"Too many people use the stock pot as a trash can," chef Champe Speidel of Persimmon, a modern American restaurant in Bristol, Rhode Island, says. "Think of it this way: Only a vegetable you would happily eat raw should go into your stock."
Speidel is something of a stock evangelist, encouraging home cooks to master the technique and deploy it in a wide range of winter braises and rich sauces. "When you make a good stock, it fires you up to cook more," he says. "It adds a depth of flavor—a soul—that can't be recreated or matched by anything else. It's the most dependable ingredient home cooks can utilize to elevate their cooking."
A clear, rich stock takes finesse. Common mistakes, like adding vegetable peels (they're bitter), neglecting to skim (impurities must be removed) or excessive boiling (it should simmer), will lead to a cloudy liquid. "Opacity is the sign of a bad stock," Speidel says. He walked us through his detailed veal stock process to explain how to make the most of your bones. Follow his steps to a perfect stock.
Speidel starts by washing the veal bones (five to 10 pounds will do for a single batch). He then puts them in a large pot filled with water, brings it to a boil and then shuts off the burner. "Blanching helps release some of the impurities from the bones, which will cloud the stock and its flavor," Speidel says. If you can find them, he recommends adding veal feet, too, which are full of taste-enhancing gelatin. (You may have noticed that Speidel chooses not to roast his bones first: "When you reduce roasted bones, they can turn out very dark and bitter," he says.)
Then Speidel discards the blanching water, washes the bones again and starts over, filling the stock pot with cold water and bringing it to a boil. He reduces the heat to a simmer—overboiling will only lead to a murky color and flavor. "Now, watch the bones," he says. Skimming off impurities at this step is essential to maintaining the broth's clarity (Speidel recommends skimming with a simple large six-ounce ladle—stay away from skimmers, as they can leave oil behind). And he monitors the temperature carefully: An ideal simmer is about 200° to 205° (any lower and the gelatin won't be extracted from the bones).
Once the stock is skimmed, Speidel adds vegetables: carrots, celery, onions, leeks (white part only), bay leaves, parsley stems and peppercorns. Then, the whole thing simmers—not boils!—for another six to eight hours. "If you want clarity and sheen—which you do—you need to simmer your stock for a good long time," Speidel says.
But not too long. "At a certain point, the vegetables will have given all they can," Speidel says. Then, they can actually start to hurt your stock by soaking up the liquid, killing your yield. "The vegetables should be on the verge of mush, but not falling apart yet," he says. Straining is also an essential step here to achieve a clear, finished stock. Once strained, a good stock still needs to be reduced, to, as Speidel puts it, "bring it into focus."
Your veal stock is done after at least six hours, when it glistens in the light and feels almost sticky on the lips—that's the gelatin at work. The taste should be meaty, not watery, and it should fill the entire room with a rich aroma. To really maximize your bones, you can use a French method called remouillage, or making a second, weaker stock by re-simmering the same bones in fresh water. It's often added to the primary stock and reduced. But this step is only for those who want to go all out.
Your perfect new stock can be used for everything from cooking grains to making soup to deglazing the pan the next time you stir-fry. Consider it your new foundation.