Saturday, 19 November 2011

The 'Right' Way to Make Stock

I just blogged about making instant stock powder from things that are naturally savoury (and compact). But the best stock to me is still a traditional bone broth, simmered over hours to extract not just flavour, but nutrients. Back home in Singapore, my mum makes stock almost everyday, slow-cooked in a huge black claypot over a charcoal fire, with a very precise selection of bones from specific parts of specific animals for the right flavour.

Here, I do things a lot simpler.

Stock is basically just bones, simmered in water, hence also called bone broth (of course, there's also the vegetable stock i.e. onions carrots celery leeks, in a pot, about an hour). There aren't really any hard and fast rules, but read on anyway. I've got tips, and I also want to bring up Chinese stocks, which are quite different in many ways!


My mum's big black stockpot over a charcoal fire

The bones and bits
You can use a leftover chicken carcass, or if you don't often buy a whole chicken because you're cooking for one, just save your bones from after you finish eating a drumstick or something. Bones that have been pre-roasted will give a "brown" stock, fresh bones will give a "white" stock. You'll also often find carcasses on sale at the farmers' market, or just ask your butcher for beef, or veal, bones, usually for free. In chinese cooking, pork bones are favoured. Yes, pig's tail. For really gelatinous broth, add chicken feet/wings/neck/pork trotters/ears/tail. For fish stock, fish heads are best.

To boil or not to boil?
The Sally Fallon method calls for the bones to sit in cold water with a tablespoon of vinegar added for an hour or so before bringing it up to a boil, to extract all the calcium and minerals.
For Chinese stock though, the first step is always to parboil the bones. That gets rid of most of the blood and impurities and makes for a cleaner, clearer stock. I prefer this, it gives a much better result, and I doubt there's much difference in the nutrient content after all those hours of simmering.

A bubbling pot of stock
is wrong.
Whether or not you parboil the bones at first, you want to bring the bones and water to a boil, and then immediately reduce to a simmer, over low heat, for the rest of the time. There should be just a tiny bit of bubbling action, think that minimal bubble stream you see from a goldfish in a tank. Keep skimming any scum that you see on top, though the parboiling step helps to reduce the amount of scum.

For how long?
The general attitude usually is, for as long as you can. Your aim is to extract everything out from the bones, flavour and nutrients-wise. I usually leave it overnight in the slow cooker on low, and the next day, the bones become useless and soft enough to crush with a spoon. But my mum says 3-4 hours or the colour of the stock gets affected. Only 1/2 hour for fish stock, as fish bones are quite delicate, and you only need a short while of bare simmering to extract its goodness.*

You can add nothing, or anything, really
I think next time I refer to stock in my recipes, I'll be slightly more specific and say 1, 2, or 3.
1. The Western stock usually calls for onions, carrots, celery, maybe leeks or bay leaf too. I save the carrot tops and base of celery etc and freeze them to add to stocks, or even to make vegetable stock. So, repeat, it can really cost nothing.
2. The standard Chinese stock calls for garlic, ginger and/or spring onions, which helps to get rid of the undesired "smell". Sometimes a dash of rice wine, for the same reason. I think it also works as a sort of acidic medium much like Sally Fallon's vinegar, to extract nutrients. 
3. You can add nothing at all too, which is what I like to do usually because I don't know if I'll be using it for what kind of recipes.
4. Just thought of this. Asians often don't just make basic stocks to add to dishes, often we just make soup with bones straight away, slow-simmered with various herbs/ingredients for different types of soups. An example is gamjatang, a Korean pork bone soup, and there's the many Chinese "long-fire soups" 老火汤.

So what is good stock?
Good stock should gel when refrigerated (see above/below). That's collagen that you can get much better than any collagen pill. Colour will differ based on type of stock.
In addition, if it's Chinese stock, chefs (and chinese mums) will look for stock clarity. To get that, you not only have to follow all the tips above for chinese stock, but you should ideally skim off the fat after chilling (DON'T THROW, save for cooking!) and use bones that are not fatty, because the fat globules dispersed in the stock makes it not as clear as it can be. My mum's specific blend for clear stock 清高汤 includes the bones from the back of the pig, chicken feet, chicken breast bone, and dried scallops. But she also makes stocks from pig's tail and trotters for other dishes, and I really love the rich taste of those stocks.

This was so gelatinous it set like too-stiff jelly. The white layer on top is the hardened fat.


This soup is considered not clear enough.
That's one example of 老火汤- pork bones, with dried cuttlefish, daikon radish and goji berries. It's delicious, clear or not.

So, after all that, I just want to say, homemade stock is a wonderful and very important thing to do for our health and for our cooking, and it doesn't matter so much what is the 'right' way and whether you make it in the perfect way or not! I hope when we realise how simple (and cheap!) it is, we can all make it a point to start making our own stock instead of paying for that preservative-filled Knorr cube.


Stock is good not only for soups and stews; you can use it to make plain rice more exciting(and I don't just mean risotto), or add a splash to vegetable stirfries, or-- just search "stock" on my blog for all the fab things you can do with it!

* See here for a different kind of fish stock, which is milky white, made by a furious emulsification of collagen and fat with stock!

55 comments:

  1. Excellent directions and tips Shu Han!! You're so right, it's healthy and cost effective (and nothing goes to waste) - great post :)

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  2. Mmm, the last bowl of soup looks great - reminds me of the really thick, oily ramen I ate in Japan, with the boney, delicious sediment at the bottom of the bowl. Looks great!

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  3. thanks for a great tutorial on stock! you just can't beat a good stock!

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  4. que delicia, que original! tomo nota, besitos!

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  5. Thanks for sharing! I need to adjust how I make my stock! Visit me at http://raisingdieter.blogspot.com/ New Follower!

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  6. Shuhan, you will not believe me, but seeing your dried fish stock I decided to post my stock recipe this week (I have it in the fridge and have already made a photo...) I think I will wait a bit then ;-)
    I must say I would never write such a complete post anyway. My stock is very basic and I have only made one kind since I can remember. Thanks for all the important information and tips!

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  7. emily: thanks! not to mention tasty!

    charles: ah, see that's what I meant by that soup was a failed clear soup.. japanese ramen soups are made by a different method to get a milky white broth. oh well, it tasted good (:

    farine: thanks, stock is so important!

    nieves: thanks, i had to translate that! haha.

    shay: well, at the end of it all, it doesn't really matter, as long as you make the effort to! ok i'll drop by definitely!

    sissi: oh that's wonderful! post it! i'm sure you have your own little tips to share! well, really, the stock i make is very basic too. I have all these tips here for if people want to know, but at the end of it all, I'm happy as long as there's homemade stock (:

    stephen: thanks stephen! It's not so much a tutorial, I just wanted to share some tips!

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  8. Homemade stock and broth is always the way to go! I rarely ever use store-bought anymore...ok, call me spoiled. Just such a difference in flavor!

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  9. Boiling bones remind me of a forensic drama from Hong Kong which used it to detect poison...hehehe:P
    Just tickled me when you mentioned the word 'boiling bones' to make stock...LOL :D

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  10. I cannot argue with your mum's method of making stock and I'm sure it's has amazing flavours. I am always tempted to discard the top layer fat which I do to a certain extent but the flavours are so hearty and good :)

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  11. Making soup stock is one of the best ways to reuse chicken and pork bones. I love making stock in batches and using them to flavor my stir-frys. Great post!

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  12. This is my very first post to learn about how to make stock from scratch in very authentic way and I really enjoy reading extra information about techniques etc. Great post! Your mom's soup must be so delicious!!!

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  13. This is such a great, helpful post! I've made my own stock before many times but I will have to follow your guide next time! Thanks.

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  14. I love how simple stock making is - it's something I try to do whenever I have saved enough bones up from the week or two before. Not only does it produce wonderful tasting broth or a base or sauces, gravies and risotto, it also makes your house smell wonderful. Unless you're a vegetarian I guess. Even then, I would hazard a guess that it would smell wonderful.

    Oh, and by the way, I think I am in lust with that black stock pot your mum uses. I bet it makes the most delectable stock.

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  15. You are SO knowledgable when it comes to good food and home cooking and I love that I'm learning so much from you! Thanks for sharing your wisdom so generously. You are AWESOME! =D

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  16. My mom makes her own stock too. I've never been patient enough to learn how she does it, so your tips and whatever advice I can gleam from her will definitely help me learn to make stock.

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  17. I am so going to start stalking you so I can come and eat your soup! This is a brilliant post, and you've ticked every box on stock-making. It's been a while since I've made a proper beef stock -- I think I see some beef bones in my immediate future.

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  18. I'm thrilled to discover your blog through Terri's I'm a soup fiend and so is my little girl. Gosh, I didn't know about all these different techniques. Needless to say I've learned a lot. I can't wait to go through the rest of the blog and check out the recipes. BTW, I'm based in the UK too.

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  19. caroline: i don't think that's being spoilt at all! homemade stock is so different from store-bought. you don't know what's gone into the ones you buy outside. i'm sure the expensive organic ones are beautiful, but keyword: expensive ):

    christy: hehe it is boiling bones..!

    sharon: thanks, your soups always look so perfect. will strive in that direction.

    chopin: well, skim them away but save it in a little jar or sth for cooking with, so your broth is light but you don't waste the precious yummy fat.

    nami: really? i would think the japanese make tons of stock!

    katherine: everyone has their own preferred way, that's what I'm trying to say! i'm definitely NOT an expert!

    the grubworm: yea, that, and the charcoal stove it sits on and the old fashioned fan to fan the fumes. hehe, trying to make you even more jealous.

    winston: thanks winston! really, i am NO expert! my mum is! I'm trying to learn ):

    kyleen: ask her, i bet she has a few of her own tricks up her sleeve!

    susan: haha i better check over my shoulder the next time I'm making soup! i've actually only made beef stock like once. it's usually chicken or pork for asian cooking.

    chocolate, cookies and candies: thanks!! it's always brilliant meeting uk bloggers! will go check your blog out now x

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  20. Looks delicious, I like the way you explain things and your technique, easy to follow Mmmm

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  21. Hi Shuhan, thanks for stopping by my blog and for directing me to this awesome post of yours. I love this different perspective on making stock, and you have some great tips. I'd love you to come and share it with Sunday Night Soup Night!
    http://easynaturalfood.com/2012/02/04/sunday-night-soup-night-252012/

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  22. Hi! I'm new here, found you on pinterest--great blog. And thanks for the post on stock. I've always wanted to learn more about this. I have one question: about where to get bones. I always look for bone-in meat when I'm at the grocery store, because I'm always trying to find cheap ways to make stock. But aside from chicken, I rarely find it. You mentioned with respect to beef or veal, to ask your butcher. When you say "your butcher" do you mean the meat guy at the grocery store? Or do you actually go to a specialized butcher?

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    1. Hi monica! I go to an actual butcher, I try to avoid the supermarket because I like supporting local small shops/ farmers instead. Most of the time though, since I work at the farmer's market, I ask the meat producers if they can save me a few bones next week. Hope that helps! x

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    2. Yeah, thanks. That's very cool!

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  23. Awesome post! Here is a secret tip for Chinese 'Superior Stock' or 上汤 from Susur Lee and Sam Leong that I read about. It's a secret that they had to steal from the traditional Chinese master chefs who were always reluctant to pass on their knowledge for fear of being replaced (as they do not used the brigade system in the western kitchen). The trick is to add a small handful of dried longans to the broth for a subtle sweetness that totally lifts the entire taste and gives it an additional dimension.

    SH, have u mentioned Jinhua Ham?

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    1. Wow thanks for the tip! I'll try that out next time. I usually add red dates or honey dates when I want a subtle sweetness.

      Nope, I do know it's in superior stock, but it's not easy to come by! I do find that adding dried scallops to stock totally lifts the umami savoury/sweet factor, my mum's must-have, and she thrusts me with a large packet each time I go back (:

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  24. Hi Shu Han,
    Just found your blog, and wow! You are amazing. My mum (Korean) is also a very dedicated cook and makes everything from scratch, but somehow all her hard work has made me lazy in the kitchen. I've tried to make my own stock for pho a few times, but that's about it. I don't have enough patience nor dedication to prep food for hours. So big kudos to you.
    Very much enjoyed your blog - I also like your additional sketches of food. And will be back for more recipes!

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    1. Aw so nice to hear from you anna! Like you, my mum pampered me with her cooking so I onlye rally learnt to cook when I moved overseas to study, just 3 years ago! I loved it so much I started learning everythign I could about it and experimenting and I'm glad it has come to this (: Thanks so much for your kind words and look forward to seeing you back (:

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  25. How long do you parboil the stock for?

    By the way very informative site.

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  26. How long do you parboil the stock for?

    By the way very informative site.

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    1. thanks tim! about 15 minutes, but this also depends on the amount of stock/bones you have! You basically just want to parboil until the bones stop giving out that much foamy scum/ bloody dirty water.

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  27. hi shu han...

    do you have any more tips/ ways on dry stock.. HALAL one.. :P
    i am so gonna try the ikan bilis and mushroom dry stock..

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  28. Good day! Let me first remark the fact that you really managed to build a beautiful blog. And I have a question for you. Do you run in any kind of competitions among online blogs?

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  29. Love the tips ;) by the way how much water should we add to make fish bones stock

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    1. Hello! Thanks so much, glad you found this helpful. I usually add just enough to cover, and then top up if necessary. Because this stock doesn't simmer for that long anyway, not much liquid is lost; and it's always better to have a more concentrated stock that you can dilute if necessary! Hope this helps, keep reading :) x

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  30. Hi shu, great tips. Quick question, is that black crock pot and charcoal stand and indoor set up? Where can I find that set? Thanks

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    1. Hello hello! Thank you! It's an outdoor kitchen set up. It could get pretty smokey if you do it indoors.... but you might give it a try with your smoke detectors turned off and your windows open (no promises). My mum got the set from an old pot/pan shop, I'm not sure where you would get it outside of Singapore. In asia, probably easy to get from any (traditional) crockery store, in US/UK maybe Chinatown? Good luck! x

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  31. http://ruhlman.com/2008/09/because-ive-mad/

    This is the egg white + chicken mince raft method I told you about. You are supposed to be able to read the date off a coin dropped into the consomme. I don't actually care that much as long as it is flavourful and free of too much muck. Never had a consomme as flavoursome as and soothing as a 老火汤.

    Am really keen on getting your charcoal stove and pot set-up once I convince my family not to worry about the fire hazard. =)

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  32. Hi,
    I have a problem with my stock. It always tasted quite sharp and lack the "bass" feel.
    I only use chicken carcass, pork leg, ginger, garlic and black pepper. It gels up when cool but lack the oomph.... any idea how to improve?

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  33. What a work really undefined great sharing thanks you.

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  34. Nice written!! I have been a big fan of your blogs. thanks best fishing line

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  35. Really great post you have shared here Thanks a lot.

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  36. By reading this blog I can also cook thank you for sharing

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  37. Hi Shu! Fellow Singaporean here (also residing overseas).

    I'm starting to make my own bone broths too (what to do... they are the base and soul of most of our local foods). I do have 2 questions though.

    1) how long can the broths keep
    2) do you store them in the freezer or just the fridge?

    Thanks for your insights!

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    1. Hi hi thanks for dropping by the blog! The broths keep 3-5 days in fridge, or freeze them in smaller bags and tubs so you can use as and when needed, up to 4-5 months!

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    ReplyDelete
  39. Usually how much to use for making a pot of soup ? Tablespoons ?

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  40. Hi there! Even though this post might be old, it's such a gem!!! I'm so glad that I managed to find it because I've been trying to look for soup recipes for the family this year-end. Thanks to your tips, I FINALLY managed to achieve that jelly like texture (woot woot). (:

    If I may please pick your brain, given a choice between a pressure cooker and a thermos pot, which would you use for stocks? I'm trying to find a less electricity draining option!

    Thank you again!! (:
    -Annie

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    1. Aw thanks Annie that made my day! Well done on achieving the jelly stock!

      By thermos pot, do you mean a slow-cooker? Only because my understanding of a thermos pot is one that just keeps food warm. If so, between the two, I would go for a pressure cooker, it's great for speeding up processes that usually take very long, i.e. stews, beans and yes stock too! Serious eats did a comparison of the three methods: http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/01/ask-the-food-lab-can-i-make-stock-in-a-pressure-cooker-slow-cooker.html

      Hope this helps! :)

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  41. Thanks for replying so quickly!! Actually I had my eye on a pressure cooker too - so your answer kinda helped me out, ha (: Annie

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    1. Ps - thanks for the article link. Just read it and I love this sort of nerdy stuff on food!

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