Monday, March 10, 2014

Vegetable Stock

In cooking school, one of the first-semester lessons was how to make stock.  My initial reaction was that we spent all this time making a perfectly good soup, just to strain it and throw out the bits.  (Jewish soups can be a bit uncreative.)  What a starter stock does is hold the flavors of whatever you used to make it, and whatever you add during the soup-making process just makes the broth richer.  It can also be reduced into sauces.

I usually buy broths and stocks because I decide to use them too late to make them myself.  Prepared cooks make them ahead of time and freeze them until needed.  My menu often changes while I'm in the grocery store, so I really ought to be one of those people.  Instead, I end up buying broths with too much salt and not enough natural flavor.

The breaking point was holding a quart box of vegetable stock in my hand and realizing that it was $4. For half that and an hour of simmering, I could have one that tasted the same.

I did buy all fresh veggies for this batch because my crisper was bare (except for that darned thyme!), but it is easy to plan ahead for a project like this.  Set aside a gallon ziplock bag.  Every time you trim the ends off a carrot, celery, onion (the mix is referred to as mirepoix), or any root or leafy vegetable, stick it in the bag and put the whole thing in the freezer.  When it's full, sauté up the veggies, add a quart or two of water, and let the pot simmer for about an hour.  Strain, and you're done.

I am omitting salt from this recipe.  Many vegetable stock recipes include it, but I figure you're going to be salting to taste when you use it anyway.  By starting with only natural salts from the veggies, it's more of a blank slate of herb flavorings.

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 core of a bunch of celery (those limp, yellowy ribs that you never use) and their leaves, coarsely chopped
*2 sprigs thyme (or another herb)
*2 bay leaves
*4 cloves garlic, chopped
*1/2 tsp whole peppercorns
*1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1 Tb olive oil (not vegetable oil)
6 C water

1.  Your choice:

  1. Toss all ingredients except water in olive oil and spread out on a foil-lined sheet.  Roast at 400º until veggies are golden and cooked through, about 45 minutes.  If making a meat- or fish-based stock, this is the preferred method.  Browning the bones intensifies their flavor.  Transfer ingredients to a large soup pot.
  2. In a large soup pot, toss all ingredients except water in olive oil.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.  It's ok if the veggies get dark brown or even a little burned.  It brings out the roasted flavor.  It takes about 15 minutes to cook them through.
2.  Stir in water.  Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cover.  Simmer for about 1 hour, to extract full flavor from the veggies.
3.  Pour mixture through a sieve into its destination container.  You can proceed straight to using it at this point, or refrigerate or freeze for later.  If refrigerating, and if you used the olive oil instead of canola, you can skim it off once it solidifies and make a virtually fat-free stock.

Makes 4 to 5 cups, depending on evaporation

Difficulty rating  π

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