stocks and enlightenment

This is in response to my aunt who thinks our recipes are too poncy and that we should be encouraging you to cook in a more traditional, thrifty, and joined up way. Throwing away potentially good food and using a highly processed, adulterated and inferior alternative (did you ever look at the ingredients of a stock cube) for lack of the skills and time to do it yourself, is symbolic of the crazy and unsustainable way we live our lives. For the uninitiated making your own stock could be a step on the path to enlightenment.

The vegetables can be less than perfect and generally do not need to be peeled but roots should be washed. Use what is available (bearing in mind your intended use) and always check the flavour. A vegetable, chicken or game stock should contain a balance of three key ingredient groups: alliums, umbellifers and flavourings. Brassicas can be included in small quantities depending on the intended use but can make a stock bitter: ok for some gravies and stews but perhaps not for soups.

Alliums: leeks (green tops and outer leaves are fine), onions and garlic (both unpeeled unless you want a clear stock)

Umbeliferae: carrots, parsley (stalks are fine), celery (the outer ribs and a slice off the top are fine, leaving the more tender sticks for higher grade use), celeriac (peelings OK), parsnip

Flavourings: one or two bay leaves, pepper corns (say 6), rosemary, thyme, oregano (sprig or pinch if dried) etc

Brassica: turnip, stumps or outer leaves of cabbage or cauliflower

The vegetables should be coarsely chopped and simmered in just enough water to cover for about an hour. For a chicken or game stock include the giblets and carcass and skim off any froth or scum that come to the surface. Uncooked bones are always better but you can still get flavour from a stripped carcass. Strain through a sieve leaving any sediment (for those more careless in washing their veg) in the bottom of the pan. The stock can be kept in the fridge for a week or some like to freeze in an ice cube tray for future, regulated use. Just having a good stock available makes me want to cook, so it seldom lasts very long.

The swede are dainty and smaller than usual but there will be more in the box/bag to make up the weight: they taste great and swede water makes a good gravy.

Guy Watson