Taking stock of stocks – part ii
I laid out some basics on a good stock, and a recipe for one made with chicken, on October 5th. No matter what kind of stock you’re preparing, many of the same principles apply. (You might want to take a look.) But, what of a stock made of vegetables only?
A vegetable stock can’t imitate the flavors in a good meat stock, but that doesn’t make it inherently inferior. The basic goals in preparing a good vegetable stock are to
highlight the inherent qualities of ingredients grown from the soil;
and create an aromatic liquid with a deep neutral flavor
that won’t throw off the balance of the dishes in which it’s used
One of the keys then to a good vegetable stock is to use a wide variety of vegetables, but not too much of any one kind. It’s best to limit or avoid entirely cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, kale, cauliflower or brussels sprouts) because their pungent flavors would overwhelm the other ingredients. Keep in mind too that large quantities of carrots, parsnips or onions would result in a stock overly sweet. The recipe below is primarily a guideline. Feel free to vary it according to what you have available, but avoid at all cost limp carrots, withering potatoes with eyes and overly-soft anything. Mushrooms are always great because they impart a richness (and that deep neutral flavor) that might otherwise be lacking in a vegetable stock. You can easily add more than called for here. And you might try adding both fresh mushrooms and dried porcinis or shitakes. (I do, and love the results.)
Hint: You can save mushroom stems, parsley stems, onion skins and other bits of vegetables in a bag labeled appropriately and store them in your freezer and add them to the mix no matter what type of stock you’re making.
Again, like the chicken stock before it, this stock avoids the use of salt. Of course you can add what you like, but avoiding it here means you shouldn’t ever end up with a finished dish tasting too much like the ocean – unless of course you meant to.
This is an all-purpose, light-bodied stock that goes well in vegetarian dishes, soups, and risottos.
- 1 large leek
- 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 medium, or 2 small, carrots, coarsely chopped
- 1 wedge of green cabbage (about 1/8 of a head) coarsely chopped
- 1 medium turnip, coarsely chopped
- stalks from a fennel bulb, coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 stalks of celery, coarsely chopped
- 6 large white button mushrooms, coarsely chopped (optional: additional mushrooms stems, and/or dried mushrooms)
- 1 medium bunch of parsley (preferably Italian) or stems only from a large bunch
- 6 4-inch sprigs fresh English or lemon thyme
- 2 dried bay leaves (or 4 fresh)
- 4 quarts of cold water
To clean the leek – slice it in half lengthwise, leaving the roots intact. Run cold water over and between the leaves, being sure to remove the gritty bits that hide out there. Chop the white and green parts of the leek, and add all other ingredients to the pot of cold water. Bring to a boil, then cook – with the lid on – at a very gentle simmer for 1 hour.
To finish the stock, strain it through a colander into a large bowl or other pot, then squeeze down on the solids to extract as much as possible of the goodness clinging to the vegetables. (If you have a compost bin, you’ll have a good place for what remains.) Pour the stock into containers and either refrigerate up to a week, or tuck it away in your freezer for months.
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what I’ve learned about making good stocks has been distilled from various sources over years time, but the most excellent guidance has come primarily from the Herbfarm Restaurant’s executive chef, Jerry Traunfeld