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Salting stock

I find that when I make stock, especially beef stock, that unless I add a large amount of salt, it comes out to be quite bland, flavorless, and "soggy tasting". Even then, there isn't that "tastiness". I'm wondering what I'm doing wrong. Should I salt my stock before I cook, while I'm cooking, or after I'm cooking? Will a more salinized solution during extraction result in a different stock?

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  1. don't know about other people, but I salt AFTER...because of the reducing that occurs during cooking. If I salt before or while i'm cooking, the stock will be way too salty.

    what's going in your stock? just meat? how about bones or fresh herbs? I find that adding beef bones (oxtails or neckbones) add a flavourful and unctuous stock due to all of the gelatin.

    1 Reply
    1. re: bitsubeats

      I added about three pounds of marrow bones/knuckle bones, and one pound of beef brisket. I added about 5 small onions and a four inch piece of ginger, one large carrot, and half a length of daikon

    2. How gelatinous is your stock? You might need to simmer it for a longer time. If it's very gelatinous but you're still not tasting anything, then you need some more roasted meat trimmings.

      As for salting, you're going to get a number of different opinions. Personally, I would add a small bit of salt during simmering if you're making a soup. If you're going to reduce it into a sauce, then salt at the end.

      2 Replies
      1. re: phan1

        It is quite gelatinous. In fact, the more gelatinous it is, the more I find I have to salt it afterwards.

        I guess the word I'm looking for is "umami", something which my stock is sorely missing.

        To be specific, I'm making this beef stock for pho, but I find I have to add quite a large amount of fish sauce for it to taste substantial. And in the end, it just ends up tasting like fish sauce soup rather than pho soupu

        1. re: takadi

          oh you're making it for pho. did you remember to char your onions and ginger?

          oh yeah and what about the aromatics like the star anise, etc?

      2. Judy Rogers (Zuni Cafe) is a big advocate of salting before....even for stock. I usually salt a bit before and after my stock is done simmering... What are you using to make your stock? Roasted carcass/bones? Cuts of meat- e.g., oxtails or a whole chicken? Aromatics?

        1. I got beat up on here once before, but I salt on the front end for exactly the reason you stated. You didn't say how you or what bones you use, can you advise timing/heat and the process (bouquet garni?) you are working with? Are you merely boiling raw beef bones? I think beef requires a different hand than chicken. That might give us some insight to help you. TIA!

          1 Reply
          1. re: chef chicklet

            I use about 2-3 lbs of raw beef bones which I parboil and then allow to simmer for four hours. At 1.5 hours I add brisket and oxtails. I brown those before I put them in.

            I'm not making a french beef stock, which requires roasting, but rather pho, which specifically calls for parboiling instead of roasting (not sure if it makes a huge difference though). I'm sure the difference in flavors wouldn't be so dramatic as to have the stock taste completely bland though...

          2. Stocks are NEVER salted, as you may reduce the stock for the final dish, and if you salt it to taste correctly now, it will be horribly over-salted by the time the final product is finished.

            9 Replies
            1. re: Kelli2006

              That's not necessarily true. It depends on the final use of the stock. If you're going to reduce it to a demi-glace, sure, wait to salt it....but if you're using it for soup, or risotto, or just a normal pan sauce, it really shouldnt' be a problem if you're judicious with the salt. If Judy Rogers from Zuni Cafe *advocates* salting stock...obviously it is not "NEVER" salted, because a well-known and successful chef does it... The average home cook is not going to be straining and reducing, straining and reducing, straining and reducing ad infinitum the way the French Laundry kitchen does.

              1. re: Kelli2006

                Actually, I find the final producted is horribly UNDERsalted. But then again I'm making a soup

                1. re: Kelli2006

                  yah, thats what they teach in school. chix stock gets a fist of salt, veal stock nada. Of course its being used in different manners. just my 2 cents from a litle time in the kitchen ; )

                  1. re: dano

                    I'm not sure how long you were in a kitchen, but I did 3 years, and we never salted our stocks. Different cooks do it differently, but I prefer the extra control of being able to salt it perfectly for the final product. You never eat stock as brewed, so there is no reason for it to taste correct when it finishes. It is very easy to correct or add salt in soup, stews and reductions, so I prefer to do at at that time and not have to correct a problem because it was possibly over-salted before.


                    1. re: Kelli2006

                      I guess the title of my thread is a misnomer, as "stock" implies a certain gelatinous vehicle for other applications like sauces, soups, stews, etc, and is used as a tool rather than a final product, as opposed to a "broth". In that case, salting the stock early on doesn't serve it's purpose, especially if it's going to be reduced for a demi glace or something.

                      As of now, I am specifically looking to see what early salting does to the final product of the soup for pho. Does a higher concentration of salt early on effect the extraction of nutrients, flavors, and gelatin? It's a well known fact that salt slows the unraveling of carbohydrates in starches and thus makes it less sticky or gooey.

                      I'm pretty sure there has to be experiments already done on this.

                      1. re: takadi

                        I don't recall reading anything about salt affected the extraction process, one way or another. The amount of gelatin in your broth depends on cooking time and the gelatin source such as foot and tendon. I'm sure commercial extraction of gelatin does not use salt (salty 'jello'?).

                        Also the desired salt levels in a finished soup are less than the salt levels in a brine used 'plump' and flavor meat. In brining, the salt actually adds flavor and moisture to the meat, not remove it.

                        The fact that classic stock making does not call for any salt at the start also suggests that it does not help. If it did make a difference, chefs would be estimating how much they will reduce the stock, and add the right amount of salt at the beginning.

                        In Pho recipes, where are flavorings like soy sauce and fish sauce added? Early, or at the end?


                      2. re: Kelli2006

                        quite a few more years than you-and still am ; ). Like i said, different stocks, for different apps. Just my dos centavos.

                        1. re: Kelli2006

                          don't know, check mcgee. Any type of "broth" where the main item is cooked in it i.e. pot au feu etc gets salt. A reduction no salt.

                          1. re: dano

                            Especially if you are going to use the meat later in the soup, light salting at the start should be fine. But if at the end of preparation, a soup or stew tastes flat, consider salt. When in doubt, try adding salt to sample.


                    2. I think it comes down to taste - how salty do you expect soup and gravies to be? Unless you have weened yourself onto a low salt diet, you probably expect soup to be well salted. Think for example how much instant bullion you have to use to make a properly salted broth. The package recommends between 1/2-1 tsp per cup. That is mostly salt. Or think about much salt you add to rice. Americans often use 1tsp of salt per cup of rice (2 cups of water).

                      1. I lightly salt my stocks--to aid in preservation! Obviously, the stock can get a bit over-salted if super-reduced. But no problem. Reduced stock is normally used with other ingredients and more liquids that result in plenty of leeway to make needed adjustments.

                        1. I find that a finished stock (white or brown) is always pretty bland and watery no matter how long you've been simmering it, because of the amount of water you need to ensure your stock bones are submerged. The only exception might be fish or shellfish stock.

                          The only way to make a stock "tastier", in my opinion, is to reduce it before using it and then of course be quite liberal with the salt in whatever dish you're using it in. I never use stocks without reducing them at least by 25%, and sometimes more depending on the intended application (especially eg. soup or risotto, where the quality and flavour of the stock is at the fore).

                          These days I make double quantities of stock with a view to creating a stronger, reduced finished stock for use.

                          1. Hi takadi,

                            Don't add any salt to the stock. It is the fundamental base for so many delicious dishes.

                            The time to add salt is when the stock is being used in your recipes, whether it is the basis for a soup, the fantastic starting point for a braise, the base for a sauce or demiglace, just a simple broth, etc.


                            1. Takadai, you said your veg was "5 small onions and a four inch piece of ginger, one large carrot, and half a length of daikon" to go with 3-5 lbs of bones. However, you didn't say how much water you used. A quart? Gallon(s)?

                              Bones : water ratio is the first area I would examine. (You want as much gelatin as you can get; that's what carries the flavor in stock.)

                              Second, I think your veg could be insufficient. I found when making my own stock that roasting about 1-2 lbs of button mushrooms (the basic supermarket kind, no need for fancy ones) along with the other veg heightens the taste of the stock. Mushrooms have the most glutamates (= umami) of any veg (AFAIK) and are second only to kombu, or seaweed, which has about 10X as much. The resulting stock was tasty and had no overpowering mushroom taste, and I hadn't added *any* salt.

                              I would add more carrot if you want some sweetness, otherwise try roasting a leek, a head of garlic cut in half, a few ribs of celery (but no celery leaves--makes the stock bitter). Don't roast, but add to liquid stock: 3-4 bay leaves, 1 tsp peppercorns, 1-2 cups non-oaked red wine like a beaujolais.

                              Simmer but never boil for several hours until reduced to desired consistency and taste.

                              If the stock is still weak, add an 8" sheet or two of kombu and let stock contiue simmering for at least an hour, then taste again.

                              Dunno if any of this will help you, but it ought to get you started.

                              Best wishes to you in your stocky endeavor!

                              1. For my asian noodle soup stock---say what would be used for "old friend" noodles and the like--I use a combination of bones. A single type of bones for that kind of soup just doesn't do it for me. The last batch, I used a combination of chicken and pork. I do not use a lot of veggies--just the bones/meat and maybe a slice or so of ginger. I chop the chicken into one each pieces and "sweat it" before adding the water---technique from Cooks Illustrated from years back. I'm also careful about the water/bones ratio. I add the salt more towards the end.
                                If I am converting something to stock to freeze, because I tend to store stuff in the bullion cube stage, I try to avoid adding salt.