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Stocking Up

Even though August should technically herald the final gasps of winter, Melbourne’s weather will probably still continue to show its occasional feral side all the way into the middle of Spring. That’s why now’s as good a time as any to talk about taking your soups and wintery braises to the next level. How? Making stock!

Not only will it make your soups, braises and even the occasional sauté taste better, making stock is also a super-basic kitchen skill that will save you heaps of dosh and make you feel like a total culinary legend.

Speaking of culinary legends, stock-chat always reminds me of the folk tale of “stone soup”.

At the crux of it, making stock is all about drawing as much flavour out of basic pantry ingredients by simmering them gently for an extended period of time – soup stone optional.

Vegetables that enhance a stock include: onions, carrots, celery, leek, mushrooms, tomato. I usually keep things simple and stick to onions, carrots and celery – but my husband Nick (the chief-chicken-stock-maker in our household) swears by the addition of mushrooms – and who am I to begrudge him a little more fungi? (see what I did there).

And that’s really the thing about stock – everyone’s approach may differ in some way or other, but there are a few golden rules that you may like to take stock of.


Six Simple Steps to Making Stock :

1. Prep your protein: Making stock is a great way of ensuring that you get every last bit of value from your protein purchases. But of course, it’s important to ensure that your off-cuts and/or leftovers are appropriately ready for action.

Beef, veal or lamb: roast off the bones until golden brown.

Chicken: this can be used raw or cooked (depending on whether you want to make a white or brown stock respectively) chop the chicken into small pieces.

Shellfish: Crush into small pieces and roast off until golden (you can use them raw, but the roasting definitely helps make a sweeter stock)

Fish: If you’re using heads, remove the gills to avoid giving your stock a bitter flavour.

2. 2: 1: 1  : As I’ve mentioned previously, everyone’s got their own golden combo of veg, but the basic non-negotiables are onions, carrots and celery (just quietly, I’ll sometimes even skip the celery if I’ve none to sacrifice). If you start out with 2 parts of onion to 1 part of carrot and/or celery, you’re welcome to add whatever other bits of vegie scraps you have laying about.

3. Forget your seasoning: You’ll be using stocks to enhance the flavour of dishes, so wait until you’ve incorporated the stock into your soup before adding salt and pepper. This is especially critical if you’re planning on making a super-concentrated version, since the longer the liquid reduces, the stronger the salt flavour will become.

4. Give it time: The longer you leave the stock on the heat, the more intense the flavour will become. Setting up the stockpots is often one of the first things on a restaurant’s prep-list, because then they’re assured that another batch of stocky goodness will be ready by the time service comes around.

5. Simmer gently: It can be pretty tempting to crank the heat up and reduce the stock quickly, but you’ll find that this approach leads to a cloudy stock and no depth of flavour. The more vigorously the liquid bubbles, the more chance there is that the gunk at the top will filter down to the bottom and then you’ll never get rid of it. Better to let it form a film at the top that you can skim off right at the end. If you’re making a stock concentrate, expect it to take at least 24 hours – maybe even longer.

6. Cube it: If freezer real estate is at a premium, take the stock concentrate road and reduce it right down until it’s a quarter of its original volume. Skim off any gloop, allow the liquid to cool, pour through a sieve and some muslin cloth (or a clean chux cloth) then pour into an ice-cube tray and freeze. One cube is the equivalent of about 250ml of stock. Think of it as a real flavour saver.

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