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All About Soup Stock in Cooking

Stock, as defined in Oxford Reference Online’s A-Z of Food & Drink, is ‘a quantity of something accumulated, as for future use’. This, in cooking terms, refers to the soup stock liquid that is stored in the kitchen, which is versatile and used for many different recipes.

A stock can be created from boiling a number of different ingredients and capturing the flavor of these ingredients in the boiling water. Some stocks that are made include meat, vegetable or fish stock. The stock is then used to enhance the flavor of other recipes, such as stews, sauces, soups and even some dry dishes.

The role of Soup Stock in Chinese cooking

This essential ingredient is vital in almost all dishes in Chinese cuisine. Because Chinese cooking is very rich in flavor, soup stock provides an easy method to infuse this taste during the cooking process. Whether you are stir-frying, deep-frying, steaming, boiling or braising, soup stock is very often used to enhance the tastiness of the dish.

This is especially true to broth-based items such as noodle soup or wonton soup. Noodle soup, which is a very tradition food in the northern regions of China, requires that the soup be just as high-quality as the noodles themselves. It takes much skill and many ingredients to create the perfect broth.  However, if your soup will be boiling for an hour or more, you no longer need to stock – this is because the soup itself will become its own flavorful stock.

Making Soup Stock from scratch

For those who wish to skip on the store-bought stocks, it is an easy process to create your own! Simply follow the steps below to create a broth of fantastic flavor:

  1. The qualities of the pot in which you make you stock are very important. If it is the wrong material and cannot conduct heat in an even manner, you stock will end up getting burnt and sticky. The optimum pot for this job is a large, heavy vessel with an aluminum bottom and a stainless steel body.
  2. To prevent your soup stock from retaining the scents of the blood and bones of the meat, parboiling is highly recommended. By boiling your meat prior to creating the stock for about 10 minutes, as well as sometimes browning the meat (depending on your preference of the stock’s color and intensity), you will create a stock with more pleasant flavors and aromas.
  3. If you are making a soup stock out of fish, fry it before you create the stock. When it is fried with a hint of ginger, you will eliminate all excessive fishy flavors and scents from your brother. Doing so will also prevent the fish from coming apart in your stock.
  4. Always let the soup stock cook at a simmer; bring it to a boil initially in the first few minutes, and from then on let it simmer gently. If your stock contains only meat, your stock can simmer on low; keep it on an increased simmer if your stock includes the bones.
  5. Your stock can get out of hand if it is covered; when steam builds up inside, the cover could come off and the stock could overflow, causing a mess and a waste of ingredients. Always leave your pot uncovered.
  6. When your stock has cooked about halfway, add a cup of cold water. This will decrease the temperature of the stock while keeping it at a simmer. However, if you need more water for stock purposes, add a few cups of boiling hot water; otherwise the temperature will be too highly affected and your stock won’t finish well.

If you are not the type to make your own stock, or do not have the time to do so, there are many options to obtain a perfectly tasty stock. In almost any supermarket or convenience store, you will be able to find stock in the forms of concentrates, cans, cubes and powder packets.

Stock cubes are also known as “bouillon cubes” – bouillon is the French term for ‘stock’. These are actually dehydrated stock, and are normally around 15mm. Although small, these handy cubes pack a powerful punch of flavor to many gravies, sauces, soups, rices, meats, vegetables and pastas.

Stock cubes have been on sale for almost 200 years now. Maggi, a very popular brand, began their distribution in 1908. Because they were handy, cheap and saved a large amount of time and effort, they become very sought after. Stock cubes can also be stored for a very long time as long as they are packaged properly.

Bouillon is available in a powdered form. Some regular flavors are vegetable, beef and chicken, because these are popular taste enhancers. If you want something more unique, you can try a Japanese fish flavor known as “dashi”, or the popular vegetarian stocks used in Taiwanese and Chinese cuisine.

Health concerns regarding stock concentrates and canned soups

As is with all processed and packages products, there is the controversy about the amount of chemicals in the forms of preservatives, coloring and flavoring enhancers in soup stock cubes. While it does not serve to be paranoid about these ingredients, you should always remember that ‘everything in moderation’ is the best outlook. However, although stock cubes are very simple to use and make the cooking process a lot faster, you should always check the package on these products before you purchase them, ensuring they do not contain an excess of these unhealthy ingredients:

  1. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) : When many think of Chinese food, MSG instantly comes to mind; that is because it is a popular ingredient to enhance the flavor of otherwise bland dishes. Although it is a natural ingredient, an excess of MSG can lead to many health problems. A variety of soup stocks are now free of MSG, and that would be the better option to buy.
  2. Salt: Salt in excess has a scope of negative effects on the body, some of these being retention of fluids causing increased pressure on your kidneys and liver. These days, canned and packaged products are often high in salt, and this is the case for more soup stock cubes. To remove the salt from your stock, boil potatoes in it until everything is boiling, and remove the potatoes and drain out the stock – this is done because potatoes are very absorbent, and will soak up all the unnecessary salt.
  3. Trans-fats: These fats are known to some as ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil’ because the vegetables from which the oil is derived from are enhanced with chemicals and emulsifiers. This form of fat is not natural and only results in processed food. While they were not seen in the past as being as dangerous as saturated fats, recent studies have shown the dangerous effects that an excess of trans-fats can have on the body. Because they are found in most pre-packaged and ready-made food, always read the nutritional information on packets before purchase.
  4. Preservatives: With any food that is pre-packaged, you will find preservatives; these are added to make sure that the food does not spoil before a certain date. While they cannot be avoided, they can be decreased in your diet by checking the amount of sulphates on the nutrional information labels.

What is the difference between stock, broth and consommé?

These terms are very easily confused, so here is a rough guide to help you distinguish between the three:

Stock: By definition, stock is a soup which has been ‘stored in the kitchen for later use’. It is the flavorful thick water obtained by capturing the tastes and essence of boiling vegetables, meat and fish.

Broth: The definition of broth is ‘that which has been brewed’. While it was known in the 17th century and before as mainly a thin soup for eating alone, these days it is also used as an ingredient in the creation of a wide variety of dishes, such as to enhance the flavor of meat, rice and pasta. Broth can also be made thicker, such as in Scotland, by wheat and grain – this type of Scottish broth is known as ‘scot broth’.

Consommé: This term, as is obvious to many, is French, and refers to the idea of a clear soup created from a long, slow simmer of meat and bones. Some can relate this as the French version of a traditional broth, because is it also clear and light on its own.
While broth and consommé are relatively the same thing, clear, thin soups which can be eaten as a single dish, soup stock is more of an ingredient as part of another dish. Broth and consommé can often be found as entrees on restaurant menus, whereas one will never find soup stock on its own.

Storing Stocks

Because creating soup stock is a long process, most people make a large amount at one time and opt to store it for later use – that is, after all, the definition of ‘stock’. The easiest and safest way to store a stock is in the freezer.

Before this process, you should try to remove as much oil as you can by letting the soup cool and allowing the oil to rise to the surface – you can then skim it with a spoon. You can also use the alternate method of ‘skinnying’ the soup stock. This is done by leaving it in the refrigerator for around 15 minutes, and then removing the skin of cold oil on the surface.

Once your stock is fat-free and healthy, put a set amount in a number of Ziplock bags and place the bags in the freezer. Keep these packs small, because it is not recommended to thaw a bag and then have more stock left over, and then attempt to re-freeze it.

While most people store soup stock, it is highly recommended that these frozen packs be used within 1 to 2 months.

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Last Modified: 11/28/11.