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Although brown stock is typically beef or veal, it can be made from just about any animal bones. That’s because the term brown stock refers to the cooking process more than the type of bones used. In Stock vs Broth, I briefly mentioned that for brown stock, you caramelize the bones and the vegetables before simmering. That’s the procedure we’ll use for making a brown stock today. Beef, veal, and game stocks are the most common brown stocks because roasting their bones intensifies their wonderful natural flavors and gives them deep, rich color.

Escoffier’s brown stock is significantly different than today’s brown stock. Even in culinary school, we used a more modern version. Since the required classical dish for an ACF competition called for brown stock (and that means Escoffier’s brown stock), I had to make it. I stayed after school to prepare it and I found it interesting that several of the instructors had never even seen it made so they stuck around to watch me. We all came to the conclusion that it was light years better than today’s typical brown stock but there’s no question that it’s significantly more expensive and much more time consuming to make. Even with that warning, I’m sure at least a few of you are up for the challenge (or at least curious) so I typed up instructions for both Brown Stock and Escoffier’s Brown Stock, which I’ll refer to as Estouffade (as it’s listed in Le Guide Culinaire). Because of the length of the post with both, we’ll do brown stock today and I’ll post estouffade tomorrow.

Now, for brown stock.

Equipment

  • Roasting pan (preferably) or something similar for cooking the bones
  • Tongs
  • Wooden spoon
  • Stock Pot (at least 8 qt for this recipe)
  • Cutting board
  • Chef’s knife
  • Cheesecloth
  • Kitchen twine
  • Shears

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs beef or veal bones (for veal, knuckles are the best; for beef, use bones from the shin or shank)
  • 10 oz mirepoix (5 oz onions, 2.5 oz carrots, 2.5 oz celery), large dice
  • 3 oz tomato paste (Ounces, not fluid ounces. Read about the difference here.)
  • Sachet:
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 2 fresh thyme sprigs (whole) or 1/4 tsp dried
    • 4 black peppercorns (whole)
    • 3 parsley sprigs (leaves and stems)
  • 1 gallon cold water (Why cold water? Read this.)

Procedures

Preheat your oven to 375ºF. Place the bones in a roasting pan in a single layer. If your bones won’t fit in a single layer, use two pans instead of cramming them into one. Place the pan(s) in the oven. Your goal here is to brown the bones evenly and it’ll take about an hour to do it. In order for them to brown evenly, they’ll need to be turned periodically. When they’ve been in the oven 10 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and turn each bone over using a pair of tongs. Return to the oven and repeat this process for the remainder of the hour. While I turn them every 10-ish minutes, your oven temperature could vary from mine so keep an eye on them and turn them as needed. When roasting bones, remember: brown is good, black is bad. Don’t burn the bones or you’ll have to throw them away and start over.
Once the bones are roasted, remove them to the stock pot. Drain the fat from the pan and reserve. Deglaze the roasting pan by pouring some of the reserved gallon of water into your pan and scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Once all the bits (known as fond) are removed, pour the deglazing liquid into the stock pot with the bones. Add the remaining gallon of water and bring the pan to a simmer over medium heat. Add more water if it doesn’t fully cover the bones.
Meanwhile, sauté the mirepoix in the reserved fat until browned. Do this in a single layer; you want all the vegetables to touch the bottom of the pan. If they don’t, cook them in batches. 

Timeout: let’s talk about this procedure for a second. If you tried to cook too many vegetables at once, you would create multiple layers of vegetables in the pan. The vegetables on bottom will sauté because they have direct contact with the pan. The vegetables in the middle and top, however, will steam. That’s because all vegetables have a high water content and that water is released during cooking. Since the vegetables in the middle and on top don’t have contact with the cooking surface, they’re being cooked by the hot vapors instead of by the pan. This creates a completely different result, like the difference between a pan-seared piece of chicken versus a steamed piece of chicken. 

Add the sautéed mirepoix to the stock pot, along with the sachet and tomato paste and gently simmer. Skim the stuff off the top every 15 minutes or so for the first hour and every 30 minutes for the next hour then periodically, as needed, for the remaining 4 to 6 hours of cooking time. That means it will cook for a total of 6 to 8 hours.

Follow the same procedures for straining, cooling, degreasing, and storing as for chicken stock.

Estouffade tomorrow! It’s stupid delicious.

Printable Beef Stock Recipe (or use the print icon in the footer to print extended instructions)

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***Note: If you haven’t read my post on The Fundamentals of Stock Making, do it now. There’s crucial information you need in order to make stock correctly. This post is purely the method and doesn’t include the hows and whys of proper stock making. For even more info, including what bones to use and where to get them, you can go a step further with Stock vs Broth.***

Let’s get started on our chicken stock. We’ll make it following the fundamentals from the last post. For about 3 quarts of chicken stock, you need:

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs chicken bones
  • 8 oz onion 
  • 4 oz carrots
  • 4 oz celery
  • 10 whole thyme sprigs (or about 4 tsp dried thyme)
  • 10 parsley sprigs (leaves and stems)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 to 10 whole peppercorns
  • 1 gallon water
I’d love to tell you how many whole chickens you need in order to make chicken stock but it completely depends on what you do with your chicken bones; do you remove the breast from the bone or cut the breast bone-in? What about the chicken thighs? Was the neck included in the whole chicken you purchased? How much did the whole chicken weigh? Given all the variables, there’s no way I can tell you how many birds to buy.
If the idea of not knowing exactly what you need drives you crazy the only thing I can tell you is… relax. Weigh your bones and if you have 3 lbs instead of 5, make a half batch. If you have 6 lbs, toss your extra pound into the freezer and save it for next time. We’re focusing on the technique instead of the recipe, anyway. Knowing the technique means you won’t have to run to your computer for a recipe every time you want to make stock.

Prep

First, gather your equipment. To get your stock started, you need the following:

  • stock pot
  • cutting board
  • chef’s knife
  • vegetable peeler
  • cheesecloth
  • kitchen twine

When choosing your stock pot, you want one with the smallest circumference possible. Less surface area of liquid means less evaporation so choose a taller, skinny pot rather than a short, fat pot. Short/fat pots will work so you don’t necessarily need to run out and buy new equipment.

Next, chop your veggies. They’re going to cook for several hours so you don’t have to get crazy with the knife skills; cut them into about 1-inch pieces. Discard the peels, skins, and roots from the onion and carrots. Once your veggies are cut, drop them into your stock pot.

Now make your sachet. This step is optional but I recommend it. Cut 2-3 layers of cheese cloth into 8″ to 10″ squares and stack them. Place the thyme, parsley, peppercorns, and bay leaves inside. Pull all the corners up and tie the twine tightly around the little sack so that nothing can get out. Then, cut the excess cheesecloth off the top with some kitchen shears. If you want, you can leave about a foot-long tail of twine and tie it to your stock pot handle so it’s easy to fish out at the end of cooking. Since I’m cheap and I find it pretty easy to fish out the sachet, I don’t see the need in wasting the twine. If you don’t want to make the sachet, you can always toss all the flavorings into the pot naked. The only problem with that is that they get caught into the stuff that floats to the surface so you’ll end up skimming them out.

Last step of prep, rinse your bones in cold water. Some chefs will tell you to rinse, some will tell you not to. I like to rinse them because it gets the blood and extra stuff off them. I’m going to skim that stuff off the surface of the stock anyway so rinsing them now means less stuff to skim. Once rinsed (or not), add your bones to the pot.

Cover with Cold Water

Now, cover all your ingredients with water. Your bones need to be completely covered and about an inch below the water’s surface. Ideally, this will take about a gallon of water but it will vary depending on the size of your stock pot. If it takes more than a gallon to cover the bones by an inch of water, you’re treading into “unsuccessful stock” territory. Too much water means your stock won’t gel like it should and it will probably taste a little bland. If that’s okay with you, go with it. If you plan on ditching the boxed stock and making your own for good, you should probably shop for another stock pot.

If it doesn’t take the whole gallon, that’s fine, too. It means you’ll have a little less final product but it will also be richer. Nothin wrong with that.

Also, if you don’t know why we use cold water, you need to read my last post. Right now.

Simmer Gently

Turn the fire on to no higher than medium. We’re not going to “bring to boil then reduce to simmer.” We’re just gonna simmer. Once the fire is on, check your stock every 15 minutes or so until you see bubbles on the surface. Don’t let it ever boil so reduce the heat, if necessary, to maintain a gentle simmer.

Skim Frequently

You’ll see brownish and foamy bits rise to the surface. Get a spoon and skim that stuff from your stock every 15 minutes or so for the first hour. Skim every 30 minutes or so for the second hour. After that, check it periodically.

Simmer the stock for around 6 hours, total. Add cold water, if necessary, to keep the bones below the surface.

Strain Carefully

After 6 hours, turn the heat off. Grab a ladle and remove all the liquid you can from the pan without disturbing the bones too much. I usually ladle the liquid into my 4qt sauce pan. Don’t transfer it for storage at this point (you’ll see why).

Line a mesh strainer with a couple layers of cheese cloth and strain what’s remaining from your stock pot into your stock. Don’t press the vegetables or sachet to get all the liquid out; the good liquid will drip out on its own.

Cool Quickly

Remember the Food Temperature Danger Zone? Prevent bacteria growth by getting your stock to temperature as quickly as possible. Drop your stock container into an ice bath and stir frequently to chill it quickly. Once it gets to room temperature, move the stock to the fridge and let it chill overnight.

Degrease Completely

As the temperature of your stock drops, the fat will start to rise to the surface. When you let it chill overnight, all the fat will rise and create a layer on top. Remove that layer with a spoon. Sometimes it’ll come out in one, solid piece.

When the fat layer is gone, you should have what looks like “chicken jelly”. This makes me happy. Extremely happy. If you don’t have chicken jelly and your cold stock is liquid-y, you likely didn’t follow the above procedures as they’re written so read them again and determine where you may have skipped a step. If you can’t figure it out, email me and we’ll figure it out together.

Store Properly

I like to freeze the stock I won’t use right away in quart size freezer bags. Don’t go with the flimsy cheap bags; they rip and it’ll ruin your day if that beautiful stock you just made ends up on your floor.

Roll the top of your freezer bag down so the zippy part (technical term) is facing out. This will prevent you from getting the top of the bag dirty, which makes it hard to close. Spoon your cold chicken stock into the bag until it’s almost full. Roll the top back up and seal it, squeezing out as much air as possible. Repeat with the rest of the stock you want to freeze. Lay the filled bags flat on a sheet pan and transfer to the freezer. Make sure your bags are labeled with both the contents and the date (I usually do this before I fill them, one at a time so I don’t label too many). Once your stock is frozen, remove the pan and they’ll store conveniently.

Click here for my complete Chicken Stock recipe (for print or download). Or click in the blog footer for a printable version of the extended directions.

Happy stock making! And join me for my next post as we talk about how to make a brown stock.

My friend, Dedra, had the worst diet of just about anyone I’ve ever known. D kept candy bars in her night stand, if that tells you anything. Of all my friends, she was one of the two I was convinced would never change their poor eating habits. Food-wise, I gave up on her years ago. Little did I expect what was to come.

Dedra and her coworkers go paleo for 21 days every January. They did it again this year and, as usual, D went back to her normal eating habits at 21 days and 01 minute. Once she was back on her normal routine, she realized how good she felt for the 3 weeks on paleo. Within days, she saw a food documentary on Netflix, Hungry For Change, and it rocked her world. For the first time in her 30++ years (ha!), she started to see the correlation between what she ate and how she felt.

Instead of being hooked on sugar, Dedra became hooked on food documentaries. She watched them all and quoted them back to anyone in ear shot, whether they wanted to hear it or not. She walked around the office, picked up her coworkers’ snacks, read the labels, and told them about the poison they were consuming. They got her back, though. They let her have it the day she walked into the office with a Schlotzky’s pizza box. But even a Scholtzky’s turkey and veggie pizza was a choice she never would have made before so that was still a step in the right direction.

D’s transformation was as close to overnight as it gets. In addition to realizing how fatigued and sluggish she had become, she also knew she had a one way ticket to Diabetesville. Weight isn’t an issue for her, the needle on the scale wouldn’t pass 100 if she jumped on it, but she has a long line of poor health in her family and she’s convinced it’s diet-related. Despite years of avoiding it, it was creeping up on her.

The documentaries she watched talked about super foods and D went super crazy for them. She has discovered the fish counter at her local market and now knows the difference between farm-raised and wild-caught. She thought she hated salmon but it turns out she just doesn’t like the farm-raised stuff; wild salmon tastes unbelievably better. She bought fresh broccoli, cooked it for the very first time, and loved it! She couldn’t believe how much better it was than the frozen, steam-in-a-bag stuff. She had sautéed squash and zucchini with dinner tonight. She’s eating apples instead of chocolate. I could go on and on…

I finally asked her if I could share her story after this text conversation tonight (she calls me Lulu):


The biggest surprises for her so far have been how easy it is to cook at home and how much cheaper it is to eat natural foods. The food industry wants us to believe the opposite on both accounts and it’s just not true. She even texted me a photo of her grocery store receipt when she bought enough food for 3-4 days worth of dinners and snacks; it was just under $16. That’s for fresh produce and good, wild-caught fish. That’s also about the same price we each paid for our lunch out the day before, not including tip.

The thing is… I’m incredibly proud of Dedra. She has made serious strides and despite her newfound food knowledge, she hasn’t taken it overboard (other than accusing her coworkers of being drug addicts, of course). She texts me photos of her food every day and she’s making good choices. She still drinks her sweet tea (who can blame her?) but she’s no longer eating Chick-Fil-A five days a week like she used to. The decisions she’s making are about long-term change, not short-term results. We’ve talked extensively about how she shouldn’t deprive herself from her cravings and she’s now at a point where eating good stuff makes her crave more of the good stuff. The bad stuff doesn’t taste as good as it used to and she’s only a few weeks in.

I know there are a lot of people out there like Dedra who know they should make better choices but, for whatever reason, don’t. Let D be your inspiration. She had no idea how to cook fresh broccoli but she happens to have this chef friend who does. I get texts that say, “salmon recipe?” and within a few minutes, she’s on her way to cooking salmon for the first time. If you want to make better choices and need a little help, I’m here for you, too. Email me or hit me up on Facebook. And if you have questions for Dedra, ask her in the comments! (Like how I volunteered her?! She’ll be okay with it.)

D and I use the term “baby steps” all the time and I think it’s good advice for anyone; if you want to make changes, do it one choice at a time. Small changes are easier to make than radical ones and they’re much less overwhelming.

Make one good food choice today and see where it leads tomorrow.

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.

What’s the Difference?

Stock and broth are not the same thing, although a lot of people use the terms interchangeably. Even well-respected, knowledgeable foodies get it wrong and since it’s one of my biggest culinary pet peeves, I’d like to set the record straight. Here are the definitions I found in On Cooking, a textbook used in culinary schools (emphasis mine):

stock – a clear, unthickened liquid flavored by soluble substances extracted from meat, poultry, or fish and their bones as well as from a mirepoix, other vegetables, and seasonings

broth – a flavorful liquid obtained from the long simmering of meats and/or vegetables 

Stocks are richer and more flavorful than broths. For this reason, I always have stock on hand and make broth for specific dishes only. When I make chicken broth, I usually freeze it with the meat and use it for things like chicken & dumplings, chicken noodle soup, chicken pot pie, etc. But I almost always add a little stock to the final product for richness. Since stock is more universally used, that will be our focus for the next couple days.
To give you an idea of how important stock is in cooking, I’ll turn to Escoffier. I found this quote in the 1941 English print of Le Guide Culinaire  (strangely, it’s not in the 2008 edition).

“Indeed, stock is everything in cooking, at least in French cooking. Without it, nothing can be done. If one’s stock is good, what remains of the work is easy; if, on the other hand, it is bad or merely mediocre, it is quite hopeless to expect anything approaching a satisfactory result.”

Since most American cooking techniques derive from the French, this applies to us, too. You may not think you eat much food with stock or broth in it but almost all soups and hot sauces (hot as in temperature, not spice) contain it in some form. So if you open a can of soup or if you ever eat at restaurants without a drive-thru, you eat stock. 
Because the flavor of stock is so important, I rarely buy it. The boxed stuff, even the expensive boxed stuff, is just plain terrible. And unbelievably expensive. Not to mention it packs tons of preservatives that I’d rather not eat. It costs a small fraction of the retail price to make it yourself and while it takes a while, it requires very little effort and tastes infinitely better. The technique, however, is crucial so there’s a little more to learn before we get started.

Types of Stock

There are two main classifications of stock; white and brown. In white stock, you simmer raw bones and vegetables in water. White stock stays relatively colorless. For brown stock, you caramelize both the bones and the vegetables before simmering them in water. This improves the depth of flavor and gives it a rich, dark color. I like white stock for chicken and brown stock for veal. 

Why the Bones Are Important

The bones make all the difference and they are the most important ingredient in stock. They add flavor, richness, and color. All animal bones have collagen in them and when it’s cooked out, it turns to gelatin. When gelatin is cooled, it forms a jelly-like substance which makes it a great thickener or stabilizer. In addition, gelatin (real gelatin, not the packaged sugary stuff) is great for your digestive tract. 
Here is a rundown of the best bones to use for stock, what to look for, and where to get them:

Beef and Veal Bones

Because younger bones have more cartilage and other connective tissue (which are high in collagen), veal bones make the best stock. If you make your own beef or veal stock, stick to back, neck, knuckles, and shank bones (they have the highest collagen contents). You want bones that are cut into 3- to 4-inch pieces so you’re sure to extract all the collagen out. You can get beef or veal bones from a butcher. Most communities still have butchers, even if it’s in your local grocery store. They may not keep them in stock but they should be able to source some for you.

Chicken Bones

Back and neck bones are the best for chicken stock. When using the whole carcass, separate the rib cage from the pelvis so it takes up less space in the pot. The best way to get chicken bones is to buy chickens whole and break them down yourself. You can make stock right away or freeze the bones and make it later (as described in my post on breaking down a whole chicken).

Fish Bones

Stick to lean fish for making fish stock. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna have too distinct a flavor to make a good, universal fish stock. We used sole in culinary school but other flat fish like flounder and turbot are also good choices. You can get fish bones from your fish monger. Just like butchers, every community usually has one, even if it’s in your local grocery store. And just like with veal bones, they may not stock them but they should be able to source them for you.

Seafood Shells

Shells from crustaceans (like crab, lobsters, and shrimp) make good stock. I only buy shrimp in the shell so when I cook them without the shell, the shells go into the freezer. I make shrimp stock when I get enough. Skip mollusk shells (like clams, oysters, and mussels) when making seafood stock, they don’t have any flavor. I don’t make seafood stock often so relying on shrimp shells and the shells from cooked crabs and lobsters works for me.

Other Bones

You can make stock from other animal bones (turkey, ham, game, lamb) but beware of mixing bones. Beef, veal, and chicken bones are pretty mild so if you mix lamb or game bones with them, they can overpower the stock. 

Mirepoix

Mirepoix is the second most important ingredient in stock. It’s a French term and it refers to a mixture of onions, carrots, and celery. The ratio of mirepoix should be 50% onions, 25% carrots, and 25% celery. Mirepoix doesn’t have to be chopped very small for stock due to amount of time it cooks. However, the carrots should be cut half the size of the onions and celery since carrots are more dense and take longer to cook. Cutting them smaller means they’ll cook at the same rate as the onions and celery.

Seasonings

Typical seasonings for stock include black peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, and parsley stems (and/or leaves, if you like). Because the stock cooks for a long period, there’s no need to chop them. It’s recommended that you include them in a sachet – several layers of cheesecloth filled with flavorings and tied into a small sack with twine – so you don’t remove any of the flavorings while skimming your simmering stock. Leave a long piece of twine on the end of the sachet and tie that piece of twine to the handle of the pot. Then toss the sachet in and you’ll be able to easily fish it out at the end of cooking.
While salt is your friend, it’s not your friend when cooking stock. It may seem to go against everything I’ve taught you so far but hear me out… stock is the basis for sauces. Some of those sauces will get reduced down, which concentrates their flavors. If you salt your stock and then reduce it for a sauce, it will end up way too salty. To prevent this, leave the salt out of the stock and instead, add salt when making your dish.
Escoffier talks extensively about the importance of using the best ingredients when making stock, which reminds me of Chef Brad, my first chef instructor in culinary school. Chef Brad taught my Soups, Stocks, and Sauces class. He told us about how some of his employers threw all kinds of stuff into their stocks instead of throwing them away; potato peels, onion roots, pepper stems, etc. None of this stuff adds good flavor and a lot of it can have dirt trapped (like potato peels and onion roots). Since I don’t want my stock to taste like dirt, I leave it out. Like Chef Brad said, “garbage in, garbage out.”
We’ll learn the principles of making stock in my next post so stay tuned!!

I was recently asked to teach a few public classes at The Culinary Institute at Platt College as part of their Secrets of the Chef series so I’ve added 4 classes to my spring & summer schedule! Secrets of the Chef is a monthly cooking class Platt offers to the public. The classes are usually only taught by their chef instructors so I’m honored they asked me to contribute!

If you’re interested in taking your culinary expertise to the next level, cooking classes are a great way to do it. All my cooking classes (and all Secrets of the Chef classes) are interactive which means I’ll be instructing but you’ll do the cooking.

Here are the descriptions for all my classes from the Platt website, along with a little more detail for my fantastic readers:

March 16 / 11am-2pm: Demystifying Bread Baking.  Chef Stephanie McElhaney will guide you from wheat bread to cinnamon rolls. Learn how easy it is to bake your favorite breads at home.

I just heard that this class has the highest enrollment of all the Secrets of the Chef classes this year! Yay! We have a limited number of spots so if you’re interested, sign up quickly. We’ll learn how to make homemade wheat bread and white bread, dinner rolls, crescent rolls, and cinnamon rolls. And if we have time, we’ll even make some pizza!

April 20 / 11am-2pm: Eliminating Processed Foods.  Chef Stephanie McElhaney, a Platt graduate, will help you discover how simple, cost-effective, and more delicious it is to make your favorite foods from scratch.

The food industry wants you to think you don’t have time to make quality food from scratch but that just isn’t true. Learn how many snacks, sauces, condiments, marinades, dressings, etc., you can make in under 10 minutes each so you can kick preservatives to the curb.

May 18 / 11am-2pm: Restaurant Secrets For Home Kitchens.  Learn from Chef Stephanie McElhaney some of the best tricks of the trade for putting meals on the table quickly.

Restaurants can get whole plates of food to your table in 10 minutes so why does it take so long to cook dinner at home? Learn the tricks the pros use to speed up your cooking time.

July 20 / 11am-2pm: Perfecting Your Cooking Techniques. Whether you’re trying out a brand new recipe or one you’ve made a thousand times before, Chef Stephanie McElhaney will teach you the techniques that will guarantee you get the most delicious results.

The little things make all the difference in cooking. Learn the subtle differences between a plethora of cooking methods to ensure you get the most flavor from your food.

In addition to my classes, Platt has eight other public classes taught by their chef instructors. Check out their website to learn more about the rest of this year’s Secrets of the Chef classes or to sign up for mine.

In addition, I’m still booking private sessions this year. Private sessions are customized to your needs and some of the most popular ones are:

  • Cooking Parties: These are always fun! Get a group of your friends together and let’s tackle some common cooking mistakes and learn new techniques. 
  • Kitchen Organization: This class is best for one or two people at a time. Let’s walk through your kitchen and identify the areas where you have the most trouble so we can find some solutions. Whether it’s meal planning, food storage, equipment issues, or a multitude of questions, there’s no better way to find answers than one-on-one coaching in your kitchen.
  • Bridal Shower: These are probably my favorite classes. Help turn a bride into a domestic goddess by throwing her a culinary themed bridal shower! In the process, you’ll help the groom by preventing him from a year of burned dinners. 🙂

For questions about my Secrets of the Chef classes or for more info about private classes, email me at stephanie@saltisyourfriend.com or hit me up on Facebook.

Whole or Ground?

I’m not gonna lie to you… I really struggled with this post. I typed the whole thing and had to walk away, sleep on it, and read it the next day. There are things I want to communicate to you but I want to make sure I’m able to do it objectively and not with my food snob goggles on. So here goes.


I hope you know by now that I won’t recommend you spend ridiculous amounts of money on things you really don’t need if there’s a reasonable alternative. That’s because I won’t spend ridiculous amounts of money on things when there’s a reasonable alternative. I also won’t encourage you to spend more time cooking than necessary. “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

That being said, it’s better to buy your spices whole than to buy them ground. I know that’s not realistic for everyone so let me explain why and you can do what you want with the information.

First, the shelf life of spices is longer when you buy them whole. Spices don’t go bad but they will lose their strength over time and that happens much quicker with ground spices than with whole. It’s all about how much air is penetrating the surface; there’s more surface area on ground spices therefore more air circulates around it. If you know your spices are weaker and you’re okay with that, go with it. Just don’t throw your spices out every six months, no matter what the guys on TV tell you. That’s absurd and a ridiculous waste of money.

Second, you don’t know exactly what you’re getting with ground spices. I heard a report on the news recently about commercially produced paprika; a lab tested some samples and found large amounts of a substance that’s definitely not ground chile pepper. I’ve googled every key word I can imagine and I can’t find anything about it online so who knows if it’s true. But the thing is, it very well could be true and it would be consistent with what I’ve learned about the food industry. Manufacturers are notorious for adding fillers to their food products to increase profits. And they don’t have to put the filler on the food label because they can claim it as a “proprietary ingredient“. They can’t put fillers in whole nutmeg so the only way to be sure you’re really getting all the nutmeg you’re paying for is to buy it whole.

Some spices are impossible to buy whole and so you have to buy it ground. Especially spices that are pepper-based like paprika, chile powder, and cayenne pepper. You could always dry and grind the peppers yourself but even I wouldn’t go that far. Instead, I look for sources I trust, which means I avoid Walmart and discount stores like the plague. I’ve ordered spices from Penzey’s and I’ve always had good experiences with them. I like that they describe each spice on their web page so I know exactly what I’m getting. There are plenty of other online retailers and local stores that have great selections so find what you like. Native Roots (formerly in Norman, now in OKC) has a spice counter where you can buy just the amount of each spice you need instead of buying a large jar. They’ll even help you mix spices to get just what you want.

If you go the whole spice route, there are plenty of tools to help you grind them. There are spice mills, electric grinders, and if you really want to go old school, you could always use a pestle & mortar. Unless I’m forgetting another, all spices except nutmeg will grind will in any of the above equipment. For nutmeg, you just need a fine grater, like a Microplane.

Lesser Known Spice Facts

It’s Allspice, Not All Spices
Contrary to popular belief, allspice is not a combination of other spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. It’s a dried berry from a tree that originates in Jamaica and consequently, it’s a key element in Jamaican cooking (which is unbelievably delicious and one of my favorites cuisines in the world).

Capers Are A Spice
It’s true. They come from a small bush found throughout the Mediterranean basin. They’re not good fresh but their flavor develops after curing in strongly salted white vinegar. Capers are delicious with fish and game and will keep for a long time in the fridge in its original brine (don’t add vinegar to it or it will spoil).

Chili vs Chile
American “chili powder” is not the same as “chile powder”. Chili powder is a combination of oregano, cumin, garlic, and other flavorings commonly used in American chili… and in what Americans interpret as Mexican food. Chile powder is ground from a variety of dried chile peppers. It can range anywhere from mild to extremely hot depending on who makes it so pay attention when shopping and reading recipes.

Beware of Spice Mixes…

…and not for the reasons you may have heard. I’ve seen a post pinned quite a bit recently that’s all about making your own spice mixes because the pre-mixed stuff is full of random ingredients. Since we already learned that any powdered mix can contain ingredients it shouldn’t, you’re not avoiding bad stuff by mixing it yourself unless you grind your own spices. Here are the reasons I don’t stock spice mixes:

  • I’ve been to Jamaica and packaged jerk mixes taste absolutely nothing like jerk. I’m not saying they’re not tasty but if I want jerk, I want jerk. Like the kind we ate at amazing roadside stands. I can’t get that from the pre-mixed stuff but I can make it myself after reading the Jamaican Grandmothers’ cookbook I stumbled upon in Negril!
  • Real Cajun and Creole cooks make better food with their own spices than anything found in a grocery store. And it takes only a few ingredients most people already have in their cabinets. Why buy another random spice mix if I already have all the ingredients in my cabinet?
  • I would prefer to add my own amounts of oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, etc., than to use an Italian Mix and let McCormick decide how much I should add of each. 
If you’re wondering what spices I stock, you can check out what I keep in the pantry here
On a separate note, I was asked to participate in a charity event last night at my culinary alma mater and I had a blast! The event was a cooking competition for young, aspiring chefs. The kids were grouped with culinary students and they had to prepare an entrée and a dessert from a mystery basket. I didn’t know what to expect but I was thoroughly impressed with all the dishes. I met some cool chefs who organized the event and reconnected with some I haven’t seen in a while who were judging. I think everyone involved had a really great time and I look forward to doing it again!

(pardon the terrible camera phone quality)