The Farmer's Kitchen: How to make great stock

The Importance of stock 

As every good cook knows, a well-made stock is the backbone of great food. Whether you are cooking risotto, making sauces, soup or braising meat, it is often what makes the difference between something that is competent and passable and something truly exceptional. 

Making stock is about extracting potential from waste and creating harmony across your kitchen, linking together one great meal with the next. We find the process of making it very cathartic and, as it also takes a very long time, it can be perfect activity for anxious lockdown minds. 

Stocks can be made just with vegetables or with meat or fish. As livestock farmers our focus here is on meat stocks although most of the same principles apply. With fish stocks however it is important not to simmer for too long – more than 30mins or so as the bones start to impart a bitter flavour. 

Beef, or veal and chicken are most commonly used for meat stocks. That is not to say that you can’t make a great stock from lamb bones, however it has a very strong flavour that makes it less versatile than the others. It is also possible to make fantastic stocks from game meats such as venison, partridge and pheasant. These are often used in rich reduced red wine sauces. 

With beef or veal, the type of bones you use will also affect the stock that you end up with. If you use thick bones with lots of marrow you will end up with a more gelatinous stock, good for enriching sauces, whereas thinner bones from the neck and ribs will result in a lighter stock that is better for braising. Perfectly good stock can be made from the leftovers of a roast, but you get better flavour from raw bones.

Stock is also not just the bastion of British and European cookery. It also essential for many Asian dishes, particularly the warming noodle soups of parts of China, Japan, Vietnam and Malaysia. The principles of Asian stock making are the same with a few ingredient substitutions.  

The other kitchen axiom that we adhere to strictly at Lyons Hill Farm is that food is only ever as good as the quality of your raw ingredients. This applies just as much to stock as anything else. No matter how long you simmer an industrially produced chicken carcass there is a finite amount of flavour it will deliver. This is because flavour from stock comes from inside the bones. An animal that has led a short, confined life on artificial feed will not have had the chance to develop the rich bone marrow and dense cartilage that are the product of a healthy, active life. 

This is part of the investment that you make when you buy top quality meat. Stock provides the means by which to transport the same depth of flavour that you experienced in your Sunday roast, through to your simpler mid-week meals.  

At Lyons Hill Farm we supply our customers with bones from our mature, naturally reared cattle to enhance the cooking of pot roasting joints. You butcher might also give you some for free, if you ask nicely.

 

Ingredients 

Most recipes recommend starting with around a kilogram of bones. This will make approximately half a litre of concentrated glace de viande

Carrots, onions and celery are the classic vegetables used, although Leith’s leave out the celery in theirs. Fergus Henderson also adds a whole head of garlic to his, sliced horizontally. Whilst this makes a strong flavoured stock, it does leave a garlic taste that might not be suitable for every dish. Fennel tops if you happen to have them, also impart a pleasant, sweet flavour and are common in Italian cooking. 

For aromatics, most recipes require a bay leaf or two along with parsley stalks and a few black pepper corns. Some also add thyme and rosemary. Herbs can be tied together in a bouquet garni, although needn’t bee since the end result is strained anyway. The Stocks are generally left unsalted. 

If you like, you can use alcohol – white wine, or madeira are common – to deglaze your roasting pan after cooking. Cold water will however work just as well. 

If you want a classic, Asian style stock, substitute the carrot, onion and celery for sliced ginger, spring onions and perhaps a fresh chilli or two. You can also season with star anise, lemon grass, garlic or galangal, depending on what you plan to use it for. Instead of white wine or madeira, use a rice wine to deglaze your roasting pan. 


Method 

Stocks can be “brown” or “white.” Brown stocks require roasting of the bones and vegetables before simmering. This imparts more flavour and gives a deep brown colour. These are generally used for robust braised stews and dark coloured soups. For white stocks, ingredients are just simmered. They are more delicate in flavour and are used in cream sauces and white dishes. 

Unless you are making something that requires a delicate colour, we recommend roasting you bones prior to cooking. Bones should be well browned before you add them to the pot. This will take up to an hour in a hot (220c) oven. Vegetables can be added for the last 15mins or so, or browned off first in your stock pot. Whichever you do, it is important that they do not burn. If you are using leftover from a roast it is of course is not necessary to roast the bones first. 

Add the contents of your roasting tray to the stock pot and place the tray over a hob. Add a glass of wine, or cold water and scrape the bottom of the tray to clear up any juices. Add the liquid to the pan. Continue doing this until the tray is completely clean. 

Cover the bones and vegetables with around two litres of cold water. Bring to the boil slowly, skimming any scum that appears off the top using a slotted spoon, and allow to simmer gently for up to 10 hours and at least 4. If you have an AGA, leave it overnight in the simmering oven. 

Sieve your stock through a fine muslin to remove the bones and vegetables. This is then ready for storage, if you want a diluted stock that can be used for thinning soups. If you want a concentrated glace de viande, strain into a clean pot on the stove. Bring to the boil and reduce until it is thick, clear, syrupy. Once your stock has cooled, any remaining fat can simply be lifted off the top using a knife. 

Glace de viande will keep in the fridge for a few weeks, or can be frozen and stored for longer.