once again our very own SUMO
Cook (soup stock) With Sumo
When I was a kid, my mother would crack open a can of soup, dump it into a pot on the stove, and a few minutes later, would slop it into a bowl and scream at me to sit my ass down at the table and eat. At the time, I couldn’t articulate why I found the prospect of eating soup disturbing, I just knew that I didn’t like it. At all.
Once I hit my teenage years, and started to learn how to cook, I realized that my mother didn’t know shit about food. Still doesn’t, to this day. This is a woman who thinks that it’s perfectly acceptable to throw a half frozen roast of beef in the oven, then serve the overcooked, dry chunk of leather to people.
In any case, my mother’s deplorable lack of culinary skill isn’t important; what is important is the fact that I eventually learned that soup , when done properly, is a delicious, beautiful, satisfying meal that contains a multitude of flavors and textures.
Different varieties of soup will naturally require different techniques in order to execute, but they all share one thing in common – the base. Whether you’re making beef, chicken, pork, fish, or vegetable soup, you need to start with stock. Or possibly broth. Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably, but there is a small difference between the two. Soup stock is made with bones, which contain collagen, while broth is made from various cuts of meat, which does not contain collagen. The collagen provides stock with a gelatinous quality that makes it more desirable for deglazing pans, while broth is normally utilized for light soups and recipes that require a lighter flavor.
How does one decide which to use? Well….unless you’re working in a high end restaurant where attention to minute details is paramount, or you’re a hardcore foodie (I hate that word, BTW) who can be a little OCD when it comes to preparing meals, it doesn’t make that much of a difference. Given the choice, 9 times out of 10 I’m going to go with stock, simply because I view it as being less “wasteful” – throwing some bones into a pot then chucking them into the garbage a few hours later is preferable, in my opinion, to throwing meat away afterwards.
So, making stock – first, get yourself some bones. Beef, chicken, pork, whatever. Any decent butcher will sell you some for a reasonable price (under $2/lb, most places), and you can freeze any that you’re not going to use right away. Decide whether or not you want to roast the bones first. Roasting improves the flavor of the stock dramatically, but when it comes to lighter (chromatically speaking) stocks, such as chicken stock, some people dislike the color that result from doing so. Then choose a few vegetables to add. The “classic” French combination is carrots, celery, and onion, known as mire poix. If you’re making an Asian soup stock, you might need different veggies, but the principle is the same. You can add some herbs if you like, but when it comes to leafy herbs like parsley or cilantro, only use the stems, never the leaves. There are a couple of reasons for this; first, the stems actually have more flavor, and second, the leaves will become slimy and affect the end texture of the stock.
For making stock, you don’t need to know any fancy knife work, just chop the celery into chunks, peel the carrots and chop into similar chunks, and tear the little thready bits off the root of the onions. Cut the onions in half and throw them in the pot, skin and all. Leaving the onion skin on gives the stock a nice, golden color. If you haven’t added the bones to the pot yet, throw them in, then cover everything with enough water to cover the ingredients by about 2 inches. Fire up the burner, bring your stock to a simmer, and find something to do for the next few hours. Oh, and don’t add salt. Ever. I know this contradicts what I said in my last post, but never salt your stock, only add salt to your soup. This allows you to control the salt content in the finished product.
While everything so far has been fairly low-key, this next bit is important: DO NOT LET THE STOCK COME TO A BOIL!!!!!!! If it boils, your stock will be cloudy and visually unappealing. Skim off any scum that appears on the surface of the stock, and be patient. For chicken or fish stock, it should be ready in 3 or 4 hours; beef or veal stock may take quite a bit longer. The chefs I work with usually start making veal stock in the evening, and let it simmer overnight. Once you figure that it’s done, strain out all the solid bits, and if you don’t need it immediately, let it cool to room temperature, then pop it into the fridge. If you have room, just throw the whole pot in there. Eventually, the fat will rise to the top and solidify, then you can just peel it off. The stock can be frozen at this point for future use; either in containers or in ice cube trays. If using the trays, once the cubes are frozen, remove them and store in a freezer bag. If you have a recipe that calls for a tablespoon or two of stock, well…..there you be. No need to thaw out a large batch.
Well, that’s about all I can think of for the moment. While not terribly complicated, homemade stock is far superior to anything you can buy in a grocery store (although I do use those if I’m feeling lazy or I’m pressed for time), and will elevate your soup to a higher, and tastier, level.
To paraphrase (and blatantly plagerize) a friend, let those who have stomachs eat.