kitchen 101

Kitchen 101: Taking Stock

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It’s the 2nd Tuesday of the month, and that means it’s time for another Kitchen 101. As promised, we’re going to have a little discussion about stock.

I’ve posted the lecture notes from my Concepts and Theories class in the notes section of the Facebook page, in case you’d like a more in depth look at the wonderful world of stocks (and fumet, and court bouillon, and essences…) and all the fancy French terms that come along with the preparation of them. But here are the basics:

There are two basic types of stocks– brown and white. The difference between them is that you roast the bones for brown stocks, and for white stocks you don’t. All stocks are made up of a primary flavoring agent (bones), mirepoix (vegetables), and aromatics (the sachet, which is fresh thyme, parsley stems, a bay leaf, peppercorns, and garlic, all tied up in a little cheesecloth bundle).

There is a basic formula for stocks. If you keep these ratios in mind, you can multiply or reduce as you see fit with some really basic 4th grade math.

For 1 gallon of chicken, beef, veal or game stock, you’ll need 8 pounds of bones + 1 pound of mirepoix + approximately 6 quarts of liquid, or enough to cover the bones completely.

For 1 gallon of fish or shellfish stock you’ll need 11 pounds of bones or shells + 1 pound of mirepoix + approximately 5 quarts of water.

1 pound of mirepoix = 8 ounces onion + 4 ounces carrot + 4 ounces celery, or you can just keep the ratio of 2:1:1 in your head.

Oh my gosh! I did that all from memory. Chef would be so proud! *pats self on head*

I made up a small batch of brown stock to demonstrate the process, as well as show how the math works.

Equipment:
1 large heavy bottomed roasting pan
2 large pots, at least 6 quarts in volume
Large strainer or colander
Tongs
Knife and cutting board
Scale that measures to the ounce
Cheesecloth
Twine (optional, I think. I just tie the corners of the cheesecloth for the sachet together and call it good)
Skimmer or a wooden spoon for skimming

Ingredients (given for a full gallon):
8 pounds beef, chicken, or game bones
1 pound mirepoix (8 ounces onion, 4 ounces carrot, 4 ounces celery, rough chopped)
1 bay leaf
3-4 parsley stems
6-8 peppercorns
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 small can of tomato paste
6 quarts of cold water, or enough to cover the bones
2 C of water or wine, for deglazing

I bought two pounds of bones, which is 1/4 of what I’d need to make one gallon (1/4 of a gallon = 1 quart).

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That means I only need 1/4 of a pound of mirepoix, or 4 ounces. Using the 2:1:1 ratio, that means 2 ounces of onion, and 1 ounce each of carrot and celery.

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Since I’m making beef stock, the ultimate goal should be to have a really beefy flavored stock.  I wasn’t as exact in putting together my sachet, but this is what I used.  This is kind of a close up, so it probably looks like a little more than what it really is, but you get the general idea. Just remember, your primary flavoring agent should be the (duh) primary flavor when you’re all done, so don’t overload the sachet so much (especially with garlic) that you taste more herbs/garlic than beef/chicken/whatever you’re using.

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You’ll want to lightly oil the bones (in class, we just use cooking spray, so that’s what I did here, too), and roast them in a 375° to 400° F oven, flipping with your tongs at least once to ensure even browning. Once the bones are browned, add tomato paste to caramelize. The process of caramelizing a tomato product is called pincé.

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I actually forgot to buy tomato paste *smacks forehead* so I reduced some tomato sauce I made last week down a bit and then added that. It’s not quite the same, but hopefully it works for demonstration purposes.

Once the tomato paste has turned a dark kinda reddish brown color, remove the pan from the oven, pour off the fat, and deglaze the pan. Deglazing basically just means using a liquid and some heat to pick up all the fond, or delicious little bits of browned flavor that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. You don’t want to leave that behind! Put your pan over med-high heat on the stove, add the liquid, and use your wooden spoon to scrape up all those brown bits. Boil until the liquid is reduced by half, or about 5 minutes.

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Put your bones, the deglazing liquid, plus enough more COLD water to cover the bones into pot #1. Always use cold liquid to start and bring it up to temperature, or your stock will end up cloudy. Bring the liquid up to a simmer, and skim off the scum from the top until most of it is gone. When you add the mirepoix and the sachet depends on how long you are going to cook the stock. If you’re cooking it less than an hour, you can throw them in right from the beginning. If you are making a full batch of stock and plan on letting it simmer for longer than 2 hours, add them at the beginning of the last hour of cooking.  For such a small batch of stock, I only let it simmer for just over an hour, so I put everything in at the beginning.

Simmer the stock until it has reached the right color (for brown stock, it should be a sort of amber color), flavor, clarity and body. What is the “right” all of those things? If we were in class, I’m sure Chef would probably hold you to a really strict interpretation of what all of that means. For home, though, I’ll say it’s entirely up to you. If it smells good and tastes like the primary flavoring agent (chicken, beef, whatever), then you’re good to go.

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Strain it into pot #2 through a fine mesh sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth or… well, just do the best you can with whatever is handy. I used cheesecloth inside the steamer insert of my small pot.

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I know that this process might not seem like the most convenient, especially compared to just being able to pick up a carton of decent quality stock at the store. Obviously, you’d be making a much larger batch than what I’ve made here, and if you make a whole gallon of stock and freeze it in one quart containers, it’s going to last you awhile and you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing exactly what went into that stock (and what didn’t). But mostly, I’m going to tell you that it tastes better. If you make a soup with home made stock, it’s going to taste homier, and richer, and more nourishing. Maybe some of that is in  my head, but after making my own stock and using it in a few soups and sauces, I can tell you my taste buds don’t lie, and at the end of the day, what makes this worth the trouble is the taste.

New Blog Series: Kitchen 101

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I’m working on a regular schedule of posts for this year. One theme that’s been bouncing around in my noggin for awhile is this Kitchen 101 Series. Going with the idea that I’ll be posting new content at least every Tuesday and Thursday (and maybe Sunday),  on the 2nd Tuesday of each month you can expect a post that covers some basic kitchen knowledge that anyone who cooks at home should have. I’ll cover everything from how to set up your kitchen, to essential cooking methods, and lots of really basic recipes that you can use to build up your culinary repertoire. Since I’m now officially a culinary school student (I start this week!), I’ll also be passing along some of the “pro-tips” that I learn in class. 

We’ll kick things off with a quick lesson on how to stock your pantry.  This is by no means a definitive guide. The necessity of some items can vary by what part of the country you live in, how often you use a particular ingredient, family favorites, or a hundred other things. However, I think this list is a good place to start.

Flours: Historically, I haven’t really baked a lot. I feel like that’s about to change, though, so I’ll keep All Purpose and Self Rising Flour around for sure, and probably a small amount of Cake flour. If you have limited pantry space and have to choose just one, All Purpose is a safe bet. If you’re gluten intolerant, you can substitute the All Purpose with a flour specifically produced/marketed as Gluten Free, or any other number of non-wheat based flours like almond, rice, or quinoa flour. 

Sugars: Granulated, powdered, and brown sugars are all good to have on hand. If you’re limited on space, you can probably skip the powdered sugar. 

Other baking additives to keep on hand: 
* Baking soda 
* Baking powder (For advice on when to replace baking powder/soda, this is a good resource: http://joyofbaking.com/bakingsoda.html)
* Corn starch
* Cream of tartar
* Good quality vanilla extract 

Salt & Pepper:  I have both Iodized and Sea Salt on hand, plus a medium ground and a fine ground black pepper. If you have a pepper grinder with an adjustable grind size, you can just buy black peppercorns and keep it simple.

Herbs & Spices:  When it comes to dried herbs and spices, my best advice is to keep a basic stock of the ones you use all the time, and grab the ones you need only for specific recipes as you need them. That could be a lot or a little, depending on how much you cook and how much of an “experimenter” you are. For instance, my Mom cooks at home merely to keep my brothers fed, and gets no special thrill from the act of cooking. She keeps a couple all purpose seasoning blends, a fajita spice blend, plus salt and pepper and that pretty much covers it. I have other friends who bake a lot, and so they always have cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice around. If you have a local spice shop that will hook you up with only the amount you need of any particular spice, that’s a great way to go for specialty spices that you only need for one recipe. Spices don’t really spoil, as evidenced by that 10 year old can of powdery cinnamon most of us have floating around somewhere, but they do lose their flavor over time and need to be replaced at least once a year. Unless you use a particular spice a lot, I don’t recommend stocking up on extra large quantities.

Oils: I only keep olive oil and canola oil on hand at the moment. I’ve actually read a couple of articles recently that recommend saving the olive oil for finishing dishes or for making dressings, since heat can degrade the flavor. For every day frying or sautéing, canola oil has a higher smoke point, meaning it can stand up to extended exposure to heat. Grape seed oil is another great one to have around for its high smoke point and neutral flavor.

Vinegars: I keep a large bottle of white vinegar around because it’s a great go-to for lots of things, not just cooking. I also keep a small bottle of good quality balsamic handy for finishing and to make vinaigrette, as well as a small bottle of apple cider vinegar. 

Pasta, grains & beans:
Pasta: I always keep a box of long pasta like fettuccini or angel hair, as well as a box of rotini or other short pasta, and couscous because of its versatility and short cooking time. Really, just go with your favorites when it comes to pasta, but always keep some handy because you can add just about anything to pasta and call it a meal. Pasta doesn’t go bad for awhile, so keep an eye out for good sales and stock up.  If you find yourself in a “too much pasta” predicament, you can always donate some of it to a local food bank.

Grains: White rice is a staple that can be stored for up to five years without going bad. Brown rice and wild rice won’t last as long, probably no more than a year, but you can extend their shelf life a bit by storing them in the refrigerator. Quinoa is a great high protein grain that will keep for up to 3 years when stored properly (airtight container, away from light). I keep cornmeal on hand, as well. 

Beans:
I don’t use a lot of dried beans because I just don’t have the patience for all that soaking and draining and whatnot, but I almost always keep a couple cans of chili beans, black beans, and cannellini beans handy. They can be used to fortify soups, mashed or pureed into dips, or kicked up with some spices as a tasty side dish. If you do have the time and the patience for dried beans, keep them stored in an airtight container away from light and they’ll be good for awhile. 

Canned Vegetables: Canned tomatoes can be a real life saver. I like to keep around at least a couple of cans of crushed or diced tomatoes, as well as some small cans of tomato paste.  Canned Corn is also helpful in a pinch. I’m not a big fan of other types of canned veggies, but I do try to always have some frozen peas and frozen broccoli. Again, you know what you like, so stay stocked on what you’ll use. 

Boxed Cake Mix/Canned Vanilla Frosting: I know, I know, it might sound like cheating. You know what? It is! And that’s totally ok. Pinterest is full of ideas on how to spruce up a boxed mix and/or ready-made frosting, and I fully encourage you to keep some of them handy. Maybe even print off your favorite ones and store them on the same shelf as the cake mixes. When someone volunteers you for that pot luck, bake sale, etc., you won’t be hunting around for last minute inspiration. 

Last but not least…

Peanut Butter (or other nut butters) and Jelly or Jam:
We can state the obvious here, and tell you that PB&J is probably a staple in a lot of households. But, any of these individually can be used in everything from desserts to sauces. 

If I was just moving into my own place and I had even a little bit of culinary ambition, these are the things, supplemented by fresh / perishable items, that would help me feel prepared for most of my day to day cooking/baking. You probably have a few additional “must have” items to add to the list. Feel free to share!