Learn how collagen makes a stock rich, thick, and flavorful! And how to do it fast!
If you didn’t read part one last week, you don’t want to miss out on the investment advice. There’s some compound interest you’ll want to accrue before we talk asset allocation today. I’m no Oracle of Omaha, but I promise you’ll want to review that letter to shareholders first. 😉
Today, let’s tackle traditional stocks. Unlike the vegetable broth we chatted about in part 1, traditional stocks have a thicker, mouth-feel to them. They’re rich and satisfying. And they can become the base of a soup or a delicious pan sauce, cooked down into a glaze, or used to braise a piece of meat.
But before I go public on how to make stock at home, let’s go over the S-1.
It comes down to the magical element collagen! Collagen is a protein found in the connective tissue of meat. That’s why you use “bone-y” parts of an animal for stocks. 🦴
So what makes it magical? Well once it hits 160℉ (70℃), collagen transforms into gelatin. And that gelatin is what differentiates a stock from a broth. It gives the liquid body.
The first way to make sure we get a nice body is to eat well 🥕 and hit the gym 🏋️. But if we are talking about a nice body for our stock, then we want to start with meat that has loads of collagen. Cheaper, less used, boney parts of the animal come in handy here. Think chicken wings, necks, backs, and especially feet (be warned chicken feet are kind of creepy looking 😱). And oxtail and shanks work well for a non-feathery variety of stock. Just make sure there is a little bit of meat on those bones! Meat adds extra flavor. If you’re at the supermarket and not sure what cuts to grab for your stock, just ask your butcher! They’ll point you in the right direction.
Here’s one of my favorite tricks. I love spatchcocking a chicken—it’s where you remove the backbone before roasting it. Why do I love it? Well, that’s a topic for another newsletter. But now for every chicken I roast, I get a collagen-filled back I can throw in the freezer for when I make stock!
The second way to maximize collagen is time. The longer you cook the animal parts, the more collagen will transform into gelatin. That’s why making stock is an act of love. ❤️ It takes HOURS simmering away on the stovetop. Chicken stock can take about 6-8 hours to get enough gelatin. Beef can take 10-12 hours. Interestingly, it takes longer to coax gelatin out of beef bones than chicken ones. But ain’t nobody got time for that!
So enter our 3rd technique. The higher the heat, the faster the collagen will convert to gelatin! But sadly the temperature of water won’t go above 212°F (100°F). Heck, for us Colorado folks, we are fortunate if it gets above 203°F. But lucky for us, we can use a pressure cooker!
Want the tl:dr? Using a pressure cooker to make a stock (1) takes a third of the time (2) is less work and (3) gives you just as good of results.
Pressure cookers raise the boiling point of water to around 250°F (120°C). This high heat makes the transformation of gelatin happen fast!
Another benefit is that the liquid won’t boil when you use a pressure cooker. The liquid remains steady due to that pressure. And why does that matter? Well, when liquid boils, it breaks up the pieces of meat, bones, and vegetables in your stock. And the more those ingredients break up, the cloudier the stock. Instead, we want a stock with a robust, but clean flavor. If you’ve ever heard of skimming the scum or impurities off the top of a stock while it simmers, that’s why. But nifty enough, the pressure cooker makes it so you don’t have to sweat it. It’s a smoother, and faster ride. 🏎️
And does a pressure cooker really give you as good of an outcome as simmering on the stovetop? Well J. Kenji López-Alt did a side-by-side comparison. Flavor and body were just as good in the pressure cooker as the stovetop version. Cool, right? I love it when convenience and quality go hand in hand.
“White stocks” are pretty common. It’s a similar technique to the lighter veggie broth we talked about last week. You put all your ingredients in your pot, cover them in water, and simmer away. And it’s incredibly versatile. It won’t overpower certain dishes. Here’s a recipe for white chicken stock if you’re interested.
But if we want depth of flavor, we want to go the way of a “brown stock”. And that means we need to take advantage of the Maillard reaction and umami-rich ingredients.
The flavor-boosting techniques I mentioned last week for vegetable broths apply here too. So I won’t repeat all of them. But the two traditional techniques for enhancing the flavor of stocks are to roast your bones and to use tomato paste. Both of those will add a depth of flavor and color to your stock.
Whether it’s chicken, turkey, beef, or veal, the technique is the same.
Don’t have a pressure cooker? You can still make an amazing stock. It just takes more time. The steps are mostly the same as above, but there are a couple of things to call out. First, don’t let your stock come to a full boil so it doesn’t break up the veggies, meat, and bones. You want it to simmer. Second, you may want to skim the surface as the stock cooks to remove all the foam (aka scum or impurities) that come up. If we were in France, it would be treason not to. But others say it doesn’t have a big impact as long as you keep it at a simmer and properly strain it at the end.
Where I learned this: Thomas Keller’s MasterClass, these two articles on making chicken stock and beef stock by Daniel Gritzer over at Serious Eats, and the Keys to Good Cooking by Harold McGee.