For days: taking stock in broth
This phrase has wormed its way into popular vernacular. Not so deep as to have permanence, it will soon vanish into obscurity, but it has some relevance to a revelation experienced while talking with some fellow foodies.
Cook your stocks and broths for DAYS. Not hours, days!
I have always loved cooking since I first watched my mother cook amazing meals from simple ingredients and my dad work his magic on the charcoal kettle grill. A favorite family activity was watching cooking shows together, each of us reflecting on how good that particular recipe might taste or suggesting a personal touch to make a dish that much more special.
In this environment I found a particular love of creating stocks and broths. I was first fascinated by what the French call the “mierpoux” (pronounced “Meer-pwar”). It is a simple flavor base of aromatic vegetables, a “holy trinity” foundation upon which so many meals are crafted. Itself a simple recipe with regional variations, it is most commonly 2 parts onion, 1 part carrots and 1 part celery. You will find this base present in recipes for a variety of roasts, stews and other long-cooking dishes. More importantly, (to this post at least) it is present in stocks and broths.
Another major component of a stock or broth is the gelatin. The longer you cook a stock or broth, the more gelatin you render out of the connective tissue and bones and the richer the broth becomes. Here is where I had my understanding expanded. I thought cooking my own stocks for hours was a revelation and achieved the best benefit; as it turns out, the point of diminishing returns on this is much further than I thought. You can cook your broth for several days to pull as much gelatin out from the protein and bones as possible. This needs to be balanced against your needs and I have found through testing that about 24-48 hours’ worth of cooking seems to provide the best balance between nutritional value, flavor, time and resources expended.
I prefer a red, acidic wine for beef broths and a dry white wine for fish and chicken. My favorite for chicken stock is sherry. I have found that Pinot Grigio is also an excellent white wine choice. AVOID cooking sherry because it contains a huge amount of added sodium! A good rule of thumb to follow is: if you enjoy it in a glass, you will enjoy it as an ingredient.
- 2 lbs. chicken pieces*
- 1 bottle of white wine
- ½ head of celery , ribs coarsely chopped
- 3-4 medium to large carrots, coarsely chopped
- 1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme OR 2 teaspoons of dried thyme
- 2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary OR 2 teaspoons of dried rosemary
Either use leftover chicken carcass from a chicken you roasted at home or go to a butcher and ask for chicken carcasses; they work the best for stock. Most butchers will gladly sell them to you for about $0.50 to $1.00 a pound. Otherwise, chicken wings are a good substitute.
Add 1-2 teaspoons of oil to the bottom of a medium to large stock pot and turn stovetop on to medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer. Add chicken carcasses and about a teaspoon of salt. Get a nice sear on each side of the carcasses. If brownish bits stick to the bottom, that’s perfect. This creates complex, flavorful compounds as the proteins on the carcass change composition from the heat. Science!
Once all sides are nicely seared (medium brown), turn the heat down to just under medium and add minced garlic and mierpoux — that is, celery, carrots and onions. Give it a quick stir. Let the mierpoux cook for a few minutes until the onions are translucent. Clear the center of the pan, turn the heat to high and add about 1 cup of wine. It will sizzle and boil wonderfully!
After things have settled down a bit, scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula. This is known as “deglazing” and helps to dissolve all those great bits of flavor that were stuck to the bottom of the pot. It’s a neat trick, just be careful not to burn those bits to a char before you get to deglaze! When in doubt, use less heat.
*NOTE: This also works beautifully when you need to create a sauce after browning meat. Simply use about a cup flavorful liquid with the pan on high, deglaze and use it as is or thicken with a simple blonde roux of olive oil and flour.
Here is where we can take two different paths.
Simmering for hours: If you are pressed for time and need to make a stock in a few hours, add the water and the rest of the wine to the stock pot, bring to a boil then reduce the heat and allow to simmer. If you are using dried herbs, add them at this point. If you are using fresh herbs, add them 10 minutes before you plan on taking the pot off the heat. Allow to simmer for a minimum of 1 hour. Strain to remove the carcasses and strip them of any leftover meat and reserve the meat (great in salads, enchiladas, dips, etc.) and the mierpoux. I personally like the vegetables as a snack later. You could also them for a breakfast hash or patty like the British “bubble and squeak.”
Simmering for days: If you are up for the long game, take the contents of the stock pot and place in a slow cooker along with water and wine and place the slow cooker on a low setting. Keep an eye on the fluid level in the pot and add water as needed. Set an alarm on your phone or wristwatch to go off when you have reached your desired simmering time. Let this go for as little or as long as you like. I have found there is little benefit to going longer than 5 days. Towards the end of the cooking time, remember to add fresh herbs! We have also discovered that one last addition of about ¼ -½ bottle of white wine within a few hours of the end of cooking helps to brighten the stock up.
Once the stock is complete, remove from the heat and place in an appropriate glass container and allow to chill in the refrigerator. Once sufficiently chilled, skim the top of the stock or broth to remove excess fat. If it is still liquid, you can pour the stock into an ice cube tray, freeze it and store the cubes in your freezer for up to six months. In your refrigerator it will last about a week, if you don’t eat it all first, like some people …
This stock is an excellent base for soups and stews and any recipe that calls for stock. This method can also be applied to beef bones such as oxtails and soup bones. I have not yet tried a fish stock, but I understand that fish heads are an excellent source of nutrients that Americans do not normally receive because EWW, but I really want to try it next. Fish-based sauces are a staple of Japanese cooking, which I love.
However long you cook your broth or put it to use, I encourage you to add your own personal twist and make it yours. Experiment! Turn it into the new family recipe, pass it around to your relatives and down to your children, if you have them. It only takes a few hours … or days.
Matt Schmitz has been dating my sister Elizabeth for the last two years and through weird family events and double dates, we’ve happily discovered he is a fellow foodie with a love of cooking and budding interest in brewing. As a frequent business traveler for an industrial filtration company, he gets to sample regional cuisine all over the country and the world and loves to share his experiences with others. When he is not on a plane bound for Timbuktu, he enjoys riding or fixing his motorcycles, going on long walks with Elizabeth, building dubious contraptions and, of course, cooking!