Taking stock, making stock

Taking stock, making stock
(Photo: Veganamente on Pixabay)

Ignoring the simple stock is like building a house without a foundation or trying to drive a car with flat tyres.

Stock. It’s the ground floor of good cooking. A dish made with a good stock can only be better than the same dish without it. 

Today, we almost invariably buy our stocks from the supermarket: the ubiquitous stock cubes have been available for decades, some better (or worse) than others. Often, they are just too salty for my liking so it has been a long time since I have bought a stock cube. In recent years, commercial liquid stocks have come to the fore, thanks to home cooks having become much more inventive and amateurs taking on hefty recipes of a calibre once reserved for professional chefs. We keep real chefs on their toes, the more we learn about cooking ourselves, and that can only serve to inspire the pros to cook even better. They are, we must admit, still much better than us. Years of training always trounces home learning.

The best test of a stock (and perhaps of a chef) is a sauce. Start a good meat or fish based sauce with a suitable stock and it will be many times deeper and more delicious of flavour than without. This of course precludes certain kinds of sauce such as the salsas and Asian preparations or those sauces made with béchamel (white sauce); I’m referring to the kinds of sauces we think of as French: the reduction sauces to be served with meat, poultry or fish.

Ignoring that white sauce we call béchamel, we come to the “white” stock that is one of the four main such preparations: white, brown, fish, and vegetable. Finer derivations include game stock (i.e. using venison) and tomato veal stock. Tomato purée, in fact, is a secret ingredient for a chef who seeks a stock with real oomph. Cooked for many hours, even days, a meat stock with a good whack of tomato purée is a most pleasing thing. So there’s a use for that can of tomato purée that’s been stuck at the back of the cupboard since last winter.

The one I make, and use, the most is the brown stock. It is “brown” because you first cook the meat and bones in fat, and the liquid is then added, with the chopped vegetables and any aromatics you choose to use. A “white” stock is made with light meats such as chicken or veal. Fish stocks need discards such as heads, shells and bones of both fish and crustacea (but avoid the gills, which can be bitter). Vegetable stocks require only vegetables and herbs.

The key to depth of flavour of a stock is this: the more it’s cooked, the longer you spend over it, the more intense the flavour is going to be. So the true French chef will spend literally days on it. 

I bag leftover animal bones and offcuts, knuckles etc, fish heads, carcasses and shells, and freeze them to make batches of stock later, which I then portion into bakkies to freeze. This fits well with the nose-to-tail philosophy of using every part of the animal that has died for your eating pleasure.

The key to depth of flavour of a stock is this: the more it’s cooked, the longer you spend over it, the more intense the flavour is going to be. So the true French chef will spend literally days on it. 

Now let’s be honest with ourselves: we’re home cooks, we’re not running Michelin-starred kitchens. We can take days over it, if we really want to (really?), but the long hours of a single long day will give you enough time to make a truly flavourful stock.

For the home cook, there’s a surefire (relatively) quick fix for getting plenty of flavour without spending quite as much time on it: roasting the bones, good and proper, in a really hot oven. To add yet more flavour, you can add a head or two of garlic to the pan, a whack of herbs, even some spices if you think they will fit the ultimate dish you intend the stock for. I have on occasion added a whole star anise (what harm can it do?), lemon leaves and zest, even a few black peppercorns and juniper berries. Again, that all depends on the dish you have in mind. These latter thoughts are my own: a haughty French chef would be a jibbering, moustache-twirling wreck at the mere thought of adding star anise or lemon zest to a stock. But hey: you decide.

So let’s choose a Saturday or Sunday, or a day off, and set about doing this…

Basic brown stock

(Beef, lamb/mutton, pork, or veal depending on which animal’s bones and offcuts you use)

2 kg (a highly flexible quantity, use what you have) of bones, offcuts etc

Fat to cook the bones and offcuts in, unless they already have plenty of their own fat

3 or 4 litres cold water (or enough to cover the contents with at least an extra litre of water on top)

4 to 8 large carrots, chopped thickly

2 large onions, chopped roughly

3 or 4 large leeks, chopped roughly

3 celery sticks, chopped roughly

More of any of the above if you like; more can only add to the flavour

1 bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, bay leaf, but you can add rosemary if you like)

Optional: 1 whole head of garlic, with its top sliced off to aid the release of the garlic juices into the stock (and keep that offcut for cooking something else)

1 x 400 can tomato purée


Roast the bones (with extras as described if you like) in a hot oven for about 45 minutes.

Move the pan to the stovetop and add the chopped vegetables. Sweat them on a moderate to low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, then add water to the same pan and deglaze, stirring, so that you don’t lose any of that flavour of the meat, fat and sweated vegetables. Pour everything into a deep, heavy stock pot, cover with plenty of cold water (with about 1 litre extra after the contents are covered), stir in the tomato purée and bring to a boil. Cook rapidly until reduced by about nine tenths, to concentrate that flavour, then add more water and repeat. The more you do this, the more intense your stock is going to be. In the end, you need to decide when any more effort and gas or electricity is worth it, and stop cooking right there.

Adapt this stock to poultry or fish simply by leaving out the meat bones etc and replacing them with fowl carcasses or fish bones, heads and so on. DM/TGIFood

To enquire about Tony Jackman’s book, foodSTUFF (Human & Rousseau) please email him at [email protected] 

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram JackmanWrites.

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