Ask Peter: Home-made stock
I regularly make home-made chicken and beef stocks, but with a number of vegetarians among my family and friends I also get through quite a bit of store-bought vegetable stock. To my mind, these tend to be either very bland or too salty so I would love a recipe for a really good home-made vegetable stock please.
There’s nothing like a good stock and there’s no excuse for not making your own if you have the time, because it’s a very simple thing to do. Let’s start with the components. Pretty much anything can be used for a stock but there are some simple rules.
I never put brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi etc) in unless the stock will be simmered very briefly and be used for something like a kale or broccoli risotto in which case the “boiled cabbage” effect would be an advantage. I also don’t like to use green capsicums in stock (in fact I only like to eat them raw) as they add a certain bitterness. Starchy vegetables like potatoes, kumara and corn serve no purpose as all they’ll really do is thicken the stock.
On the other hand, corn cobs, without the kernels, can be blackened on a grill and added to stock and that adds a good flavour. Some people think you can put all your rotten veges into the stock pot, but that is a mistake. Since stock is a concentration of flavours, using veges that are beyond their best will simply make a stock that will be less than good. That also applies to jams, which is another subject entirely, but I’ve seen cooks use rotten fruit in jams and then wonder why the jam tasted disgusting.
Common stock vegetables are onions, carrots, celery, leeks and fennel. Herbs should be ones used that will complement the final dish — so adding dill to a beef stock might be a bit weird. You can use garlic and chillies, but make sure they’ll also suit the finished dish.
The freezer is your a friend for stock-making, as you can freeze the trim from vegetables and herbs for use at a later date. If you’re roasting fennel for a dish, you may as well save the ends and fronds. If you’re using the tender centre parts of lemongrass in a salad or a dressing, save the fibrous outer parts. If you peel ginger, save the peelings. Only used half a packet of tarragon for a dressing? Then freeze the rest for stock. Just pack the trim into a bag and remove excess air, or roll up tightly in cling film. Likewise, sometimes you can only buy a bag of 20 or so lime leaves and if you’re not sure what to do with the rest, freeze them.
Fish and shellfish stock
Even more than with vegetables, don’t use anything that is even smelling vaguely too fishy — your kitchen and house will simply end up smelling like a Thai fish market in the height of summer. Unless the fish is just caught, I always rinse the bones in cold water for a few minutes to remove any fishy smell. Heads can be used for stock — but remove the red gills first. Crayfish, prawn and langoustine carcasses are great for adding flavour to a stock (and can also be frozen for later) but roast them in a very hot oven first so they turn red. Leave to cool, then wrap in a tea towel and smash with a hammer into smaller pieces before putting in a pot with aromatic herbs and vegetables. Fish stock needs 30 minutes simmering, crustacea 90 minutes.
As with fish, rinse it well first, and if you roast the bones until golden you’ll have a much more tasty stock. Having said that, a boiling fowl, with the legs and wings separated from the carcass, can be simmered for a few hours with aromatic herbs and vegetables to produce a lovely, what I’d call “Jewish style” stock. Chicken stock needs around 2 – 2½ hours on the stove.
Beef, lamb, pork and venison stock can be made slightly differently. If you want a dark stock then rinse the bones in warm water and drain, then roast in a medium oven till nicely browned and add to the pot. For a paler meat stock, rinse the bones, then place in a pot and bring to the boil. Drain, then place back in the pot with herbs and vegetables and carry on as above. Meat stocks need around 3-5 hours simmering.
For both dark and pale meat stocks, you can add any of the non-fatty flesh and trim, just slice into 1 cm thick pieces for the best effect.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.