Stock, Buy or Make?
Stock is the liquid essence of beef, chicken, veggie or fish. The flavors are leached into the water they are being boiled in, usually over a fair amount of time.
Because so very many recipes call for stock, having a handle on it is a must. The simplest way to get stock is to buy it, either canned, as a paste, frozen or most commonly, dehydrated in powder or cubes (bullion). Each has its pros and cons, as does making it yourself.
It is the marrow in the bones that gives meat stocks their flavor.
Bullion is a life saver when you need a little stock in a hurry, since it can reside for ages in a pantry until you need it. I use it often for the meals we eat, and much less often for those I serve. The greatest problem with it can also be its strength. It is salty, very salty. You have to be careful how you use it, but in place of salt (always add to some water before adding to your cooking) it adds a whole new dimensions to your cooking.
It takes more than bones to make a good stock.
Bullion can also be rather simple in its flavor profile. When I use it I am likely to use the meat base, and a bit of veggie bullion as well. This gives it more facets and makes it more interesting.
Still concentrated, the paste version (often called “base”) is more highly regarded in commercial kitchens. They tend to be of better quality and less salty. When I can find them (since I travel) I prefer them to the dry stuff. They do need to be refrigerated though.
Boil, boil, no toil or trouble.
That jelly texture is the key to good stock, and what will separate what you buy from what you make. There is a richness to the real thing that is absent from most stocks you buy. The good news is that making stock is as simple as boiling water.
Whatever type of stock you are making, chances are you will want to simmer for many hours in water. This is the perfect domain for a slow cooker. Throw your meat (especially roasted bones) in the water, heat on high for an hour, then drop to low and cook while you sleep. In the morning you will have leached most of the flavor from the bones and meat (any meat can be reused, but it will be bland). Now take this first step liquid and sieve it to remove the larger pieces and put it in a traditional pot. Add your veggies (you don’t want to cook them all night) and boil furiously until the veggies are very soft. Sieve again (through a finer strainer if you have one) and reduce, reduce, reduce.
No matter how you end up with it, stock is one of the most important ingredients in your kitchen, so explore the possibilities!