A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Taking Stock

Stock. The basis of so many dishes. A good home-made stock is the flavoursome heart of soups, stews and casseroles, the essence of a perfect jus, sauce or terrine. Yet how often do we bother? Here in the UK - more than any other European country - we reach for the ready-prepared bouillon powder, the gravy granules, the short-cut cube.

I've done it myself twice over the past few days. Returning from Spain the cupboard was bare, the fridge and freezer empty. I made a nourishing, winter-warming chorizo, chickpea and lentil soup to remind me of Spain. It was fine, but nothing like the proper Spanish version. The reason? I used chicken stock cubes rather than authentic chicken stock, so the flavour of the liquid was bland and lacking in any real depth. The Spanish would never dream of using stock cubes. They always have a stock pot on the go. So convenient for their Menú del Día. First course: soup. Ladle some chicken stock into a bowl. Add some pasta or noodles. Hey presto!

Yesterday I cooked braised lamb's liver and onions with other assorted vegetables. A lovely dish. One of my favourites. But I didn't have any proper meat stock, so again I used the easy method. And once more the meal was slightly disappointing. The liver, the onions, the veg - all fine, beautifully cooked and tasty. But the liquid tasted synthetic. It was too strong and too uniform.

Enough is enough. Stock cubes are off my shopping list from now on. They're full of gunk anyway - such as the the 'flavour enhancer' monosodium glutamate (MSG) and other synthetic ingredients. And they're way too salty. I'm going back to making my own stock. It's not difficult, and it's very satisfying. I strongly believe, along with bread-making, it's at the core of all real home cooking.

You just simmer fish or meat bones (along with any leftover bits of fish or meat) in water with vegetables, and perhaps some herbs. (You may need to skim off a little fat from time to time.) And that's just about it. You can freeze it later in different-sized portions. It's a way of life. Instead of chucking away all those Sunday dinner leftovers, it should be second nature to throw them in the stock pot. The result is tasty and nutritious, with no artificial ingredients. You, yourself, are in complete control of what goes into it.

If the tone of this is slightly hectoring, it's because I'm admonishing myself. I really must change my whole cookery lifestyle. I made a loaf of bread the other day which turned out very well. Now I'm going to revolutionize my attitude to stock. It's very exciting! I'll let you know how I get on...


ksam said...

Making stock or taking stock..much like the camino and so many other things in life...be prepared...think ahead! Must be an age thing perhaps? But we've been on much the same sort of wavelength or mindset at home too...do it from scratch...it's really not THAT hard..the big companies jus want us to think it is! Keep posting...but don't forget the recipes too! :-) K
(This as I sit eating my coarse cut oat meal cooked ahead...rather than instant from a packet with lord knows what in it!)

Rebecca said...

>>Be prepared...think ahead.

Sometimes we tie ourselves in knots trying to be too prepared.

By the time I reached Pamplona I knew for sure my backpack was way too heavy. I carefully reviewed through my pack and I remember writing in my journal - "this pack was packed by a project manager trying to be prepared for any imaginable possbilities. I can grit may teeth and carry on, or I can learn to take some chances and go with the flow."

LOL guess which option I choose ?

In cooking I like to experiment, I like to improvise, and often I would grab anything I can find, anything available and frequently do come up with something quite edible.

And yes, I do agree with making "real" stock. Flavours from bones have a depth and complexity which cannot be found in cubes. (especially since I like adding some brandy to the soup :-)


Alan Sloman said...

Gravy can only be made from boiling up the bones!

God! - I love soup and gravy...

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

I makes soups and stews all the time, and while I confess to having a small canister of "bouillon" cubes somewhere on a back shelf, I have a freezer full of homemade stocks, or the bones and bits for making same. I also dice and freeze things such as chilies, bacon, ginger, various herbs, etc. Plus I keep plastic bags with cubes of stale bread which, when I get ready to use them to garnish my soups, I sauté in olive oil, with salt and garlic.

Nothing beats good, fresh stock. And really, nothing could be easier to make. A bowl of hearty soup, a hunk of homemade bread, a bit of sharp cheese, and an apple or orange—quaffed down with a glass of wine—and, IMHO you have something close to the perfect meal.

gleaner said...

A post on slow-food - your blog has all my favourite topics in one!

My chickpeas have been soaking in the fridge overnight so I will make the chorizo, chickpea and lentil soup later today. (As I sit here eating rolled oats that were soaked overnight glancing at my kitchen bench that has alfafa sprouts soaking in a jar).

Stock sold in cardboard cartons is popular here - I've never bought the stuff, always thought it was ridiculous to buy and I'm quite happy to substitute water for any recipe asking for stock.

The Solitary Walker said...

ksam - if you can, it's good to think ahead a bit in the kitchen - so you always have those essential ingredients, which crop up in recipe after recipe, in store.

Rebecca - though too much preparation can be counter-productive! I must say, I tend to get bored with endless preparation, and just tend to get up and go. Travel light - in body and mind. Improvising is good - essential on the Camino - even if some of my own food experiments have been unmitagated disasters!

Comfort food, Alan! They remind us of mum's cooking, school dinners, that kind of thing.

Grizzled - I'm coming over to eat over at your house. Now.

Gleaner - I aim to please! Love the whole slow-food thing. You can get that ready-made organic stock in cartons over here too, but, like you, I've never bought any.