"Stock's a big deal," says David McMillan of the Montreal institution Joe Beef. "It's a big pain in the ass, but it's a big deal."
Stock is more than just chicken soup. More than mere bouillon or broth. It is an essential building block of classic French cuisine.
Roasted veal bones | Browning the mirepoix
"It is life-giving juice," McMillan says with respect. "It's always there during service, cooking down in different stages of reduction. Ultimately, it's a tool. If you over-roasted your vegetables in the pan, you add a little stock to give them life. If you're meat's roasting too fast, you've got a ladle of stock ready."
The house stock at Joe Beef involves a heady mix of anchovies, mustard, roasted chicken and turkey necks that McMillan and his partner, Frédéric Morin, arrived at after decades of experimentation.
Bouquet garni | Skimming the stock
"We can turn our base into a red wine steak sauce, or go all the way the other direction and make a blonde jus that's good for fish. Our stock is not what you learn in cooking school--but that's just one way of looking at something you can make 55 different ways."
The key is to learn the basics and riff on them according to the ingredients you've got and the kind of stock you like. Something that's flexible and ready and waiting in your toolkit to help give depth and character to whatever you're cooking.
Freeze cubes of stock for later use.
Eric Korsh, executive chef of Calliope restaurant in New York's East Village, calls cooking with good stock "the difference between a one-dimensional dish and something with layered flavors."
Making stock takes time, but the payoff is big and ongoing. There is the pleasure of transforming an unpromising pile of bones and vegetables into something transportingly tasty and universally useful. Freeze a bunch of cubes of stock and you're ready for whatever holiday cooking marathons are headed your way.
"And," Korsh adds, "it makes your house smell great."
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