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Doctor Stock

May 11, 2012

There is one very last thing I have to say about stock before moving on. Unless you write Burnt My Fingers, you too are probably sick of the debate about the preferred method for making this flavor base.

Probably my favorite part of this conversation was Chef Tanner’s comment. One of the things he spelled out is the difference between stock and broth. Broth, he says, is made from meat, while stock is made from bones.

So what one buys at the grocery store, which is liquid and not gelatinous when cool, is technically broth and not stock. That fact actually makes the title of this post problematic. But I couldn’t resist the nod to Star Trek. Now what I need to tell you about is a little trick I picked up from Julia Child (if I recall correctly) about what to do should you find yourself in a cooking emergency surrounded by little more than store bought chicken broth.

Or should you be one of those people who really just doesn’t want to bother tending a pot of simmering liquid for three hours, but still wants to cook tasty food, I’ve got the solution.

Store-bought chicken broth can be improved dramatically with this simple notion: use it to make a secondary broth from fresh ingredients. Hopefully you have them laying around the house.

All you need is half of an onion, two cloves, one bay leaf, a carrot and a stalk of celery.

I’ve always used the cloves as tacks to fix the bay leaf onto the flat cut side of the peeled onion. The carrot gets peeled, and both it and the celery get cut into large chunks. Then you simmer for as long as you can, them with the store-bought broth, remove the vegetables, and use the doctored broth with confidence.

This is an effective way of taking the mass-produced taste out what is effectively an industrial product, and giving it the wholesome goodness of something made from scratch. No, it’s still not the same as the real thing. But it will do in a pinch.

Truth be told, I relied on this method for a long time.

Now that our family is in the habit of eating roast chicken on Friday nights, we produce a lot of carcasses. And since I started regularly making stock a few years ago, I’ve never been without at least some frozen cubes of the stuff in the freezer.

But that wasn’t always the case. Keeping yourself in homemade stock, even if it’s reduced and kept in the freezer, is a commitment of time and energy to the project. Not everyone is willing to put in the effort for tastier food, and not everyone has the kind of schedule that can accommodate a major cooking project every few weeks.

If that’s you, there’s the doctor.

And if you are missing an ingredient, do it anyway. If you only have five minutes before the broth is called into service, that’s five minutes it can improve from its shelf stable condition. Feel free to make substitutions. Add some more greenery like fresh parsley or dill. Anything to wake it up, and the broth will be seriously improved.

Okay. Now have a great weekend, and tell your mother you love her.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2012 11:27 am

    I don’t think you’ve mentioned how you condense stock, if there’s some sort of formula to it (or how many ice cube trays one must own to pull this off)…

  2. May 12, 2012 10:34 am

    Since you brought up my mother, I have to continue this conversation.

    To me stock is something that stays in the kitchen, while broth is a soup. A stock (which is called a fond in French, meaning it is the foundation of something) can be reduced for a more intense flavor, something you could not do with if it contained salt and other ingredients you’d use for a finished soup ready for serving.

    That’s what I think but I checked a few sources. The good people at Swanson actually sell both a stock and a soup, it turns out, and they have this page which supposedly differentiates them but is actually pretty unhelpful. Some chefs agree with Chef Tanner that a broth will have meat vs just carcasses. But does that mean one cannot have a vegetable broth?

    I agree with your clove-bay leaf-onion strategy but only if you’re making a stock to be used with French-aligned food preps. Cloves and a bay leaf would be out of place if you’re planning to use the stock for a pho ga, for example.

    As an option, try my recipe for Chicken in a Pot: . The basic idea is that you poach a whole chicken with a few add-ins that fit your taste and the recipes you plan to make with the stock, or else with nothing but good pure water. Everything is done in the easiest possible way. You end up with a perfectly cooked chicken and perfectly good stock and you go from there.

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