Stocks & Sauces: Foundations for Great Cooking
Stocks and sauces play an important role in the culinary world. The ability to create delicious stocks will be your ticket to deep rich flavor. Knowing how to make stocks properly and correctly will set you apart in your skills from the thousands out there who do it incorrectly. There is a method to making stocks, and once you know how to do it you will see a new world open up to you in ways you’ve never thought of before.
Stocks are the bases of almost everything we do. The French appropriately call it a fond (base). We usually create stocks on a regular basis whether we know it or not. If you’ve ever used water as a base for your soups and added a bouillon base to flavor it, that’s a stock (A crappy one I
might add – those things are nothing but salt and MSG!). Stocks are the perfect complimentary companion to the kitchen. They utilize scrap waste, add depth and flavor, are easy to prepare, and are universally versatile.
Sauces are the decadent derivative of stocks. They are concentrated in flavor, add richness, smoothness, and enhance any dish. You know what a great sauce is. You’ve probably experienced one at a restaurant over your steak, maybe a brandy peppercorn sauce, or perhaps you enjoyed the most delicious Mac & Cheese, possibly a cheddar bechamel. Sauces enrich food the same way that whipped cream enriches pies, or frosting enhances cakes. The key to great sauce making is always, and always will be, starting off with a great stock.
Let’s dive right into stock making and understand the differences between a stock, a sauce, and a broth.
What Is A Stock?
A stock is the essence of flavor dispersed into water. There are countless stocks that span many nations and cultures. A stock that is unique to a culture defines and dominates that regional flavoring. Mexican food has their own stocks. The Japanese have their own stocks. China, Thailand, India, France – you name it. We are going to stick with classic stock making, but The Culinary Cook may do a write up of some international stocks at a later date. A classic stock can be defined into 4 types
- White stock
- Brown Stock
- Fish Stock
- Vegetable Stock
Stocks are one of the most important foundations for cooking. Think of it as support beams for the house of culinary. Let’s explore the different types of stocks to see what we can learn.
A white stock is a stock made from bones that have not been roasted or browned. They are usually raw and the most common type of white stock is the all-purpose Chicken Stock. A white stock has a lightly golden color that is clear and mild in flavor. White stocks are typically used as bases in soups and as a substitute for water (Pilafs, for example). They can remain relatively colorless if colorless vegetables are used (a white mirepoix for example). Chicken stock/white stock tends to have less gelatin content than brown/beef stock so thickening by reduction does not produce the results one would see from a brown stock.
Brown stocks are typically made with beef bones. The best types of bones to use are the knuckle/shank from veal, as they contain higher collagen content that produces the ever appealing gelatin look. By roasting the bones prior to making the stock, you get a deep, rich, dark brown color. The caramalization of the bones gives the stock its color and flavor.
Brown stock is also the most difficult to make, as it not only requires the proper type of bones, the precise browning of said bones, and the 8-12 hour cooking times, but also a certain level of understanding about the process and desired outcome of the stock. I encourage everyone to practice and experiment making brown stock, because that’s the only way you’re going to get better!
The uses for brown stock are usually reserved for darker dishes such as beef gravies, stews, and jus’. It is also the base for making demi-glace, espagnole and, the ultimate in decadence, glace de viande which are used in the production of the most advanced sauces. Developing your own brand of brown stock (Or any stock) is vital to your success as a cook.
Fish stock is derived from the bones of non-fatty fish. The preferable bones are that of the halibut, or if unavailable, other non-fatty flat fish. They are a snap to make, taking only 45 minutes, and are essential for dishes that showcase seafood as its main. Chowders
are a great use for stocks, as well as a poaching liquid for other fish. A Fish stock is clear with a pronounced fish flavor and very light body. There is a variation to the fish stock called a fumet. A fumet is a fish stock that has white wine added to it. A fumet is strongly flavored and aromatic. Reducing a fumet by half results in an essence.
Fish bones should be washed before use but never blanched as will lose flavor. Due to the short cooking time, mirepoix or other vegetables should be cut small and sweated to encourage flavor extraction.
A vegetable stock is just as the name implies. It is a low-cost vegetarian stock used in soups with no meat, or as a flavor enhancer in place of water. A good vegetable stock should be clear and light-colored. There is no gelatin content due to no animal products used. Vegetable stock can be used in place of many meat-based stock recipes. It is very convenient when preparing vegetarian dishes or as a lighter, more healthful alternative when preparing sauces or soups. While many different types of vegetables can be used for stock making, more variety is not always better. Sometimes only using one or two vegetables that compliment the finished dish works out better than a stock made with too many vegetables.
A court bouillon is an acidic cooking liquid that is not actually a stock. It is prepared in the same manner as a stock, so we will cover it in this section. A court bouillon is usually water with wine or vinegar, where vegetables and seasonings have been simmered to extract their flavors. It is excellent for poaching foods such as fish and shellfish. A court bouillon is best when it is prepared fresh.
We will only cover sauces briefly at this stage, as there is so much to learn about them in later articles. Sauces are generally derived from stocks and are thick, rich and full of flavor. There are 5 different sauces that we call the Mother sauces.
These five sauces are easy to remember by thinking of them as colors. White, Blonde, Brown, Red & Yellow, respectively. We’ll touch base on this topic later, where we get in-depth on sauce-making!
Broths have invaded the home market and have made a lot of home cooks believe that broths are where the action begins. While broths certainly have their place, they are not the foundation that you should be starting with.
What is a broth?
A broth is a derivative of a stock that is created with numerous flavorings outside of the traditional flavor essences (Mirepoix for example). They will contain flavorings like salt, herbs, and other powerful flavoring agents as opposed to the subtle and neutral flavorings of traditional stocks. Broths are also made with meats rather than bones and this is the defining difference between the two products.
So what this means is that a broth is already halfway complete to a finished product which leaves you, the cook, with significantly less options to alter, change, or create your own flavorings. Broths must remain the product of flavoring stock and must be specific to the dish you are trying to create. A great example is chicken noodle soup. A classic soup that transforms a base chicken stock into a chicken broth by use of many different spices and the simmering of chicken meat. The broth is the end product, and we wouldn’t strain out the chicken broth to use in, say, a stir fry because the flavorings have been designed specifically for chicken noodle soup.
While you can find some generally neutral broths at the store, and in a pinch they are passable, they tend to be of sub par quality due to the type of bones and meat that is used for the broth, which is typically the trimmings and waste of processed chicken products like chicken breast. They are also loaded with salt and can negatively affect flavorings. Do yourself a favor and learn to make your own stocks!