Cooking Stocks

cooking stocksCooking stocks are an integral part of any well-stocked (no pun intended) kitchen. To be considered a chef, versus a mere cook, you need to know how to make and use good stocks. I kid you not.

Stocks may seem intimidating because you think you need to make the stock fresh before you start the recipe – not so! On a quarterly or semi annual basis, take time to make, reduce, and freeze your stocks. This way you’ll always be ready to make some great food.

You don’t go to the mill when you need a cup of flour; you have it in your pantry. Think of stock in the same way. If freezer space is limited, simply simmer more of the liquid/water out of the strained stock. You can easily make 1 gallon of stock into a ½ gallon and save the space. But I warn you, your stock will be so rich and intense you will never want to go back to the diluted kind.

Cooking stocks are simply flavored liquids. A good one is the key to a great soup, braised dish or sauce. There are many types. They are all made from a combination of bones, vegetables, liquids and seasonings. Each type uses different procedures.

A chicken stock (white stock) is made with chicken bones, A beef stock (brown stock) is made of beef bones. If you are new to making cooking stocks, fear not. Just follow the steps, and you’ll do fine. Be sure to taste your stocks and refine your technique the next time around. If your brown stock isn’t rich and brown, roast the bones longer next time. Chefs practice their craft, so keep practicing.

One more note: never salt your cooking stocks. They’re used as a flavor ingredient, and you may be required to reduce them (which in turn would make them saltier). Adjust your seasoning at the end of the process; that way you are fearlessly in control.

Stock Types

A white stock is colorless during the cooking process. It is made by simmering chicken, veal or beef bones in water with vegetables and seasonings.

A brown stock has a dark color. It is made from veal, beef, chicken or game bones in water with vegetables which are caramelized before simmered in water with seasonings.

Both a fish stock and a fumet are made by slowly cooking fish bones or crustacean shells and vegetables without coloring them. They are then simmered in water with seasonings. For a fumet, wine and lemon juice are also added.

A court boullion is made by simmering vegetables and seasonings in water and an acidic liquid such as vinegar or wine. It is used to poach vegetables or fish.


Bones are the most important ingredient in a cooking stock. They add flavor, color and richness to the stock. Each type of bone requires its own cooking time. For instance, chicken bones require five to six hours of cooking time, while beef or veal bones require six to eight hours of cooking time.

Beef and Veal Bones

The best bones from beef and veal are from younger animals. They contain a higher percentage of cartilage and other connective tissue than those of mature animals. The best beef and veal bones are back, neck and shank bones. They have high collagen content. Collagen turns into gelatin and water. Gelatin adds richness to finished stock. Beef and veal bones should be cut into small pieces (3 to 4 inches) for the most flavor.

Chicken Bones

The best bones are the neck and back. A whole carcass can be used and cut up for easier handling.

Fish Bones

Lean fish such as sole, flounder, whiting or turbot are the best bones to use for fish cooking stock. The entire fish carcass can be used but it should be cut with a heavy knife for an even extraction of flavors. Rinse the pieces in cold water after cutting to remove blood and other impurities.

Other Bones

Lamb, turkey, game and ham bones can be used for white or brown stocks. Be careful not to mix strong flavored bones such as lamb or game with beef, veal, or chicken. You may turn out with an undesirable taste.

Two items I recommend to make your stock are a good stainless steel stock pot and a skimmer to skim the fat off the surface of the stock as it cooks:

I love stocks. I enjoy preparing them, and I’d be lost as a chef without them. It never ceases to amaze me how so many so-called cooks never use them at all. Trust me, learn to make good cooking stocks and your half way to becoming the gourmet chef you want to be.