Sunday, November 28, 2010

How to Make a Brown Stock

Nearly a year ago I blogged about making turkey stock. It was essentially a quick, white stock using turkey bones. You can also use chicken or whatever you have lying around. As part of my independent cooking training (a.k.a. trying to teach myself how it works) I decided to try making a brown stock, or Fond Brun.

The difference between the French white and brown stocks is both simple, and substantial. The basics are that in a brown stock, you bake the bones first, browning them and rending some of the fat. This gives the stock a darker color and, I suppose, a richer flavor. They are also quite often made with beef bones, instead of poultry. Chicken bones are often added, however, when not enough beef bones are available. Because it's right after Thanksgiving, I used turkey bones, mixed in with the other bones I'd saved over the year (more on that, further down).

Buying bones from a butcher to make your own stock is probably not cost effective. Bones are getting pricey, these days, although I can't figure out why. I'm not sure making brown stock is cost effective, either. It takes a very long time to cook, so the electricity costs are probably substantial when compared to the cost of canned beef stock. Glutton for punishment that I am, though, I had to try it.

If you're going to take the time to make stock, make a lot. It takes just as much time to make a little as a lot. I don't know how many pounds of bones or vegetables I actually use, but my stock pot gets pretty full. I sometimes, worry that I've overcrowded things, but its always turned out fine. I think I got about 4-6 quarts of stock when all was said and done, this time. Not bad when you consider the only thing “extra” I paid for was the electricity.

Here's how I make it work. Instead of buying bones, save the bones from various roasts and the like you cook from time to time. You can also save unused trimmings from vegetables. Just pop them in a couple of plastic bags and freeze them until you have enough saved up to make stock. In this case, I used bones from roast pork, beef, turkey, and chicken.

As for the vegetables, some people like using broccoli stalks, some stay away from them. I like them. Celery is great, but be careful about celery leaves. They are very strong and bitter and many cooks advise to stay away from them. Stay away from vegetables that may dissolve in the water or add starch, like potatoes or cauliflower. The classic brown stock uses carrots, onions, tomatoes, leek and celery.

Although included in the classic French brown stock, I do not use tomatoes, partly because I never have any left over and partly because it just seems wrong to me. I also do not save the root ends of onions or celery, as dirt is often hiding in them. I don't like dirt in my food.

The classic brown stock is seasoned with thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns. This seems odd to me because a good stock, properly made, will be nearly flavorless. In his book, Complete Techniques, Jacques Pepin describes stock as the “hidden and modest friend” that enables a cook to produce a well-finished sauce. It's a vehicle for flavor, having no identity of it's own. In spite of this, I still add a couple of bay leaves.

Do not add salt to the stock! If you reduce it, the concentration of salt will overpower everything.

Equipment needed
Jelly roll pan or roasting pan
Stockpot, Dutch Oven, or other large cooking pot
Slotted spoon or tongs
Strainer or chinois
Kitchen Knife
Skimmer or large spoon

About 10 pounds of bones (more or less), cut into 2-inch pieces if possible
About 2 pounds of vegetable trimmings, carrots, celery stalks, onions, broccoli, leeks and, if you must, tomatoes.
2 bay leaves
Cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a large a large jelly roll pan or roasting pan with cooking spray. Add the bones to the pan, spreading them out evenly over the bottom. Cook in the over for 1 1/2 hours, turning over halfway through. They will be very brown. Add the carrots and onions to the bones and return to the oven, cooking for 1 more hour.

Remove the bones and vegetables from the oven and transfer them to a large stock pot. Use a slotted spoon or tongs so the fat drippings are left in the pan.

Pour out the accumulated fat drippings in the roasting pan. The solidified juices left in the pan (fond or glace) are what we're after. Pour a bit of water into the pan and place over the stove. Bring the water to a boil and, using a metal spatula, scrape the fond off the bottom of the pan, allowing it to melt into the water.

Add this water to the stock pot. Fill the pot with additional cold water, leaving about 1 inch of head space for safety. Slowly bring the water and bones to a boil over medium high heat, then immediately reduce the heat to low, or medium low, and gently simmer for one hour. Skim the top to remove any scum or foam that may accumulate. This is the albumin from the bones, along with a little fat and other impurities. If this is not skimmed off, the stock will be cloudy and less digestible. If the stock is boiled too fast, the albumin will not separate and the fat will emulsify back into the stock, increasing the calories.

Add the remaining vegetables and gently simmer for 10 hours, even overnight. During the cooking, water will evaporate. Replace it it periodically to the keep the same level of liquid. It is better to have more liquid than less. If the liquid is over-reduced with the bones, a lot of the glace will stick to the bones and be lost.

Remove the pan from the heat and strain it through a very fine mesh strainer.

Normally you would return the liquid to a clean pot and boil it down, reducing the stock by about 1/4, or to about 3 quarts. I find this step unnecessary unless you are planning on reducing it further to make a demi-glace, or glace de viande (I'll teach you more about those, next time).

Let the stock cool a bit and then put it in the refrigerator overnight. The remaining fat will solidify on top and can be removed the next day.

I like to store the completed stock in zipper lock freezer bags, laid on their sides in the freezer, about 1 to two quarts per bag. Laying them flat to freeze lets you store the frozen stock upright, later on.

If you want to, return the bones (not the vegetables) to the pot and fill it with water, simmering gently for another ten hours, just like before. You can even re-brown the bones and add more vegetables if you want to. It won't be as rich as the stock made the first time, but it's still very good. Except for the electricity and time, it's also more or less free.


Emma said...

A pleasant holiday shopping season to you and your readers. Thanks for continuing these posts on your blog.

John Newman said...

Thank you, Emma! Happy Holidays to you, and my other readers, as well.