Broth and Stock

There are some things so ubiquitous in my daily cooking that I rarely give them the attention I should.  Perhaps chief among these are broths and stocks.  A good cook wastes nothing.  In my family tradition of cooking, all scraps of meat, vegetables, fish, bones, etc were utilized.  A good deal of kitchen scraps were used to feed pets and livestock.... it is strange for me to think that most dogs now days eat only store bought dog food -our dogs on the farm, lived long and healthy lives eating "dog bread" (leftover cornbread or stale biscuits) soaked in gravy, meat scraps from the kitchen and plenty of cut offs from butchering livestock and game.  The choice bits though (and plenty of not so choice bits) fed the family and enriched countless dishes by being utilized for broths and stocks.

Generally speaking the difference between broth and stock is that broth is made with meat and stock is made with bones. However, this is not a hard and fast rule.  It is more useful to consider meat the base of broth and bones the base of stock.  Fish should also be used and you could consider a fish broth as being made with the flesh of the fish and/or the liquid from clams and mussels, while a fish stock would be made with the bones or shrimp shells, etc. However, you may boil fish heads for a wonderfully flavorful broth that also contains bones.  The same is true of chicken or ham broth made with meat still on the bones - when this is done, the joins release some collagen, which gives the broth a wonderfully rich mouth feel and more nutrition.  When it comes to vegetable broths and stocks, the distinctions are less clear, as both are just boiled vegetables.  Not being a vegetarian though, I rarely, if ever, make a pure vegetable broth or stock - I just toss the vegies in with the meat and/or bones.

To make broth, cut whatever meat you like into bite sized chunks put them in a pot of cold water.  Add to that any vegetables you like, if you wish.  You can brown the meat first (I usually do), or not. You can cook the vegetables first, or not. You can use scraps of meat left over from roasts, hams, poultry or fish.  You can use whatever you have and whatever you like. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let it simmer slowly for several hours, skimming off excess fat occasionally.   It is generally best to make individual broths of chicken (or other poultry), beef (or other red meats), pork and fish.  That way, when you need a cup of fish broth for a recipe, you have it on hand and if you want chicken soup, you already have the broth on hand and need only add a few ingredients to have the wonderful, home made soup that costs very little and is far tastier and better for you than anything from a can.

To make stock, take the bones or shells of whatever critter you have recently cooked and place them on a sheet pan.  Chop up any root vegetables you have on hand and the cut offs of onions, celery, etc.  Put them on the the pan ad drizzle with a little oil and salt.  Roast everything in the oven at around 300-350 degrees until the bones and vegetables are brown. Let the bones cool and then crack them (if you wish).  Put everything in a pot with cold water and cook just as described above for broth.  Stock is much richer than broth and you will likely add smaller amounts to many dishes.  Stocks are a must have ingredient in gravies, soups and sauces, or can be eaten just like soup.  Many people believe that a bowl of stock is among the most nutritious foods on earth.

I really cannot imagine cooking without broth or stock, even on fishing trips.  When I'm at the coast, I keep a pot of shellfish and fish stock going all the time.  I toss the shrimp shells, crab shells, fish bones, etc in, along with an onion studded with cloves and a bay leaf, and some black pepper.  If I want to make a nice soup, all I do is boil a few fish heads in some stock, with some celery and usually a dash or four of Tony Chachere's, a bit of white wine and/or milk.  Most early fishing mornings, a cup of fish stock is my breakfast - stick some jerky in my pocket for lunch and I'm set for most of the day. 

You can refrigerate freeze broth and stock if you can't use them fast enough.  I usually freeze mine in gallon ziplock bags, but some people fill ice trays with them so they can have pre measured amounts. Ideally though, they should be kept out, on the back of the stove and added to daily with fresh scraps.  I have been moving around too much the past few years to keep one going, but I usually have a pot of ham bone stock on the back burner to cook my beans in, and a pot of chicken stock for soups and sauces.  Real French Onion Soup is my favorite. 

Broths and stocks can and should be kept going for generations, handed down like sour dough starters to ensure a heritage of fine cooking! This brings up the final and very important point and the question of whether or not to salt your broths and stocks.  Most chefs would likely say that you should not salt broth or stock, so that it is easier to use as an ingredient.  Using unsalted ingredients makes it easier to control he amount of salt in a dish.  However, I do salt mine.  I live in the South, where it is hot in the summer.  I find that salted broths and stocks keep better without refrigeration, because salt inhibits bacterial growth.  That said, it is okay if they "sour" a bit, so long as you do not let them spoil; this can add a slightly fermented richness tot he flavor.  That must be to your own taste and discretion, though.  If you decide to make and maintain your broths and stocks in the traditional manner of keeping a pot on the back of the stove, simply bring it to a boil for a few minutes daily to prevent spoilage.

The only thing I would caution against adding to your broths is “pot likker” left over from cooking beans or greens.  The flavor is too strong and would dominate the broth.  Instead, add some broth or stock to your pot likker and make a delicious soup.

As I write this, a hurricane is just making landfall.  The rains are coming down and the wind is picking up.  I will likely lose power soon.  It is a great comfort to know that I have several days worth of nutritious food already prepared, simply because I utilize my food scraps in the form of broth and stock. 

Stay safe, well fed and unreconstructed, ya’ll!


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