Taking Stock

For the best soups, can the can

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By David Hammond

With the weather getting cooler, soup is starting to become a more desirable dining option.


The simplest secret to a great soup is the stock, the basic broth that becomes the foundation for all the meat, vegetables, grains and fish that make each soup distinctive.


I try to avoid categorical statements, but I will allow this one: no stock you buy in a can will ever be as remotely delicious as a stock you make yourself.


Canned stock is little more than slightly tinted, heavily salted water with perhaps a little chicken or beef fat mixed in.  A few years ago, I vowed never to buy commercially prepared stock again.

Making stock is a surprisingly simple three-step process. Here’s my recipe for making beef or chicken stock (probably the most common):


1. Cook the bones

2. Strain

3. Reduce


To cook the bones, get a big stock pot and put in the bones (along with a carrot, celery, onion, bay leaf, salt and pepper). I put the pot in the oven at 200 degrees for about 8 hours (it goes in when I go to bed; I take it out in the morning). Basically, what I’m doing is turning my oven into an immense crock-pot: the low, all-around heat ensures nothing will burn and the long cook ensures maximum flavor extraction.


To strain, simply remove solid material; all you want is the liquid. Some recipe books suggest you put the liquid through a cheese cloth, but that kind of refinement is really only suggested if you’re making a super-smooth sauce. For stock, I just use a slotted spoon or maybe run the liquid through a colander.  Some little pieces in the liquid are no big deal.


To reduce, put the pot on a low heat and cook for a long time (actual time depends on the amount of liquid you have, but 4-6 hours is not uncommon). The more you reduce, the more intense and concentrated the flavor.  Do not boil the reduction; when you do that, the fats emulsify, and you can get a murky, slightly slimy broth.


Once you have your stock, you can use it immediately for a soup or put it in a container and freeze it for later use.


Final hint: the better the bones, the better the broth. Bones from a high-quality cut of beef or one of the excellent farm-raised chickens available at the Oak Park Farmers’ Market or Whole Foods will yield a broth that will make you very happy.



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Reader Comments

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David Hammond from Oak Park  

Posted: October 28th, 2010 9:47 PM

Ann, yes, we bought some chicken necks and backs from Wettstein's last weekend. Something like a buck a pound, and I know they will make excellent stock.

Ann from Forest Park  

Posted: October 25th, 2010 11:23 AM

You can often buy bags of frozen chicken necks and backs from the Wettsteins at the Oak Park Farmers' Market. Perfect for making stock. They sell wonderful beef soup bones as well.

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