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I am interested in knowing whether there is a difference in flavor between a stock made in a small pot, with just enough room to cover the ingredients, vs a large pot with the same amount of ingredients and double (or more) water. For the sake of comparability, they cook for the same amount of time, same heat, same yield (adding water to the smaller pot as it evaporates, but not doing so for the larger pot).

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    if they cook the same time, the pot with more water will be more diluted.
    – Max
    Sep 26, 2022 at 11:51
  • @Max even if the yield is the same?
    – AlexMA
    Sep 26, 2022 at 16:00

2 Answers 2

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I would expect the water to extract the same quantity of flavour compounds from the ingredients, if it is simmered for the same time at the same temperature. If the amount of water was very small it might extract less, but if there is enough water to cover the ingredients then additional water won't extract more.

My reasoning (armchair speculation, not experimental evidence) is that the difference in concentration between the ingredients and stock (however strong it is) is so big that changing the amount of water wouldn't make much of a difference to the extraction. As heuristic evidence, I've heard of chefs using a pressure cooker and lots of time to make better stock, but I've never heard of someone advising a huge amount of water, or to change the water half-way through in order to extract more flavour compounds, which is what I'd expect high-end chefs to do if that worked.

Therefore, the stock with double the water will be more dilute than the stock with less water: the flavour will be less strong because the same quantity of flavour compounds will be spread across a greater volume. You can concentrate it more by allowing water to evaporate over time depending on the strength you want at the end.

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  • I've always wondered if evaporation occurs to water AND some of the extracted flavors (therefore losing some flavors with the evaporation). If so, wouldn't it be better to add the correct amount (or less) of water, put a lid, and add more if needed? Not only for stocks but also stews? In my head, it will cook better and have more flavor as less water is used and there is more concentration of heat and flavors.
    – M.K
    Sep 27, 2022 at 7:15
  • @M.K I think there probably is some loss of flavour as volatile compounds float away with the steam, and I've always seen it advised to use a lid when making stock. Having said that, I think stock generally focuses on the flavours that survive long simmering; the flavours that are more volatile are best added at the end (think of fresh herbs for example) anyway.
    – dbmag9
    Sep 27, 2022 at 10:35
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The less water you use the more concentrated the flavor of the stock. Adding lots of water doesn't extract more flavor from the ingredients, it just dilutes it.

If you add too much water to the pot you'll have to cook it down much more to concentrate it, there's two effects to this:

  1. It will waste energy, therefore money and be bad for the environment
  2. The extra cooking time will cause a loss of flavor. The longer you expose it to heat the more volatile organic compounds will break down or evaporate

So, use only the amount of water you need.

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    Have you tried this experimentally? Your statement, "Adding lots of water doesn't extract more flavor from the ingredients" contradicts the chemistry of extraction processes - more water always extracts more "stuff". I don't actually know what the final result is in practice, so do you have observations or sources to confirm that the final effect in stock is not better with more water and then concentrating?
    – rumtscho
    Sep 26, 2022 at 10:41
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    All things being equal, I'd guess that concentrating a stock down from a dilute base would extract more of whatever you're trying to get out of whatever is supplying your flavour - compounds will leave down a concentration gradient, so a dilute stock will provide a greater "pull" out of the chicken carcass or whatever you're using. That may not be worth the extra work, and depends on how thermo stable whatever you're trying to extract is.
    – lupe
    Sep 26, 2022 at 11:34
  • @lupe and rumtscho yes, you both have identified the essence of my question. It is not about yield but about the pull/extraction process of a dilute medium vs a concentrated one.
    – AlexMA
    Sep 26, 2022 at 16:03
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    @AlexMA My instinct (hence my answer) is that the difference in concentration between the ingredients and stock is so big that changing the amount of water can't make much of a difference to the extraction. As heuristic evidence, I've heard of chefs using a pressure cooker and lots of time to make better stock, but I've never heard of someone advising a huge amount of water, or to change the water half-way through in order to extract more flavour compounds, which is what I'd expect high-end chefs to do if that worked.
    – dbmag9
    Sep 26, 2022 at 17:59
  • @dbmag9 thanks. if you're inclined, I would suggest folding this comment into your answer and suggesting the pressure cooker method as well. That would result in a comprehensive answer. The evidence you shared (what high-end chefs do) is also highly relevant.
    – AlexMA
    Sep 26, 2022 at 18:12

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