March 7, 2021

A Stock that Pays Dividends Pt. 2

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.

Why are Stocks Thicker Than Broths?

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.

Maximizing Collagen’s Transformation to Gelatin

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!

Using 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.

Now Let’s Talk Flavor

“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.

How to Make Stock

Whether it’s chicken, turkey, beef, or veal, the technique is the same.

  1. Grab your ingredients: You’ll want aromatic veggies like onion, celery, and carrots. And some herbs like bay leaves or parsley stems. Grab some tomato paste or miso. And of course lots of collagen-filled meat and bones.
  2. Roast your ingredients: Lightly oil your meat and bones. Then throw them in a 400°F (200°C) oven for about 20 minutes or so until they start to brown. Once they do, add your aromatic vegetables to the pan (already oiled) and roast for another 30 minutes. All that browning means more flavor! Note: You could brown everything in the pot. But you’ll just have to do it in batches to get effective browning. Which can take a while. Piling everything in the pot at once leads to steaming and not browning.
  3. Deglazing: Once the lot is done browning, remove them from the pan and add them to your pressure cooker. But don’t put that pan in the sink just yet! There’s loads of flavor that we don’t want to leave behind #SaveTheFond. You may need to drain some of the fat first. But after that, just add some hot water to the pan and scrape up all the brown bits with a wooden spoon. Then add that water to your pot.
  4. Add the flavor: This is where you add in your tomato paste or miso. You can add dried mushrooms too if you want to go there. Then toss in your herbs.
  5. Cover with water: Filtered water is always best. And add enough to cover everything in the pot. Just don’t go past the max fill line on your pressure cooker.
  6. Pressure cooking: Once everything is in the pressure cooker, lock in the lid. And follow the instructions on your pressure cooker! Once it’s fully pressurized, you want your stock to cook for about 1.5 hours for chicken or veal and about 2.5 hours for beef.
  7. Release the steam: Once the time is up, it’s ideal to let the steam release naturally. Quick venting will actually cause the liquid to start to boil. And remember that results in a cloudier stock. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do!
  8. Straining: When the cooker is depressurized, it’s time to strain. I like to strain my stocks twice. I do it once in a colander to get all the big chunks. And then again through a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth.
  9. Fat removal: If you need to use the stock right away, you can let it sit for about 10 minutes so the fat rises to the top. Then use a ladle or spoon to remove it. But that takes more patience than I have and removes a lot of valuable stock at the same time. So I put it in the refrigerator until the fat congeals as it cools. Then it’s much easier and more efficient to scrape off with a spoon. Plus, then you can save the fat to use for cooking later!

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.