Stocking up

Homemade broth can make the difference between a satisfactory dish and a wonderful one. Fortunately, it requires almost no attention, making it a pleasant weekend kitchen task.

Soup (photo credit: MCT)
(photo credit: MCT)
The first time I set foot in the Parisian cooking school where I was planning to study, a deep pot of simmering broth caught my attention. I was told that it contained “fond de veau,” or veal stock, and that it’s made nearly every day and left to simmer virtually unattended.
Fond translates literally as foundation, emphasizing the importance of stock in fine cuisine. “Without it there would be few French soups, even fewer sauces and hardly any braises or ragouts at all,” wrote my friend Anne Willan, the founder of La Varenne Cooking School.
Bean, barley and vegetable soups gain good flavor when cooked with meat stock.
So do rice dishes like pilaf and risotto.
Cooks value meat stock for making brown sauce – they thicken the stock, often enhance it with wine and serve the resulting sauce with steaks and roasts. They also use meat stock to stew and poach meat and to braise vegetables like turnips, celery and cabbage.
Basic meat stock is known as white stock, and its main ingredient is meat bones. Veal bones are the classic French choice as their taste is delicate and because the stock jells well, enabling it to thicken soups and sauces naturally. The bones simmer in water with onions, carrots and sometimes leeks and celery for three to 12 hours.
Whole peppercorns, parsley stems, thyme sprigs and bay leaves season the stock, and sometimes a few whole cloves.
Equally important is brown stock, for which the bones and vegetables are roasted until browned before being simmered. The ingredients are the same as for white stock, with the addition of a few tomatoes and garlic cloves. Browning gives the stock a darker color and a richer flavor. In classic cuisine brown stock is preferred for beef dishes, and white stock for light meats. To make simple clear soups, chefs flavor strained beef stock with fortified wine like Madeira and add cooked vegetables, rice or small pasta shapes.
Home cooks in France use a different method from chefs. In many households the traditional Sunday supper used to be pot au feu, a chunk of beef poached with vegetables in water. After the meal the remaining broth is reserved for the same uses as stock. When chefs prepare pot au feu, instead of using water, they first prepare stock from bones, and then poach the beef in this already-flavorful liquid.
Although some French home cooks add turnips and parsnips to beef soup and use the extra broth as all-purpose stock, the chefs I studied with considered those vegetables too strong-flavored for stock. They wanted their stock to have a neutral meat taste that would harmonize with a great number of dishes. Unlike home cooks, chefs don’t salt their stock because they often boil the stock until concentrated to use in sauces; adding salt from the beginning could cause the reduced stock to taste too salty. Instead, they add salt to the final dish in which the stock is used.
In many European households making stock was part of daily life. It was common in Hungary, wrote Joseph Pasternak in Cooking with Love and Paprika: “In my mother’s kitchen there was always a pot of good, rich stock bubbling on the back of the stove. We made all sorts of wonderful soups, sauces and gravies from it... even sauerkraut soup!” In Russia making stock was also common.
To get a tasty soup, wrote Nina Petrova in The Best of Russian Cooking, beef should simmer with bones and vegetables for about 2 hours, and then all you need to add are thin noodles. Petrova feels that “bone stock” made only from beef bones and vegetables, is not suitable for making simple soups but requires additional ingredients for flavor.
Three types of beef stock were made in the kitchens of grand estates in Russia, wrote Anne Volokh in The Art of Russian Cuisine: white, yellow and brown. White and brown stocks resembled French ones, with beef brisket simmered with the bones.
Yellow stock, preferred for clear soups, was something in between – half the vegetables were browned before being cooked with the meat and bones. Unlike the French, Russian cooks simmered parsley root, celery root and potatoes in the stock, and sometimes added ground nutmeg.
“Nothing enriches a soup like a meaty bone,” wrote Jean Anderson in her new book, Falling Off the Bone. She makes broth from the shanks and bay leaves, simmering them for four hours or “until the meat falls from the bones.”
Anyone who has been to a Vietnamese restaurant notices how prominent soups are on the menu. Their stock is what makes them taste so good. Binh Duong and Marcia Kiesel, authors of Simple Art of Vietnamese Cooking, flavor their spiced beef stock with charred onions, gingerroot, star anise, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cloves, sugar and fennel seeds. The broth is used even for breakfast. “A typical breakfast in Vietnam is a large bowl of noodle soup... a meal-sized portion of broth, meat and noodles, with many garnishes added at the last minute...” – bits of preserved cabbage, crisp-fried onions and chopped chilies.
Homemade stock can make the difference between a satisfactory dish and a wonderful one. Fortunately, stock requires almost no attention while it simmers.
Making it is a pleasant weekend kitchen task, especially when the weather is cold.
TIPS: • Technically, stock is made from bones, and broth is the liquid from cooking meat; many cooks use these terms interchangeably.
• You can freeze bits of meat, bones and stock vegetables until you are ready to make stock.
• When freezing stocks, do not fill containers to the top; the liquid expands when frozen.
WHITE BEEF STOCK Makes about 5 or 6 cups
If you have veal bones, substitute them for all or part of the beef bones. To save time, use a pressure cooker and cook the stock for 1 hour.
For stock with a deeper color and richer flavor, make brown beef stock, following the variation.
If possible, ask the butcher to chop the bones in pieces. You can keep stock in the refrigerator for 2 days; or freeze it for several months.
✔ 2.25 kg. meaty beef soup bones, preferably knuckle bones ✔ 1 kg. brisket, chuck or other piece of beef, in 1 piece (optional) ✔ 2 onions, rinsed but not peeled, root end cut off ✔ 2 carrots, scrubbed but not peeled ✔ 2 celery stalks, cut in 7-cm. pieces (optional) ✔ 2 bay leaves ✔ 10 parsley stems, without leaves ✔ 4 large garlic cloves, unpeeled (optional) ✔ 225 gr. ripe tomatoes, quartered, or a 400-gram can tomatoes, drained and quartered (optional) ✔ About 4 liters water ✔ 10 black peppercorns ✔ 2 fresh thyme sprigs or 1⁄2 tsp. dried leaf thyme, crumbled
In a large, deep pot combine onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, parsley, garlic, tomatoes and enough water to cover ingredients. Bring to boil, skimming foam from top several times. Add peppercorns and thyme. Partially cover and cook over very low heat so that stock bubbles very gently for 2 hours, adding hot water occasionally to keep ingredients covered. If you added a piece of meat, remove it now, or when it is tender, and reserve for other uses.
Continue simmering stock for 2 to 6 hours longer, skimming foam and fat occasionally. Strain stock into bowls. Cool stock; refrigerate until cold. When fat has solidified on top, remove it with a spoon.
BROWN BEEF STOCK: Preheat oven to 225ºC. Roast bones (but not the piece of meat) in roasting pan in oven, turning them occasionally, until they begin to brown, about 30 minutes; no oil is needed. Add onions and carrots and roast until browned, about 30 minutes. Transfer bones and vegetables to a large, deep pot, leaving fat in pan. Add tomatoes, garlic and remaining ingredients to pot. Simmer as above.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Homemade beef stock gives good flavor to this Alsatian-style soup, which is substantial enough to be a meal in itself. Polish cooks add carrots to their version of this soup, and parsley root or diced kohlrabi as well. Other popular additions are separately cooked rice, barley or small pasta shapes. If you like, add 3 to 6 sliced beef frankfurters for the last 10 minutes of cooking.
✔ 2 large leeks, including their greens, halved and rinsed thoroughly
✔ 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
✔ 1 large onion, halved and sliced
✔ 2 liters beef stock, white or brown, or stock mixed with water
✔ 450 gr. green split peas, sorted and rinsed
✔ 4 large garlic cloves, chopped
✔ salt and freshly ground pepper
Slice leeks and separate slices into slivers with your fingers. If they are still sandy, soak slices in water for 5 minutes so that any sand goes to bottom of bowl. Lift slices into a colander, rinse well and drain.
Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and leeks and saute over mediumlow heat, stirring often, about 7 minutes or until soft but not brown. Add stock and split peas and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat for 45 minutes.
Add garlic, salt, and pepper and cook for 15 to 30 minutes longer or until split peas are very soft. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot.
Faye Levy is the author of the Fresh from France cookbook series.