“…the single preparation that might elevate a home cook’s food from decent to spectacular ” (p. 89) is how Ruhlman describes the importance of making a good stock. In fact when the idea for the book Ratio was conceived, stock making was its beginning, often considered the foundation of cooking knowledge. Stocks are a key difference between home and restaurant cooking and often are the one thing that makes replicating your favorite dish at home difficult. I have never made stock before, was eager to try and recently had the pleasure of doing just that. That may sound funny but making a stock was actually a fun process combining a simple ratio, quality ingredients, a little method and time.
Prior to my last CSA pickup I made a request of them for bones as part of my share. They generously came through for me with four large beef bones included in my cooler. Stock, despite it’s overall simplicity is a hotly (sorry about that one) debated topic in the culinary world when it comes to method. A key point of contention is the difference between making a light or dark stock which is primarily affected by the decision to roast the bones or not.
The ratio for stock is 3 parts water and 2 parts bones. It is a forgiving ratio that can be judged by sight with experience, but I weight everything out to be sure I got it right. I also opted to roast the bones with the hope of adding more flavor and body to my stock. They were placed on an oiled sheet pan while I cranked up the oven heat to 425 degrees F.
As the bones roasted for the required 45 minutes with rotation half way through, smoke started coming through the stove top. The high heat was cooking the fat and filling my apartment with smoke. It didn’t take long for the smoke detectors to start going off. I was glad that I chose to do this on a weekend afternoon.
I put the bones into my stock pot, trying to get them in there efficiently so that the did not require any more water than the ratio required.
The measured water was added which was the perfect amount to just cover the bones. With the water in the stock pot, the stove heat was turned on. Using my thermometer I let the temperature of the water rise to just below simmering at 180 degrees F which turned out to be just below medium on my small stove top coil.
At that temperature, the good stuff started happening. The flavor was extracted from the bones while the gelatin, the key component that adds body to a stock, was released as well.
Once everything was to temperature, I skimmed the the top to get rid of the fat and impurities. The water and bones simmered for 5 hours. With an hour left to go I created mirepoix, carefully dicing carrots, onions and celery. I chose not to sweat them prior to cooking and threw into the pot.
I also added pepper and tomato paste to add additional taste and color.
After an hour had passed I removed the pot from the heat to cool briefly.
After removing the aromatics, the stock was poured through a cheesecloth lined strainer to take out the impurities.
Everything was strained into a glass bowl to be chilled overnight. This would allow the stock to cool down and the fat to coagulate for easy removal.
The next day a light film of fat had developed on the top which I skimmed before dividing into plastic bags for freezing.
While having a ratio for making stock was not entirely needed, following a simple guide through the process made the first time around fool proof and easy. Having one batch under my belt will make future ones a lot easier and hopefully as time goes on the process will become second nature. Hopefully as I get comfortable and stock making becomes more routine I won’t have to use the wretched pre-made “broth” found in the grocery store. My stock alone may not elevate me to a great home cook right now, but it’s a step in the right direction and a satisfying one at that.