Brown veal stock is the foundation of this port sauce

Last week I prattled on about consomme and how to make consomme from stock to finish but a few people wrote me asking just how to get from start to stock. Stock (les fonds), also known as boullion or broth, my friends, are nothing less than the foundation of French cooking!

Les fonds sont pour la cuisine, ce que les foundations sont pout la maison.” Stocks are to cooking what a foundation is to a house. -Auguste Escoffier

So there you have it. Straight from the horse, er, father of French cuisine himself. It is so important that on Day 3 of cooking school, we learned how to make stock and every morning for the following 6 months, we made stock and just about every kind of stock. Brown veal stock, white veal stock, game stock, white chicken stock, brown chicken stock, fish stock (fumet: foo-may), and marmite. There is nothing like the smell of browning veal bones at 8 in the morning to get your stomach turning. I’d hightail it straight to the bread kitchen across the hall most mornings snacking on fresh croissants, baguettes, brioche, etc! Trust me, it shows…..

My partners in culinary crime – Beverly, Michael and Michele – at our station the first week of school

So what are stocks? Technically they are flavorful, aromatic liquids made by cooking bones and vegetables to extract their flavors. The importance in making them right is that these stocks become the basis for sauces, soups and stews as well as adding a depth of flavor and viscosity. They are actually quite simple to make once you break it up into steps and flowchart it as it requires little attention once the water is added.

As a guideline for making stock, the amount of vegetables is usually approximately 10 percent of the weight of the bones. If you add more, it will become simply vegetable soup. My first chef instructor, Chef Pascal, used to say “What you put into your pot, you get out of your pot.” We naively took that literally. He was referring to life as we later learned but this of course applies to the quality of food you use to cook with. If you use old vegetables or a chicken carcass that sat in the fridge a day or two too long, your stock will show it.

I thought I’d spare you images of browning veal bones and let you savor the results of such so…white chicken stock was the basis for this pumpkin soup garnished with fried sage leaves and julienned leeks

Here is the step by step for making white chicken stock or fond de volaille blanc. I know most of you are screaming for a recipe as I did before cooking school but if you learn the technique, you can make any kind of stock in any amount.

1. Clean and degorge (day-gorzh; to clean by holding under running cold water) the chicken bones (take a carcass from chicken soup you made the day before and cut it up)

2. Blanch (quickly drop into boiling water for a few minutes) the bones and drain.

3. Put the bones in a stock pot and cover with cold water by 1 inch.

4. Add mirepoix (meer-pwa; roughly chopped onions, leek whites, celery, no carrots since this is white stock, and remember approx 10% of the weight of the bones) and bouquet garni (boo-kay gar-nee; a sachet of mixed herbs usually fresh thyme, a dry bay leaf, parsley stems, and a few peppercorns) to pot

5. bring to a simmer (never boil as it will cloud the stock, much like consomme) and cook for approximately 2 hours until the liquid is flavorful. Skim off the foam and fat every once in a while.

6. Strain it through a chinoise (a conical shaped strainer – or use a regular strainer lined with cheesecloth if you have it).

7. Chill.

And voila, you have a delicious chicken stock and basis for fabulous sauces or steamy, bone-warming soup.

Some stock tips and tricks:

– always start with cold water.

– skim the stock every so often but once you chill it the fat will rise to the top and solidify and you can simply spoon it off the top.

– if you made a lot you can freeze in zip lock bags to save room in your freezer. Some chefs even freeze it in ice trays and add a cube or two as needed for a sauce.

– don’t let the stock boil and don’t stir it up from the bottom or it will cloud (same in the consomme with the raft) and a chef would rather eat his whisk than have a cloudy consomme.

– cool the stock quickly in an ice bath. fill up 1/2 your sink with ice cubes and cold water and place the strained stock in a pot in the sink and stir with a wooden spoon to cool down.

Or, if you are really lazy like me, you can go to Safeway and buy a can of Swanson’s low sodium fat free chicken broth and save yourself a few hours….. but it’s just not the same…..

Bon appetit! :-)

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