Brown Stock

Home-made stock is simple to make, as well as cheaper and better than purchasing at the supermarket.


13 December 2009

Brown stock is one of the basic elements of many recipes in French cooking (and other regional cooking as well). I use stock regularly, and many of the recipes on The Wheeling Gourmet call for stock.

Brown stock is usually made from veal or beef bones, or from chicken/poultry bones. Some "specialised" brown stocks can also be made using venison, or duck, or even quail bones. Pork is rarely used on its own, particularly in French (or Western) cooking. Historically, veal was used instead of beef. The flavour is more delicate. But it is hard to find veal bones nowadays. In fact, it can be hard to find beef bones, now that so many supermarkets don't have butchers on the premises! But there are alternatives - You can use shank, and/or "gravy beef", although the later makes it more expensive.

Qualities Of A Good Stock

There are several qualities you want to look for in a good stock:

  1. Fat free
  2. Salt free
  3. Rich brown colour
  4. Rich taste

Buying vs Making

While you can purchase stock at the grocery store, the quality is usually not great, and the prices are quite high. And it is usually extremely salty, which means you cannot reduce it much at all.

Advantages of Making Your Own Stock:

  • Lower cost
  • Better taste
  • More control of what goes in the stock.

Disadvantage of Making Your Own Stock:

  • Time consuming

Should you wish to purchase stock instead of making it, select the liquid form rather than the powdered form. These tend to be better and not based on salt so much. Also, compare the ingredient lists between the different brands. You may find salt-free stock, which is better, both health-wise and for cooking.

What Is It Used For?

Brown Stock is used as a basis for sauces. It can be used "as is", reduced, or thickened. Depending on what you do with it after the stock is ready, it takes other forms, and is called differently:

Reduced stock until it is syrupy (typically down to 10% of original volume).
Thickened Stock
Stock thickened, usually with flour. This is an expedient replacement to Espagnole or Demi-Glace.
Espagnole Sauce
Thickened stock with extra aromatic ingredients. Espagnole is usually done only with veal/beef.
Espagnole sauce at its supreme degree of perfection. Demi-Glace is usually done only with veal/beef. Note that despite similar names, Glaze and Demi-Glace are not at all resulting from the same process.

Straining Stock

Once the stock is cooked, you have to separate the stock itself from the bones & aromatics. The easiest way is to use a large laddle to scoop out the stock from the pot, and pour it in a strainer over a large container. Once you are unable to use a ladle, you may carefully tip the bones and liquid in the strainer. Some people line the strainer with several layers of cheese cloth, to catch any tiny bits still floating in the stock, such as herbs, etc.

Remember: You want to keep the stock, NOT the bones! Which reminds me of an anecdote with an apprentice

This happened in a holiday camp where we were feeting approximately 400 teenage boys, 3 meals a day, plus 2 snacks. Industrial size cooking. I was teaching one of my apprentices how to make stock. We'd put the bones in to roast at 5:30am, spread in 6 ovens. While that was happening and other staff were dealing with breakfast, we prepared the aromatics, got the pots ready, etc. We put the roast bones with the aromatics in the pots, added water. Now these were BIG pots. 50 liters each (12 gallons). Brought the whole thing to a boil and then controlled the temperature to a simmer. The stock simmered in two large pots for hours. Around 4:30pm, I told my apprentice to clean the sinks very well, and to put our large collander in it. I neglected to tell her to put a plug in the sink. I assumed that it would have clicked that we were making stock to keep the liquid. But... No! I told her to get help from one of the guys, get the pot off the stove and strain the content into the cleaned and prepared sink. I turned my back on them just long enough to miss them pouring the entire content of the two pots into the collander, and see the last drops of stock go down the drain. They thought we were keeping the bones, somehow! Lesson learned!

Cooling Stock Rapidly

It is extremely important to cool your stock as quickly as possible after it is finished. As stock is generally made in large quantities, it can take a while to cool down. You cannot put 4 or 5 liters of very hot liquid in the refrigerator because it would warm up the other food in the refrigerator.

The best way to cool your stock is to put the stock in the kitchen sink, and fill the sink with cold water. The heat from the stockpot is going to get exchanged with the cold water. When the water in the sink isn't cold anymore, empty and refill with cold water. Repeat these steps as often as necessary to cool down the stock sufficiently to put in the refrigerator.

Preserving Stock

You can preserve stock in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days. If you wish to keep it longer than that, you will need to bring the stock to a boil and simmer it for 15 minutes, otherwise it will sour.

You can freeze the stock as well, and if it is properly packed, it will last up to 3 or 4 months without problem.

I like to prepare a Glaze and freeze it in ice-cube containers. Then, when I'm ready to cook, I can retrieve the number of cubes I need, instead of having to melt a whole block of Glaze.

Some people like to bottle the stock in preserves. This is not something you should attempt unless you are very familiar with preserving meat-based items.


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