It’s back to basics this week with a common ingredient for adding flavour to dishes – stock. You probably already know how to make stock from a stock cube, but did you know it’s surprisingly easy to make from scratch?
Stock is, quite simply, water with added flavour. Whenever you boil ingredients in water, some of the flavours (and nutrients) mix with the water. In fact, when you boil vegetables you’re pretty much making vegetable stock at the same time!
Most stocks, however, have more flavour than vegetable water. You can make stock more concentrated, in other words stronger, either by putting in more ingredients or by boiling off more water.
Let’s start with what kind of ingredients you can use for stock. As I said above, you can boil vegetables in water to make a vegetable stock. You can use any combination, but a classic is onion, carrot, and celery (known as a mirepoix).
You can make fish, chicken, or meat stocks by using the parts you might otherwise just throw away – the skin and bones. In fact, making stock is a great way to get the most out of your food.
Now for the method.
Start by chopping your vegetables. The smaller you chop them, the faster the flavour will mix with the water. However, if you’ve got plenty of time for your stock to cook, chunks of vegetables (about an inch on each side) are fine. Bones and skin usually don’t need chopping.
Cover your ingredients with water, and a lid, in a large saucepan or slow cooker. At this stage, it’s better to have too much water than too little. Too little water and your stock can burn, but you can always boil off excess water later.
Boil your ingredients for at least half an hour. As long as there’s enough water left, there isn’t really an upper time limit for making stock. It will just keep getting stronger the longer you boil it for.
Drain your ingredients. Remember to save the water – that’s now your stock! If you don’t think your stock has enough flavour yet, you can put it back in the saucepan and boil it very gently without a lid. (The fancy name for this step is reducing down.)
You can use your stock as soon as it’s cooked, but if you won’t be using it for a while, pop it in the freezer to keep it fresh.
And that’s it! Why not try it the next time you have some ingredients going spare? And come back later this month to find out how to turn stock into soup, or gravy!