Monday, April 26, 2010

Taking stock, making stock

Sometimes the world moves too fast. Everything is instant, super-fast, last-minute, instant-success, immediate gratification, ready-made.

Some things simply take time. Dough rising. Wine aging in oak barrels. Cheese maturing. Figs ripening. Peppercorns drying in the sun. Even thinking about the necessary and inherent slowness in these processes slows me down. Waiting, waiting, then satisfaction.

We’re all familiar with the concept of food miles: that is, the distance food travels from production to plate. This is linked in which the concept of carbon footprint: the total amount of carbon-dioxide emitted during the production, storage, processing, transportation and preparation of a food-stuff.

Like good Einsteinians, we should perhaps turn our minds to the other element of the space-time continuum: the temporal aspect of what we eat. An appreciation that what arrives on our plates has travelled an enormous distance through time, from seed to plant to tomato-fruit to sugo. From egg to duck to confit. Grass to sheep to milk to curds-and-whey to cheese. That raw ingredients transform over a period of time as various arcane processes are applied: aging, salting, brining, curing, braising, marinading, peeling, chopping, sautéing. That the skills to apply such processes are a result of acquired skill, of knowledge developed over generations, of technique remembered and communicated, written down and distributed. Slow food.

And the time poured into a meal can make all the difference to how it tastes. There are lots of short cuts, even short cuts that don’t involve buying pre-made components: butter, cream, salt, sugar (msg!). And there are lots of things that are easy to throw together in a couple of minutes. But a sauce made from concentrated stock? Soaking and cooking dried beans rather than tinned? Resting a syrup cake over-night? Draining yoghurt to make labne? Curing your own gravlax? Simple, but time intensive. It can take a good meal to another level.

I love having stock on hand. For long grain rice and soaked borlotti beans cooked by reduction in chicken stock – a rich and savoury and slightly oily flavour. Sticky and more-ish on its own, or part of a more balanced meal with steamed vegetables or crispy pan-fried kale. As a base for polenta. For poaching hand made dumplings or vegetables, for a light soup. As a braising liquid for oven roasted chickens or duck or goose. For adding to casseroles or pasta sauces or mashed potatoes. As a sauce for homemade ravioli.

I know you can buy pretty good premade stocks – some butchers are even selling them now. But I had a whole day to myself at home, this don’t require a lot of supervision. And it cost me about $10 to make 5 litres (which much cheaper than buying it) - $6 for 2kg of chicken bones from my butcher, and $4 for 2 carrots, 2 onions and a leek. Good quality pre-made stocks can cost between $6-10 per 500ml.

Homemade stock is economical. A little time-intensive in the skimming and straining but really not difficult. It requires a gentle nonchalance, a vague watchfulness, and care that the liquids do not boil, just simmer ever so gently. Time passes and is marked with an increasing richness of wafting steam and deepening colour.

Simple stock:

Stock making can be as complicated or as simple as you want. The trick is mostly to use lots of bones and not to boil the liquid. I find that ox tails and a cow’s foot is an excellent addition to veal and beef stock. Chicken’s feet and necks are perfect for chicken stock. The more bones, the more gelatinous the stock will be – thicker and more flavourful.

Using left over cooked bones (like the remnants of a roast chicken, or ox tail bones left over from braised ox tail ravioli filling) or brown raw bones in oil for 20 minutes.

Cover cooked bones with wine and water. Add chopped vegetables and a bay leaf (I like leeks, carrots and onions, sometimes celery and sometimes I add mushrooms in the last half hour).

Simmer gently for two or three hours. Read a book. Strain several times. Stock will freeze for several months or last in the fridge for about a week.

To make a simple sauce, boil the strained stock until the desired thickness. Season with salt (you could also add tiny diced vegetables or porcini mushroom powder or vinegar or mustard for flavouring at this stage).

No comments:

Post a Comment