The cornerstone of any food is it’s flavour. It’s a bit of an obvious statement to make, we know, but sometimes the obvious bares repeating. Imparting flavour into a dish is a skill that comes with practise and hard work, and perhaps the single most important tool in your arsenal in this regard is a Stock.
A stock is, plain and simply, flavoured liquid prepared through cooking any sort of foodstuff in simmering water. This can be anything from meats, fish, or vegetables (and any combination thereof), and will often be flavoured further with the addition of Herbs, Spices, Wines, or other Aromatics.
Let’s get a little bit of colloquial humdrum out of the way; whilst to some extent the terms Stock and Broth can be used interchangeably, it is generally agreed that the key difference between the two is that the solids used to flavour are removed from a Stock, whereas they are kept in and served with a Broth. In this regard, a Stock is prepared largely for use in another dish, rather then as an accompaniment to the foods used to make it- indeed, Stocks are very often prepared using leftovers or otherwise undesirable foodstuffs, such as not-commonly eaten portions of vegetables (Carrot skin, for example), or the bones from a joint of Meat or whole Poultry.
Listing the various kinds is a nigh on impossible task, as practically anything you could possibly cook, in any kind of combination, can and will be used to produce a stock. Instead, what we’d like to do is list a few pointers on preparation, so you know what to do and what to avoid doing should you decide to make your own Stocks at home.
First and foremost, the ingredients must be submerged in and start the simmering process in cold water. Connective tissue and collagen from the ingredients will denature into gelatin throughout he process of a long, gradual simmering, which in turn will thicken the stock slightly in addition to imparting significantly more flavour onto the dish. Likewise, it’s important to note the distinction of Simmering here; you want a very gentle simmer, with bubbles just barely breaking the surface. Boiling the ingredients will result in a cloudy, lower quality Stock.
If you’re going to use meat in your Stock, you always add it before you add your vegetables, in part for more even cooking, and in part so that the scum- or separated fats- that rise to the surface can be more easily skimmed off and removed to allow for a cleaner Stock.
And finally, the shelf life when kept in the fridge is around three to four days on average, depending on the type of stock. However, in theory, you can keep it for extended periods of time by re-boiling it at the end of that cycle to extend that shelf life for another three or four days. Alternatively, you can freeze it after it has cooled to keep it indefinitely- although it is worth pointing out that fresh Stock will generally taste far better then Stock that’s been defrosted.
What you actually use your finished stock for is entirely up to you, as it has a multitude of uses. It can be drizzled atop a dish upon completion, may sometimes be used throughout the cooking process of another dish to deepen the flavour, and serves as a fundamental base for a number of soups and sauces across the country. One of the most popular applications of stock within the home is to use it as a base for a homemade Gravy- typically a Meat Gravy.