Taking Stock of the Basics

image: homemade stock, credit: Theresa Carle-Sanders

A bowl of homemade soup can make everything right in the world – especially at the end of a harried autumn day full of work and errands and rain. Packaged stock, whether in the classic red and white can or the more organic golden tetra-pak, is occasionally essential for last-minute dinners and quick fixes, but the most delicious, nourishing soups (as well as stews, sauces, crock pot dinners and rice pilafs) start with their own pot of homemade liquid gold.

Regardless of what animal’s bones it’s made from, meat and poultry stock can be divided into 2 broad types: white and brown. A white stock is made from raw bones and has almost no colour, while a brown stock is made from bones roasted with tomato puree and therefore much more richly coloured than its pale sibling.

Each has its place. White stock is used in cream soups, light sauces and anywhere else where a neutral colour is desired (like that rice pilaf). Brown stock finds its home in clear soups, pan sauces and gravies, and adds a rich amber hue to any plate or bowl.

Brown or white, made from bird or beast, the perfect pot of stock is judged by these 4 characteristics: body, flavour, colour and clarity.



A stock’s body comes from the gelatin in its bones and cartilage. Young bones contain a higher percentage of gelatin than older ones, which explains why chefs in the past preferred veal bones over beef. These days, I simply reduce a beef or chicken stock a little more than I would reduce one made from veal. Although not the perfect solution, it’s an easy way to increase richness when veal is not a welcome option for everyone at your table.

Use neck and back bones for the fullest-bodied poultry stock. Although chicken is the most common, turkey, duck and wild game bones also make delicious stocks. The richest beef or veal stock is made from knuckles as well as shank and long bones full of marrow. The bones should be cut into 4” pieces so that they release as much gelatin and flavour as possible.

A generally acceptable ratio of bones to water for stock is 50% bones by weight. For example, to make 2 litres of stock, you need 1 kilogram of bones.



In addition to bones, a stock’s flavour also comes from vegetables (the mirepoix) and herbs (the bouquet garni). The extra flavour in a brown stock is developed by caramelizing the bones and vegetables in the oven before adding them to the water.

The most common mirepoix is a coarsely chopped mix of 2 parts onion to 1 part each of carrot and celery. A bouquet garni is made up of a few peppercorns, a couple of bay leaves, some sprigs of thyme and parsley stems tied together in cheesecloth or a blanched leek green. (I use a tea ball.) The ratio of mirepoix to water for stock is 10%. So, to make the 2 litres of stock from above, you will need 200 grams of mirepoix. Add the mirepoix and bouquet garnii after the initial boiling of the bones and skimming of the surface is complete, and the stock has returned to a gentle simmer.



Vegetables such as carrots, mushrooms, tomatoes and leeks darken a stock. Using too many (especially in a white stock) may cause your stock to be overly green or orange. The darker colour of a brown stock is achieved by the browning of the bones and vegetables, as well as the addition of tomato paste.

To brown bones for stock, arrange them in a roasting pan one layer deep. Roast at 400° F until golden. Add the mirepoix and tomato paste, mix well, and roast for another 20 minutes. Drain all of the fat from the pan and transfer the bones and vegetables to the stock pot.



For crystal clear stock, follow these few simple rules to prevent impurities such as blood and fat from making a cloudy mess:

• Start with cold water

• Trim all bones of excess skin, fat and meat

• Always keep a stock uncovered during cooking

• Keep the stock at a slow simmer

• Never stir a stock

• Skim the stock regularly

• Degrease cold stock before reheating


Some Final Tips:

• Chicken or other poultry stock should simmer on the stove for 3-4 hours to extract the maximum flavour and protein from the bones. Beef or veal bones are bigger, and therefore take longer – about 6-8 hours.

• When finished, remove the stock from the heat and ladle it through a strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth. To keep the liquid clear, avoid disturbing the bones and vegetables in the bottom of the pot.

• Cool the stock quickly in a glass or non-reactive metal container. Plastic containers insulate hot food and delay cooling and increase the chances of food-borne illness.

• Once cooled, refrigerate for up to 1 week. Alternatively, freeze the stock for up to 3 months. A pressure canner is required to can stock.

Guest blogger: Theresa Carle-Sanders

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