From Scratch: Homemade Stocks

March 22, 2012

Chicken Stock
Photo by Sarah Shatz

In the French kitchen, stocks are known as fonds de cuisine, or the foundations of cooking. These flavorful liquids are foundational not only because the techniques used in their making pervade many recipes you’ll encounter, but also because they can be used in a myriad of ways: start a soup with stock, lend body to a pan sauce, cook a pot of rice, or add additional flavorings like fresh ginger and whole spices to create a restorative broth. The flavor of homemade stock is pure and concentrated, making it a heavyweight champ in your kitchen repertoire.

Boning up on the Basics

  • Meaty bones add the most flavor to stocks. You can use bones from fabrication (after deboning a leg of lamb or roasting a whole chicken) or you can buy raw bones from your local butcher.
  • Knuckles, feet, necks, and backs have more connective tissues than other bones and are perfect for giving stock body.
  • If you're making beef or veal stock, have your butcher cut the bones into 3-inch lengths. This size is better for extraction during the cooking process, and will also make them more manageable.
  • In general, the larger the animal (and hence, the larger the bones), the longer the cooking time. Plan on one hour for fish stock, three to four hours for poultry stock, and six to eight hours for veal and beef stocks.

Mirepoix and Aromatics

  • A traditional mirepoix mix is equal amounts of onions, celery, and carrots.
  • When making a fish stock, carrots should be replaced with another white or green vegetable so as not to discolor the liquid or overpower the delicate fish. Leeks and celery root are good options.
  • Stocks should always include a sachet d’epices (a cheesecloth pouch with a bay leaf, black peppercorns, a thyme sprig, parsley stems, and a garlic clove) or a bouquet garni
  • Though the stock will be strained in the end, it is a good idea to enclose your spices so they may be removed at any time during the cooking process.

White Stocks

  • White stocks include meaty bones, mirepoix, and aromatics.
  • Everything for a white stock should be combined in a large stock pot with cool water, then simmered over gentle heat until the desired flavor is produced.
  • Always rinse any bones thoroughly under cold running water before starting the stock.

Brown Stocks

  • Brown stocks included roasted bones, mirepoix, and aromatics. They may also include tomato paste.
  • The roasting of the bones and the addition of tomato paste creates an ultra-rich, reddish-brown liquid.
  • Bones for brown stocks do not need to be rinsed as they will be browned in the oven before starting the stock.

Adding Aromatics Straining Stock
Adding free-wheeling peppercorns to stock; straining a finished stock (photos by Sarah Shatz) 

Fish Stocks

  • When using fish for stock, use only lean, white-fleshed fish like sole, halibut, flounder, and turbot. Fattier fish like salmon, trout, and mackerel should not be used as their oils will be too strong in the final product.
  • If your fish bones have the head attached, this is great for flavor, but you must remove the gills and eyes before starting your stock. They will impart a bitterness to the liquid if not removed.
  • Always rinse the fish bones under cold running water before adding them to the stockpot.

No Bones about It

Vegetable Stock

  • Use non-starchy, non-cruciferous vegetables for this stock. A standard mirepoix with the addition of tomatoes, mushrooms, leeks, and garlic is a great base.
  • Try adding dried chiles to impart a smoky flavor and a touch of heat.
  • Vegetable stocks cook in very little time (compared to meat stocks) and should not simmer for more than an hour or the flavor will deteriorate.

Shellfish Stock

  • This type of stock is made with crustacean shells (primarily shrimp or lobster).
  • Simply sauté the cleaned shells in hot oil until their color deepens, then add the mirepoix and cook until tender.
  • Cover the shells with water and simmer for about 40 minutes, then strain the liquid and thoroughly crush the shells to extract every bit of flavor.

Meat Stock Stock ingredients
Photos by Sarah Shatz


Roasted Turkey Stock
Meat Stock [FOOD52]
60-Minute Chicken Stock [FOOD52]
Chicken Stock with a Mexican Twist [FOOD52]
Stock Under Pressure [FOOD52]

What stock-making tips can you share? Add your suggestions in the comments section below!

Like this post? See last week's From Scratch topic: Kitchen Safety 101.

2 Comments Add a Comment
  • Missing_avatar

    StinaP says: When I'm in a hurry and don't have any stock on hand, I boil water and season it heavily - usually onion, garlic, herbs de Provence, salt, pepper, and either balsamic vinegar or soy sauce. Makes a great stand in.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Maddy-macau-robuchon

    Maddy is the senior editor of Whole Foods Market Cooking.

    Maddy, Editor says: I often freeze vegetable scraps like the tops of leeks for that exact purpose! Hadn't thought of adding balsamic vinegar -- I'll try that next time.

    over 2 years ago

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