I am such a permanent fixture at the stove that I sometimes forget there is a real world outside the kitchen. At a recent dinner party, overhearing two guests pondering the issue of "weak stocks" I immediately launched into a diatribe on insipid broths, which, I regret to report, climaxed with a formula for a fail-safe, all-purpose stock of my own. Needless to say, the gentleman I interrupted had been discussing new offerings on Wall Street, and not, in the words of Julia Child: ". . . the liquid obtained from the simmering together of meat, bones . . . with vegetables, seasonings and water."
Perhaps I was so heated on the subject because I believe that stock, whether it is devised of chicken, beef, or simply hearty vegetables, is a staple that no kitchen should be without, if soups, gravies or sauces are ever on the menu.
Homemade Is Preferred
Most cookbooks--including my own--fudge on the issue of stock in a recipe, adding the note: "preferably homemade" next to the item in the column of ingredients. It is a phrase that strikes dread into the heart of every good would-be cook. Because it bespeaks hours of arduous work and countless stove time.
Unfortunately, there is no substitute for made-from-scratch stock as the base for a dish, and neither bouillon cubes nor commercial canned products bridge the gastronomic gap. Prepared soup with its additives is less than a desirable cooking adjunct for some home chefs. When push comes to shove, however, even a purist at the stove gives in to its convenience. I do myself when time is short. My advice: Dilute the concentrated soup with water to reduce the salt content. Then doctor it up with additives of your own: onion, garlic, leek, a carrot, a celery stalk, even a tomato on occasion plus seasonings like parsley, whole peppercorns and allspice berries. Bring the stock to a boil. Simmer it for at least half an hour, longer if you have the luxury. After straining it, add a healthy shot of bourbon to reinforce the flavor.
Day Off From Work
In the best of all possible worlds, homemade stock is concocted on a day off from work. I freeze stock in ice cubes that defrost on demand and can be at my elbow whenever a lackluster gravy needs resuscitation.
Following are two tonic stock formulas: an ultimate chicken and a quintessential vegetable. First, here are some tips for making both broths.
The pot in which you cook stock should be narrow rather than wide so all the ingredients steep in the liquid and evaporation is kept to a minimum.
Always roast the bone or chunk of meat with which the stock is flavored. Raw meat makes a strong stock but it also forms a scum that must be constantly skimmed.
Add vegetables, such as onions and parsnips, that add a sweet savor to the stock, but do not peel them. The skins add color.
Add all fresh herbs except parsley at the point when the stock is half cooked, so the green's pungency does not overpower.
Stock should simmer, never boil.
The secret to a rich, flavorful stock is always fresh ingredients plus a long tenure of stove time, for the taste of a truly good one depends on prolonged cooking. A general rule of thumb is to expect only half the amount of liquid you usually begin with since the reducing process gives stock its richness.
SUPER-STRENGTH CHICKEN STOCK
4 pounds chicken pieces (backs, necks, wings, etc.)
4 quarts water, about
2 yellow onions, unpeeled
1 leek, cleaned and chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
2 turnips, peeled and roughly chopped
2 parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
8 sprigs parsley
4 whole cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 small bay leaf
1 teaspoon choped fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Place chicken pieces in large pot and add enough water to cover chicken totally. Heat to boiling. Boil 5 minutes, skimming surface as scum rises to top.
Add onions, leek, garlic, carrots, celery, turnips, parsnips, parsley, cloves, peppercorns, salt, bay leaf, thyme and vinegar with enough water to cover chicken by 3 inches.
Return to boiling, then reduce heat to low. Simmer, partially covered, skimming surface occasionally, until stock is reduced to 1 1/2 quarts, about 3 hours. Strain. Makes 1 1/2 quarts.
In a pinch, the following Vegetable Stock will do in place of chicken or beef stock in any recipe where it is used to add zip to cookery. It is a must for those whose dietary strictures prescribe the uses of meat or poultry. But non-vegetarians also will enjoy the remarkable savor that a vegetable stock adds to a dish.
1/4 cup unsalted butter
5 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic
4 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 leeks, cleaned and chopped
1/2 ounce dried mushrooms
1 bunch parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 fresh sage leaf, or dash dried sage
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
10 peppercorns, lightly crushed
10 allspice berries, lightly crushed
Dash freshly grated nutmeg
4 quarts water
1/2 teaspoon crushed dried hot red chilies
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Melt butter in large heavy pot over medium heat. Stir in onions. Cook 5 minutes.
Add garlic, celery, carrots, leeks, mushrooms, parsley, thyme, sage, bay leaf, salt, peppercorns, allspice, nutmeg and water.
Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low. Simmer, partially covered, until reduced to about 2 1/2 quarts, about 2 hours. Add chilies and vinegar. Simmer, uncovered, 30 minutes longer. Strain, gently pressing liquid out of vegetables with back of spoon. Makes 1 1/2 to 2 quarts.