How to Make a Stock Pot for Your Soups, Gravies, and Stews

A famous practical joke among chefs is to tell a young cook to make her soups and gravies out of “pipe stock.” She’s heard about stock and knows that no decent culinary artistry can be accomplished without a stock pot. But she’s never heard of pipe stock.

While all the cooks, bakers and dishwashers are chuckling behind their hands she runs around the kitchen looking for a can of pipe stock, can’t find any and is afraid to ask.

What is pipe stock?
Well, it is the liquid that comes out when you turn on the faucet. In other words, it is plain water. Pipe stock is used by madmen, assassins and others whose ambition is to destroy civilization. Cooks with a decent regard for their fellow man use a properly devised stock pot.

What is a stock pot? Why do chefs say they cannot do their work without a stock pot.
Let me tell you how I found out about stock pots. In 1951 as a young army private just out of cook school, I was assigned to work at the Officers Club at the Presidio in San Francisco. Army cooks would kill to get a cushy post like this. I fell into the job by accident. The joke was I didn’t know how to cook beans, or anything else.

And I sure didn’t know what a stock pot was.
All I knew was how to keep a mess hall clean, which was the main subject hammered into the minds of young cooks at the 6th Army Cooks & Bakers School. We were taught how to avoid poisoning the troops, that is, how to keep grease and flies out of the food.

To be sure we understood the importance of cleanliness, we were shown frightening movies about the horrors of disease caused by flies and how the trots had put an entire British Regiment out of action at Waterloo.

It was frightening to hear the announcer – in a cultivated British accent, no less – tell us in sickening detail how one cook’s disregard of flies and grease nearly resulted in a disaster of massive proportions.

A lesson I never forgot
Apparently the British troops got horribly, horribly sick at the battle of Waterloo – the Brits get more horribly sick than the troops of other nations ever do, you see – and the Brits nearly got wiped out by Napoleon or somebody. The Frenchies didn’t have the trots so they weren’t constantly leaving their guns unattended while they hastened to the latrine.

The point I started to make here about stock pots, before I went off on a tangent about the British Black Watch, is that the Army did not teach me how to cook. The most glaring omission in my training was the subject of stock pots. The Army did not even teach me what a stock pot was, let alone how to make one.

My introduction to the stock pot began in San Francisco at the Presidio army base. How I ended up at in San Francisco is a story in itself. You see, our entire company was about to be shipped off to a post in the middle of the Arizona desert, a terrible outpost manned by doomed devils a hundred miles distant from the nearest town. A fate worse than death for a bunch of boulevardiers like us.

Then in a terrific stroke of luck just before we cooking school graduates were to leave San Francisco and be banished to the the Arizona desert, the mess sergeant told us there was an opening at the O Club right there at the Presidio and asked if there was anyone in the company who had prior experience cooking in civilian life and knew how to use a stock pot.

I bragged that I knew all about stock pots.
Well, since I didn’t want to be posted out in the wilderness and since I had once worked as a busboy at Wilson’s Little Cafeteria in Palo Alto, California I immediately put up my hand and said I knew all about stock pots.

“Okay, private,” said the sergeant, “you’re gonna stay here in San Francisco and go to work at the O Club. You’ll have private quarters and work a five-day week with weekends off. Besides that, you’ll get separate rations and extra money. The rest of you slow-witted sad sacks are going to Fort Wauchuka. That’s out in the desert. Nothing but rocks and gila monsters. No weekends off, either. You’ll love it.”

My first morning on the job at the O Club I arrived early and began investigating the stove, trying to figure out how to turn on the fires under the grill.

And especially I wanted to know what in the world was in that big pot simmering on the back of the stove. Of course it was a stock pot, but I didn’t find that out until later.

It was a mystery. One of the waiters stood there watching me. He shook his head and said, “Oh, you need training.”

You get the idea? I knew nothing.
Later that morning, chef Jonni Yolef arrived and went to work. I watched him closely to see if I could learn anything.

The first thing chef Jonni did was start ladling out some of the bubbling aromatic liquid from the stock pot and straining it into a soup pot for vegetable beef soup. Chef Jonni started all his soups with clear stock from the stock pot.

How Chef Jonni guarded his knowledge of stock pots

But that was all I ever learned from that San Francisco professional. Chef Jonni stood very close to the stove while he worked, spreading his arms and elbows so that I couldn’t see what he was doing.

I was practically hopping up and down trying to see over his shoulders and under his elbows to see if I could learn something. It was hopeless. “Why should I teach you anything?” he told me. “You’ll be gone in a year and I’ll still be here.”

Was it pure magic?
It was absolutely magical to me how with a few swift motions while banging pots around Jimmy could suddenly produce gravies and soups and stews. Today I know it wasn’t magic; it was because he took care of his stock pot and knew how to use it.

Making your own stock pot
To make your own stock pot for soups, gravies, stews, here’s what you do: Take your biggest soup pot and put in some beef soup bones, some chopped celery, carrots and onions, a bay leaf or two, and a couple garlic cloves.

Now fill the pot with cold water and bring it to a simmer without boiling. Let it simmer for five hours or so, until the savory flavor of the bones is released and the tough connective tissue of the bones becomes very tender, like jelly.

During the simmering process

Occasionally skim off the fat and albumen that rise to the surface. When the volume of liquid in the stock pot reduces from evaporation, pour in a little cold water to return the liquid to its original level. If you have a roast chicken carcass handy, toss that in the stock pot too. Any meat scraps, same thing. Especially good are bones left over from last night’s rib roasts. Super!

After the stock pot has simmered for many hours (or even over night if you like), remove the bones and leave the stock pot on the stove over a very low fire so that it is available throughout the day for stews, gravies, soups.

The vegetables can be strained out as you use the stock pot during the day for all your dishes.

Give young cooks a break
Please, don’t stand close to the stove with your shoulders hunched and your elbows poked out. Go ahead and let the young cooks see how you perform your wizardry with the stock pot.

By the way, when old timers take the bones out of the stock pot, they scrape the beef marrow out of the bones and spread it on toast with a little salt for a delightful snack. You should do the same. ##

The point I started to make here about stock pots, before I went off on a tangent about the British Black Watch, is that the Army did not teach me how to cook. The most glaring omission in my training was the subject of stock pots. The Army did not even teach me what a stock pot was, let alone how to make one.

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