Stocks and Broths: The Foundation 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 the 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 is technically a stock. I have used these types of instant stocks in a pinch, but they typically only add salt and color rather than richness or depth. Still, they are better than water.
Stocks are the perfect complementary companion to the kitchen. They utilize scrap waste (such as mirepoix odds and ends), add depth and flavor, are easy to prepare, and are universally versatile.
Sauces are the decadent derivatives of a stock base. 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.
Tools and Resources
As you advance your skills in cooking, the tools that you will need advance as well. In order to keep up, it is important to choose the proper tools that perform and last. Having worked in commercial kitchens for a long time, I have used hundreds of tools and equipment. To save you from having to wade through a thousand products, I have hand-picked a few to help you achieve your goals in stock-making.
By clicking through our Amazon links below, it helps support The Culinary Cook as I receive a commission if you purchase a product at no cost to you.
The most important part of a kitchen is the right stockpot. One that suits your volume needs as well as providing consistent temperature without scorching or burning. The proper equipment does not need to be expensive to be good. To see my recommendation, you can check out the product on Amazon by clicking here.
What Is A Cooking 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 its own stocks. The Japanese have their own stocks. China, Thailand, India, France – you name it. We focus more on traditional classical French stocks. They can be defined into 4 types.
Classical French Stocks
- White stock
- Brown Stock
- Fish Stock
- Vegetable Stock
Japanese Broths and Stocks
Japanese stocks are some of my favorite because they incorporate a new flavor profile called umami. Traditional Japanese stocks are used in a wide variety of dishes and are the flavor base of almost all Japanese cuisine. Ramen is the most famous for using stocks and there are many varieties of ramen stock bases depending on the region.
What is Umami? What Does it Taste Like?
Umami is one of the five flavor bases that include sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami). Umami contains glutamate which increases and enhances flavors of a dish. Umami is found naturally in many foods including mushrooms and celery.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a man-made form of naturally occurring glutamate. It is used in a variety of cuisines. The health effects are minimal in low doses however many people experience sensitivity to MSG.
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.
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 the Difference Between a Broth and a Stock?
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 an advancement of a stock. Most cooks and chefs will use leftover meat and bones to create a good broth. In the professional kitchen, broths are not typically prepared because of the cost difference of using actual meat and bones as opposed to a stock which uses bones and leftover food waste (Carrot ends, celery bits, onion skin) to simmer over a long period of time.
Relative to a stock, broths cook quickly. The flavoring of the broth comes primarily from the meat being used. This means that to flavor a broth, the meat will have to lose its flavoring. A balance must be achieved if you want to have that perfect medium.
When I create a broth, I use a stock base as my starting point. This allows me to layer on additional flavoring that is specific for that dish.
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.
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. If you are needing additional resources on chicken stock, be sure to check out our article that covers recipe and procedure here.
A white stock has a light 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, but I have used roasted chicken bones and turkey bones. The best types of bones to use are the knuckle/shank, 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 caramelization of the bones gives the stock its color and flavor.
Brown stock is also the most difficult and lengthy 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!
For more information on beef stock and the recipe on how to make it, check out our article on beef stock here.
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 flatfish. 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. 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.
Fishbones 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.
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 complement 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 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 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!