Good Stock Can Take a Soup from Puny to Hearty
Ever sit down to eat a bowl of soup and find it tasteless? Soups are amazingly easy to prepare, but if they are to be done well, they are not quick. Meat and vegetable stocks are very different beasts for an experienced eye, but the time that it takes to make them is not a joke, and short cuts are never a replacement for that time.
Making a good soup stock, whether it be meat or vegetable base is not rocket science, but it requires some attention to detail, and some time. The food that the stock is used in will benefit to a huge degree from the effort, and it can be made in quantity and frozen in portions as small as an ice cube tray for use later.
A good meat stock will stand up on its own when it is cold. For the health conscious, this is an easy observation because they've refrigerated the stock to pull the fat off of the top. This is because the stock has sufficient proteins that form a gelatin matrix when chilled. Meat stocks that do not form this gelatin are usually weak and flavorless. A simple chicken stock is made by placing a chicken or chicken carcass into a stock pot, covering it with water, and bringing it to a boil. The heat is then reduced to low and the pot is cooked. Vegetables, herbs, and spices can be added to enhance the flavor.
After about an hour and a half if a chicken is used, it is removed, and the meat taken off the bone, and the bones are placed back into the crock- or stock-pot. This is then cooked down at a low heat until the desired concentration is achieved, and the solids are strained out. This can be done with almost any type of meat. With non-poultry, the bones are usually roasted to give some caramelization, which results in a darker, richer stock. This liquid is carefully reduced until it is a rich stock. Stocks can be stored unseasoned and seasoned when it is used in the final dish.
Vegetable stocks can be made with dried mushrooms, with seaweed, with a mirepoix, or with any number of other combinations. Enough vegetable matter must be used to make it sufficiently concentrated.
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