The Basis of Many, Many Meals
Today’s recipe was inspired by a request from a friend who reads Edible Things. It is great to hear from people, so if you have any requests, let me know, and I can blog about those too.
If you have a recipe you’d like to see, or something to inspire, please feel free to get in touch or find me on twitter.
Anyway, my friend asked about how to make vegetable stock, particularly in reference to making stock from scraps. Obviously, she has come to exactly the right place. I never throw anything out if I can help it. I was accused of being from the 1950s when I admitted to an acquaintance that I make my own stock. He doesn’t know what flavour he is missing out on!
In my freezer, there is an entire drawer given over to scraps and offcuts of one kind or another. I keep them separate in bags or freezer containers (for the meat products), ready to be used later. I routinely keep and freeze the stalks and outer leaves of cabbage; the tough outer leaves of fennel; carrot tops and peel; the tops of leeks; and the root and tip of onions that I have chopped for other dishes, and the stalks of any herbs where I have only needed to use the leaves.I would probably also keep the gnarly bits at the bottom of a head of celery too, if it weren’t for the fact that I have guinea pigs that eat them.
Currently there are also apple cores, lemon and orange zests, bones from a chicken, pork fat and rind, and a whole load of vegetable offcuts and peels. There will be a use for all of these in various stocks, jellies, sauces, or something.
I actually don’t like the term food waste when talking about unloved offcuts and trimming. There is so much you can do with them, up to and including composting, which I also do, but only when I have got the maximum value from them first.
Obviously, I know that most people do not have the freezer space or the geekiness to save stuff like I do, but if you do nothing else with your “waste”, do give stock a go. I guarantee that it really easy, and will really improve the flavour of soups, stews, sauces and gravies.
I make a number of different stocks, so I bag my veggies separately, because I don’t want cabbage in a chicken stock, for example. If you have limited space, put them all into the same bag and chop them up a little. If you have no freezer space at all, you can make a quick stock using scraps, and supplementing it with the odd celery stick or whatever. The finished stock will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks, in an airtight container, so you can still add it to dishes (NB it will be shorter for meat stock), and have great-tasting stock.
You can pretty much use what you want in a stock. I know that some people use potato peelings in stock, although I personally don’t like the flavour it lends. Some people also choose to put the papery onion skins in, although this will mostly impart a yellow colour, so again, I tend not to bother. Similarly, beetroot tops and peel can be used, but it will both colour and flavour the stock.
I have used pumpkin, pea pods, lettuce that looks as though it is going over, the ends of aubergine, tomato skins, mushroom trimmings,asparagus ends, the leaves of celariac, beets and carrots at different times. As long as you wash the vegetables thoroughly before freezing, or putting straight into the stock pot, it really is up to you, and experimentation is the key for your tastes, and the dishes that you cook with.
There are a few vegetables that you cannot use the leaves from, and this includes rhubarb (which are a vegetable, but used as a fruit), aubergine and parsnip leaves. I have used the vines of tomatoes, but not the leaves.
The basis for most stock is the triumvirate of celery, carrot and onion (or leek – they are the same family).This is the basis of both meat and vegetarian stocks. It is really a question of balance. In the recipe below, I have outlined the rough proportions that I used. For vegetable stock, I try to use a cabbage (or broccoli stalks, or chard or something similar) in my veg stocks, because it gives a depth of flavour.
As you get more used to scrap stock, you will also develop a sense of the proportions of each that you want. I can do it by eye now. It does not take long to gain confidence in this technique. And believe me, you will really be glad that you gave it a go.
You also don’t have to wait until you have the same amounts as I do. You can make stock with the ends of one leek, the peel and tops from one carrot and a single cabbage leaf, if that is all you have. Really, nothing is set in stone for this, the ingredients are down to what you have.
Recipe: Vegetable Stock
250 g leek/onion trimmings(frozen weight)
150 g carrot peel
2 celery stalks, (it weighed about 150 g)
50 g herb stalks, including mint, parsley & thyme (if making meat stock, I would most likely leave out the mint stalks)
50 g cabbage stalks & leaves
100 g fennel leaves
2 dried bay leaves. I have a bay tree, so I usually use fresh bay, if you are doing so, double the amount given in your recipe
10 or so peppercorns
You can also use other spices. It will depend on what you want to use the stock for. I use pepper and cloves for a generic stock, but if I wanted an asian one, I would add cinnamon and star anise. But, when I want to make a pho, or something, I take my generic stock and add the spices at the time. Again, this is a matter of your own taste.
2½ l cold water (or enough to just cover the vegetables that you have, although bear in mind that they will float)
I use a very large saucepan for making stock (my stockpot), but even if you have an average sized one, you will need a well-fitting lid for it.
Put all of the vegetable trimmings in the pan. I chuck them in from frozen, having washed them before I froze them. You can also put fresh ones in, it doesn’t matter. Cover the vegetables with cold water, and put the lid on the pan.
Put a Lid On It
Bring the water up to the boil, then turn it down to a gentle simmer. Keep the lid on the pan while it simmers.
My Simmer Plate
I have a simmer plate, which I like to use, because I can turn the hob down to the lowest setting, and it distributes the heat more evenly across the pan. They are not essential though, so don’t worry if you don’t have one. Let it simmer for about an hour (longer for meat stocks, depending on the size of the bone that you have).
Allow it to cool with the vegetables still in it, then strain the liquid. This is your stock. If you are still reluctant to throw away your vegetables, you can take a little of the stock and the veg, and blend it up, and you have the very tasty basis of a soup that you can either eat like that, or add more things to for bulk. Every aspect of making stock is about taste, not waste. If you are making meat stocks, obviously, you should remove the bones before you do this.
The stock can be used as is. If you have limited freezer space, you can boil the stock to reduce it by half, which will concentrate the flavour. Don’t use a lid on your pan for this stage.
I measure off half litres and put them in into individual containers (usually take away ones are fine, they stack and they have lids), which I label and freeze. I find that this is a convenient amount to use in most recipes.
They are easily defrosted on a worktop, or if you are less organised, you can heat them in a microwave or a pan ready for immediate use.
If you don’t have a lot of space, concentrate the stock, you can freeze them in ice cube trays, then transfer them to a bag once frozen.
Whichever way you freeze it, don’t forget to label, as there is nothing more irritating than forgetting them in the freezer, then scratching your head a few weeks later when you find them again.
So there you go; cheap, practically effortless, and really tasty stock, that you know is right for you. It doesn’t contain any hidden ingredients, so you know it will be suitable for your friends with special dietary requirements or preferences. And you have the basis for many soups, dishes, sauces and whatever you like really. This stock of scraps is really much, much more than the sum of its parts!
Update: I have entered this post into Turquoise Lemon’s No Waste Food Challenge, which is all about fennel for the month of April