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The English language has two different words to describe a rich liquid flavored with vegetables, meat, and bones through slow cooking: “stock” and “broth”. The first is a basic extract, with no further additions: it is a neutral starting point for various dishes, made in the classical way from bones, with no added salt. Broth, however, is made from ingredients immersed cold into water, and other elements are added, such as aromatic herbs and spices, sauces, or wine.
Bouillon, consommé, broth, stock: whatever you call it, these preparations are only seemingly simple, and are appearing with increasing frequency on the menus of great chefs. Heinz Beck transformed “smoked capon broth” into a course of its own on Christmas menus, and broth is never absent from Massimo Bottura's kitchens to accompany his tortellini: the version that the Italian chef calls “animal broth” begins by roasting pork, veal, duck, pigeon, quail, and even frog, lamb, and guinea fowl bones.
For Heston Blumenthal, “Stock is the hidden hero in hundreds of recipes, so it's vital that it's packed with flavour,” and shares the trick for a stock that tastes of roast chicken: sprinkle the chicken wings with milk powder before roasting. In kitchens run by Thomas Keller - a chef we know to be fanatical about his dishes - the veal bones for stock are all cut equally into precise one-inch cubes in order to extract the most possible collagen and therefore flavor.
One of the new features on El Celler de Can Roca menu is a very clear and lingering vegetable consommé created at low temperatures from sprouts, flowers, leaves, and fruits. Basically, stock in all its variations is bound to be a star for a long time to come.
Chef Andrea Berton, fresh off opening his new restaurant in the futuristic Porta Nuova area of Milan, has built the menu of his first eatery around stock. And this isn't just a generic meat stock, given that Berton's menu features the liquid soul of other ingredients: beef, veal, fish, chicken, and shellfish in an endless universe of nuances. Diners can sample the “schie”, the little grey shrimp typical of Venice's lagoon and the Po River Delta, accompanied by a fish broth served in a small cup, or tiny ravioli stuffed with an explosion of pumpkin and bathed in a smooth cream that is perfect in its opaque whiteness: it's a concentrated beef stock that is emulsified with extra virgin olive oil. In the spring there will be a flood of extracts from various vegetables, all created - like the meat and fish stocks - using Acqua Panna mineral water. “Stock has always been a star in the kitchen, but it never climbs on stage,” explains Berton. “It's often behind the scenes. I've brought it into the spotlight as a complement, and I'll serve it to the side in its own container, or as part of each dish for sipping, to help prolong the flavor of the ingredient it was made from - to extract its quintessence. It will be a distinguishing mark of this new adventure of mine.”