A lot of recipes nowadays call for “stock”. This is part of a worldwide movement (and a good one, I must say) in the culinary world to replace fat with something more healthy. Along with this come cooking techniques involving steaming, braising and poaching (in stock) instead of shallow or deep-frying.
Building Block: Stock is the base for popular soups such as gazpacho
In a desperate situation you can use ready stock cubes, but they will not give the depth or flavour that a home-made one will. They also tend to be very salty and many contain MSG. In the old days, making stock was a whole day affair, something even the most earnest of cooks would take a long breath before starting, heaving a weighty sigh of relief after it was all over. If you ask a restaurant chef, he will invariably talk about oven roasting or sautéing bones, meat and mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery cut into tiny cubes) first. Then he would add herbs, water and simmer it, uncovered, for hours. The cook has to be around because the stock needs to be skimmed periodically. Then the stock is clarified with egg whites or ground meat and finally, it is strained and the fat separated. This is all very well if you are a professional cook with educated, enslaved help, lots of pots and pans and a pot wash which is taken care of by lesser mortals. I certainly wouldn’t go through all this trouble in a domestic kitchen.
My tips are as follows: For white chicken stock, use about 1kg of chicken bits without too much fat or skin, two roughly chopped onions, one chopped carrot, a few bay leaves, one chopped leek and a stalk of celery, without the leaves. Put everything in a pot, cover with three litres of cold water and simmer on gentle heat for at least two hours. Never boil stock. Take any scum or foam from the surface. Strain and refrigerate or freeze. For really basic chicken stock, chicken legs without the skin, an onion and a few bay leaves will also do the trick.
What professional cooks call “dark stock” is made with chicken bits or veal bones which are roasted in the oven first. At home, you can brown the meat and bones in a frying pan. The vegetables can be tossed quickly in some olive oil or butter to give them some colour. For a kg of roasted meat and bones, you need to add two onions, one stalk of celery, a few sprigs of fresh thyme or a teaspoon of dried thyme, one teaspoon whole black peppercorn and a couple of bay leaves. You can make dark stock from any meat bones or leftover roast meats (without any spices or masala on them). Meat stock also benefits from some red wine for added flavour.
Fish stock is like white chicken stock, but you add only onions, maybe some parsley, peppercorns and either lime juice or a dash of white wine. Use fish bones and trimmings of white fish (not oily fish such as mackerel). You can also use prawn shells.
In India, vegetable stock is always convenient to have around.
Good vegetable stock
This can be eaten as a soup (it is actually a diuretic), hot or cold. The trick is not to overcook the vegetables.
3 tbsp olive oil
2 large tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped
2 large, green capsicum, de-seeded and chopped
1 cup celery, chopped fine
2 onions, sliced thin
Salt to taste (you actually need very little since the celery contains a lot of natural salt)
1 litre water
Remember to clean the celery well before chopping. Indian celery is full of flavour, but tends to be very stringy, so you must always chop it fine. Heat the olive oil and sauté the vegetables until soft, but not brown. Add the water. Boil and simmer until the veggies are just cooked but no longer than 30 minutes. Add salt. Strain and refrigerate or freeze in small plastic containers. Use as a basic vegetable stock or soup.
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