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...