now it’s time to get down to business. Stock business. Today, we’ll focus on the Seven Fundamentals of Stock Making:

  1. Start with cold water
  2. Simmer gently
  3. Skim frequently
  4. Strain carefully
  5. Cool quickly
  6. Degrease completely
  7. Store properly

Start With Cold Water

People like to speed up the “bring water to boil” process by starting with hot tap water but that’s never a good idea, especially with stock. If a recipe calls for bringing your water to a boil with your food already incorporated, you always want to start with cold water. This particular technique yields better results when all the ingredients come to temperature together.

I’ve heard that pouring hot water on cold bones shocks them and will prevent the bones from giving up all their nutrients but I don’t know if that’s true. What is true, however, is that when you pour cold water on bones and gently heat them together, their impurities start to dissolve. As the water gently heats, the impurities coagulate and rise to the surface, allowing you to skim them. Starting with hot water reduces the coagulation of impurities and instead of allowing you to skim them from the surface, they mix with the water, resulting in a cloudy stock.

Despite what others tell you, don’t bring the water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Bring to a simmer than reduce to a slow simmer. No boiling, whatsoever.

Simmer Gently

In order to keep those impurities from cooking into your stock, you have to keep it at a low simmer. A simmer means small, gentle bubbles surfacing occasionally. When the bubbles get bigger and more frequent, you’re boiling. Boiling has the same effect as an undertow in the ocean… it pulls what’s on the surface below the surface. Since you want the impurities to rise so you can skim them, boiling your stock will defeat the purpose. If you really want to make sure you’re simmering, keep a thermometer handy. Keep the stock between 180º-200ºF. Don’t ever let it get above 200ºF, even when first starting it. And don’t cover it with a lid; simmer it uncovered so you can see when it needs to be skimmed. Which brings me to my next point…

Skim Frequently

Since you’ve been very careful to not boil your stock, you will see the bad stuff rise to the surface. Use a spoon to scoop that stuff out. They make skimmers with very small holes that are helpful but at home, I just use a spoon. If you have a serving spoon with tiny holes, that’s ideal.
While your stock simmers, make sure the bones stay submerged under water. Add a little cold water if they start creeping out; you can’t extract flavor from bones that are sticking out of the water. And if they’re out of water long, they’ll turn brown and alter the color of your finished stock. Be sure not to add too much water, you want to cover the bones by no more than an inch.

Strain Carefully

This step is probably the most commonly skipped but it’s an important one: when your stock has simmered for the appropriate amount of time, you need to remove the liquid without disturbing the solid ingredients. First, skim any remaining fat or impurities from the surface. Then remove all the liquid you can with a ladle, without disturbing the bones. Finish by straining the stock through a mesh strainer lined with two or three layers of cheesecloth.

No matter how tempting it is, don’t remove the bones with tongs then strain all the liquid together. There’s still some liquid you don’t want in there and straining it together will mix it all up. And don’t squeeze stock from the veggies or try to shake the bones to get what’s left; that liquid is cloudy and you’ve been so careful to prevent your stock from getting cloudy. Don’t ruin it now!

Cool Quickly

This step is more important in large quantities than it is when you’re making a couple quarts of stock at a time. When making large batches, you want to cool the stock in a large, steel container submerged in ice water. Plastic is a bad idea because it insulates and will prevent it from cooling quickly. When making small batches, you can transfer it to a bowl and set it inside an ice bath. Remember, you need to get it out of the Food Temperature Danger Zone within 4 hours. Don’t stick it in the fridge to cool it, that will raise the temperature of your refrigerator. Not a good idea.
Once the stock gets to room temp, you can transfer it to the cooler. As the temperature drops further, the fat will rise to the surface and create a layer on top. I like to leave it in the cooler to chill overnight. 

Degrease Completely

The next day, take it out of the cooler and remove that layer of fat. This is the moment of truth… after you remove the fat you’ll see what you made. If you followed all the steps correctly, your stock will resemble Jell-O. Just remember it doesn’t taste like Jell-O so leave the dessert spoon in the drawer.
This is my favorite part. I realized I was born to work with food on a random day when I felt myself getting giddy after I saw my stock had gelatinized. I know, ridiculous. 🙂

Store Properly

Fresh stock will last about 7 days in the cooler or about 9 months in the freezer. I like to freeze what I don’t need right away in quart freezer baggies. I label the bag first then fill it and seal all but about half an inch. Then I fold the top of the bag over to squeeze out as much of the air as possible before sealing it shut. Do this carefully because you don’t want to pour that liquid gold out all over your floor. Once it’s sealed, lay it flat on a sheet pan and stick the pan in the freezer. Remove the pan once the stock is frozen solid. 
There’s still more to learn so stay tuned! We’ll look at the importance of the added flavorings in stock in our next post before we make a batch of our own.
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