The One Thing You Should Do for Clearer Stock

updated Mar 28, 2021
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Credit: Pete Lee

Stock recipes tend to follow a basic formula: Simmer bones and/or meat with some aromatics for a few hours, then strain and you’re good to go. It’s a very basic technique that transforms food scraps into a flavorful ingredient that’s the backbone of sauces, soups, and stews. The only thing you have to watch out for is making sure it doesn’t boil, which can make the stock cloudy. But when I was testing the recipes for the Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown cookbook, I learned another secret to clear, clean-tasting broth: blanching.

Why Blanch?

Blanching means to drop something in boiling water briefly, and it’s usually done with vegetables to pre-cook them. For stock, you blanch the bones and meat in water before you add the aromatics and simmer. It may seem counterintuitive to cook the meat and bones twice, but the initial boil is important because it helps the proteins clump together, making it easy to skim off the scum that can cloud the water and give the stock a muddy flavor. There will still be some scum when you boil the final stock, but it will be minimal.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

The French vs. Chinese Methods

I’ve come across two methods for blanching bones when making stock. The first was when I was in French culinary school and we were making white chicken stock. We put the bones in the pot with cold water and brought it up to a simmer before pouring the water off and rinsing the bones.

The second method is the Chinese method, and it’s used for both stocks and soups. You bring the water to a boil, then blanch the bones and meat for 10 to 15 seconds before fishing them out and sometimes rinsing them. With both methods, the blanched bones and the aromatics are added to fresh, cold water and then simmered to make the final stock.

I most recently used the Chinese method to make the oxtail soup in the cookbook, which actually required two rounds of blanching. The first round was blanching chicken bones for the stock that was the base of the soup, and the second round was blanching the oxtails before simmering them in the chicken stock. It was amazing how many scummy bits rose to the surface of the water, and it was pretty satisfying to scoop them out and pour them down the drain. The final soup was beautifully clear with a pure, clean flavor, and 100% worth the extra work.