Stovetop Brown Stock (Vegetarian)

This multi-purpose sauce is commonly made in quality dining establishments. Or at least it used to be. Once restaurants stopped hiring professional cooks and started buying ready made products, cooks themselves began to forget that they ever knew how to make sauces and soups. What the cans and powders lack in quality they regain in convenience and consistency. Usually labeled as “Brown Gravy” or even “Demi-glace,” these products bear a somewhat vague resemblance to the time honored mother sauces. Even the more expensive ones are composed primarily of artificial food coloring, various forms of sodium and maybe a tiny hint of actual meat extracts.

This is unfortunate, but is the inevitable result of labor costing more than product–exactly the opposite of the conditions that prevailed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Not that I long for the way things were in the “old days.” Apprentices were routinely abused and mistreated, all in return for minimalist room and board and the hopes of learning a trade. One can hardly blame restaurant owners for replacing temperamental, high-priced sauciers with cheap, idiot-proof powders and pastes that need only be reconstituted with a little water. This is a decision driven by simple economics rather than preference.

There are still a few of us who stubbornly cling to methodologies that were practically beaten into us long ago, even if they have no value in the modern market.

Note: Even though this sauce can be made without killing any animals, some meat trimmings greatly improve the flavor and body of this sauce–they are part of the classic recipes. Simply brown them thoroughly as the first step before adding the vegetables to the pan. For this amount approximately 1 lb./450 grams of lean trimmings is sufficient.

If you want to use bones, simply roast them for 1 hour at 350 F/176 C and add them to the stock after you have added the water. Allow at least an extra 2 hours to extract the flavor from the bones. If you have drippings left over from browning land or air dwelling proteins, use that pan to brown the root vegetables, etc.


Carrots, 2 each.
Celery, 4 stalks/heart.
Onions, 1 each.
Tomato paste, 6 oz/180 g.
Red wine, 2 cups.
Water, 2 qt./2 L.
If you have the urge to cheat, there is no shame in fortifying this sauce with a little beef or poultry extract. Knorr. is good and carries with it a certain amount of umami.

Equipment required:

Flat bottomed skillet, approximately 12″/30 cm. and 3″/90 mm deep.
Wooden spoon.

Stovetop Sauce Espagnole (sofrito)
Cut the carrots, celery and onions into 1″/3 cm pieces. Heat a skillet to 250 F/121 C and and add the vegetables. Listen for sizzling. A hissing sound means the pan is too cold. A popping sound means the pan is too hot.

Avoid stirring unnecessarily, so as not to cool the surface of the pan.

Caramelize the vegetables as pictured. I use an infrared thermometer to monitor the heat of the pan–as close to 250 F/121 C as possible.

Combine the tomato paste with half of the red wine and add to the skillet–stir to coat the vegetables.

Continue frying this mixture (sofrito) until a brown crust forms on the bottom of the pan. The contents should be very thick and sticky. Add the rest of the red wine to dissolve the crust on the bottom of the pan. Wine provides flavor to sauces like this–but NOT volume. Wine in sauces should always be reduced to as little as possible before incorporating into a sauce.

Add 2 quarts/2 liters of water to the pan.

Bring to a boil.

Simmer for at least two hours to fully dissolve the caramelized vegetables.

Strain out the vegetables and pour the stock into the an appropriate container and allow to cool on the counter for up to one half hour, approximately 70 F/21. Cover and store in the refrigerator. After cooling, the layer of fat on the top can be easily removed, giving you a flavorful, concentrated brown stock. Further reduction will intensify the flavor.


Norm King


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