Stocks and Broths. (Kitchen Soup)

As I said recently, I’ll do some posts based on the hypothetical restaurant. This is the first, but it’s ingredient related instead of a finished recipe.

A core ingredient to almost all soup is stock or broth – usually the latter. Before I go into more about types and making and all that, let’s get a key point made.

Stocks and broths are unclear terms. There is no consistently agreed upon always applicable differentiation. There are a couple of general differences, however. First there’s the issue of bones. Most cooking schools say that you make a broth without the bones and a stock with. HOWEVER, many of those same schools will then have you use a stock to make a broth. Humans, always tangling things. That, by the way, is the other difference you sometimes see. Stock is an ingredient, broth is a finished product. Which is why so many recipes tell you to add broth.

I’ll use them interchangeably, myself. I TEND toward the definition of with/without bones, but I much prefer with bone stock for most of my cooking as I like the mouth it gives. (The fullness and richness, even in the lightest of soups, that makes it more than just a meat tea.) However, every so often there’s a soup that needs to have none of that extra.

So let’s talk making this stuff. It’s basically very easy. Put the main ingredient(s) in a pan. Cover with water. Heat till the ingredients are exhausted. Strain out the ingredients, and use or store. Easy, right? heh – the devil’s still in the details.

Ingredients. Since we’re talking my hypothetical restaurant, I’ll do things my way. And my way is that I make two types of chicken, beef, and vegetable, and one each type of fish, crab, lobster, and ham. The difference is that for the chicken and beef I make one with just meat and one with meat and bone as the base. For everything else if it’s meat it has bone (or shell). I’ll get to the two different veggie concepts I use in a moment.

And now I’m going to have a lot of cooks and chefs scream at me. See, I’m not going to put veggies in any of these EXCEPT the veggie stock. Time to digress.

Veggies – celery, carrots, onions, garlic, maybe some herbs – make an extremely fragrant and delightful broth in almost every one of the cases. HOWEVER, they specifically flavor the stocks and broths. Remember I’m making a restaurant ingredient here. As it happens it’s also how I do it at home. There are recipes where I don’t WANT carrot or garlic (just for a pair of examples). If I do want the flavor I can boil them in the soup – perhaps as a prep state to be strained before I make the actual soup. (If, say, I want the flavor but not the bits.) I’m making a base ingredient, not a first step to some that won’t work in others.

So when I put the key ingredient in the pot, it’s the only thing I put in the pot. Well, besides water and one more minor item. I put a tablespoon of white wine vinegar per gallon of water in every one of the stocks that includes bones or shells.

Can you taste it? Well, that depends on how good your sense of taste is. In my experience, however the answer is only experienced gourmands can taste it without knowing it’s there AND even then it’s not a big deal as the vinegar brightens the stock slightly. What it also does, however, is leach a lot of extra calcium from the bones. This makes the broth a lot more nutritious and gives it more mouth.

Sigh, ok, let’s back up a step. I guarantee that quite a few people can taste a tablespoon of white wine vinegar in a gallon of water. It’s after the flavor has been pulled from the meat and bones and connective tissues that this gets hidden. I invite you to do the same test I did about 20 years ago. Make two broths, one with and one without the vinegar. Have a panel taste test, knowing there is vinegar in one. In my experiment, almost all of the panel chose the broth without vinegar as having vinegar. It wasn’t quite as rich (lacking what the vinegar pulled) for the same time of cooking, and as a result they felt that relative lack was CAUSED by the vinegar.

So, we’ve got ingredients. Wait. I haven’t covered water. sigh.

Too much water will give you bad broth. Oh, not really, but you have this balance to pursue. You want as much broth/stock as possible, but you want it to bring its taste to the party or why bother. I have a general guide for this. I want between 3 and 4 pounds of ingredient per gallon of water with which I start. As an initial guide, by the way, that’s two backs/necks/wings of a chicken per gallon. Wings, having become popular as a snack/appetizer, are now too expensive for me to bother with unless I’m saving them from my other cooking. If I’m buying parts from a butcher, though, backs and necks are (relatively) cheap. Tell yours ahead of time because most of these end up in the trash (unless other restaurants have clued them in as well).

Oh, we need to pause. I almost forgot to discuss two veggie broths. Simple, really – raw and cooked, preferably grilled.

When you cook many vegetables they kick up the flavor through caramelizing or other browning. Yes, you lose some of the other ingredients. And you can pick up the flavors by using the ‘raw’ broth and sauteed or grilled or otherwise browned veggies. In this case I don’t care. My veggie broth is the “holy trinity” (equal parts carrot, onion and celery). For the browned, I grill or saute the carrot and onion prior to cooking. (Grilling the celery does nothing. Don’t go there.)

Ingredients, water, pot. Pot.

Obviously you want something large enough. You can, however, help yourself a bit. See, the standard method is cooking on top of a stove and you’re going to be cooking it for hours. Yeah. Let me suggest two alternatives, both of which work well for me. These are the crock pot and the pressure cooker. One is fire and forget, and the other will cut your cooking time to a quarter. Given how long this is getting I’m not going to discuss them. I will point out that a pressure cooker is a waste for fish stock which only needs 30-45 minutes. For beef and chicken (and, though I failed to mention it, other heavy meat and bone animals like turkeys and geese and mutton) you’re going to want a couple of hours of cooking, maybe even three.

Yeah, I mentioned ’till the flavor is extracted’. It is possible to overcook your stock. You’ll know if you sample – the flavor will begin to change from more and more intense to, well, not really burned but a hint of brown that dominates the taste. Broth should not dominate most soups.

Sample? Yes. Until you know what your pot does, you should sample at least once every half hour, possibly every 15 minutes. A clean small spoon, scoop up a sip, cool it, smell it, taste it. It’s going to “need salt”. Since I leave out veggies it’s going to have a fairly simple taste. Still, you’re aiming for as intense as you can without ‘brown’.

It really doesn’t take all that much time to extract the flavor from meat or even just the veggies. Less than an hour is plenty for fish and all that. The time consuming part is extracting from bones and connective tissues. That’s why the chicken and beef (and other big-bones meats) need more time. Crustaceans need more than fish but not as much as the boned critters.

Last item during the cooking. While you’re cooking everything but the veggie, you’re going to get a scum on top. This is overboiled proteins, and it’s ok. Scoop off what you can during the cook time.

It’s done cooking, and we’re only a couple of steps from being done. You need to clean it and you need to store it.

The first step of cleaning is straining. I tend to go once through a colander and another pass through cheesecloth. Then it’s into a tall container and into a refrigerator. Once its cooled (and for the beef and chicken frequently gelled) I can pull off a solid layer of fat. I can also scoop or siphon or pour off the clear, leaving a layer of residue on the bottom. Yep, three cleanings.

By the way, I save some of the fats. (hint, another digression) Using this fat as part or all the fat in a roux makes a slightly different flavor that reinforces the broth. Chicken fat, melted, cooked with the flour to provide a roux, and that roux used to thicken a chicken soup creates an intensely CHICKEN flavor. Beef isn’t quite as effective but works. Fat from fish is uncommon, and frequently the fish that gives fat is too strongly flavored to make a good broth except in particular circumstances.

Hey, we’re down to storing. I have a crapload margarine containers. Remelt the gelled broth, pour into the containers, and freeze. Now I pull them out and wrap them in plastic to help protect them from freezer burn. Put them in a plastic bag to finish. LABEL. gads, I don’t know if I can say this often enough. Label with what it is and the date it was made. Masking tape (which coincidentally seals the plastic) makes a great surface for a marker. Now at home I also freeze broth in ice cube trays. There are a few dishes where a couple of tablespoons of broth is great, but for which I don’t want to thaw a whole cup. But that’s at home and not for my hypothetical soup kitchen. There, it’s cups and pints and even a few gallons.

Why am I freezing it for the soup kitchen? Restaurant tricks. Broth takes a long time to make. Many soups are just a few minutes beyond the broth. I can have a reserve to adjust till I get used to the flow (and even for the occasional rush) if I make what I think I’ll need for two or three days ahead of time, and then always make broth for D+3 while using the stuff made three days ago first. At home I’ll backlog up to a month. snicker, sure I will. It’s gone in a month, and then it’s either buy more canned broth or buy more raw ingredients depending on how fast I need it.

By the way, broth cans really, really well. As in putting it in canning jars and putting on the lid and keeping it for months in the pantry. I just use it too fast to make it worthwhile canning that much.

Congratulations, the longest and most general ‘recipe’ is done. There are soups that don’t require broth, but they’re extremely rare. I’m sure I’ll do one or two in the future, but for now, we’re ready.

Have fun.

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