Food Science Slice: 3 Mistakes You Make When Cooking Stock

A good stock is the bedrock of many a warming winter meal. Soups, stews, sauces and gravies, curries and stir fries, and risottos—all owe the foundations of their flavors to a well-prepared steaming pot of broth. Making your own gives you a more complex product than anything you can buy at the store, and it’s a great way to use leftovers or veggies growing limp in your fridge. It’s also really easy, provided you do it right. Here are three common errors people make when making stock, and how to fix them, so yours always comes out ready to rock.

MISTAKE #1: TOO HOT IN HERE

A rich, full-bodied broth comes from the conversion of connective tissue (mainly collagen) into gelatin through the application of heat in the presence of moisture. The hotter you cook the stock, the faster you convert collagen into gelatin. Cooking low and slow gives you good conversion while preventing fat, minerals and other gunk from emulsifying into your stock. Boiled stock will be cloudy, greasy and have a lower yield. To avoid that, start with cold water and your bones (or veggies, if you’re going vegetarian) and put over high heat. When the liquid just starts to come to a simmer, turn it down so that only one or two bubbles at a time rise up to the surface. Alternatively, you can place your pot straight into a 200˚F oven and allow it to come up to temperature that way.

MISTAKE #2: ALL INGREDIENTS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL

When it comes to cooking time at least. There’s a limit to how much flavor a given ingredient will impart—past that, extra time just turns everything to mush. Big beef or lamb bones can be cooked for up to eight hours, or overnight. Chicken bones are more like four to six. Veggies give up all their flavor in about an hour. So if you’re making a meat stock, use only bones and water for the majority of the cooking time. The last hour, add your aromatics (onion, garlic, celery, carrot, bay leaves, peppercorns, fresh herbs) But keep an eye on the timer; too much time in the heat and the veggies break down, absorbing stock that you lose in the straining process.

MISTAKE #3: FORGETTING TO FINISH

A good stock isn’t done until it’s been strained, seasoned and cooled. Skimping on any of these steps can leave you with stock that’s murky, bland or stale-tasting. To strain, pour the stock into a colander lined with at least two layers of cheesecloth. Catch the clarified stock in a clean saucepan or large glass measuring cup. At this point, you should season with salt to taste. If you’re going to use it that day, the stock can hang out at room temperature. But if you’re going to store it for later, then you’ll want to cool it as quickly as possible to keep it fresher for longer. Transfer to a wide, shallow container and add a few ice cubes. Once it’s cool enough to touch, either put it in sealed containers for the fridge, or freeze in ice cube trays and store in a ziplock bag for easy-to-use portions any time.

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