Stock up on flavours
There’s much to be said for making your own stock, writes Aiman Ahmad Anuar
THERE are many of us who are armed with secret ingredients when we cook. Some of us throw in a little extra chilli, some sneak in a little palm sugar. Whatever it is, the Malaysian trick to getting a savoury meal to taste better is to add stock cubes.
It’s a tip that has been passed down by our grandmothers because it works. Stock has an amazing ability to make a dish tastier, especially when you’re making a quick meal and need that extra boost of flavour that only comes with a long-cooking process. It’s why we spend so much time boiling our soups and dishes because extracting all those natural flavours is what gives our dishes their complex and intense taste.
But are stock cubes better compared to homemade stocks? They’re cheaper and far more convenient. But they’re also notorious for having a long list of chemicals and preservatives. Most stock cubes in the market hardly contain any natural ingredients at all; most of their flavour is derived from chemicals, particularly MSG.
So why don’t more people make stock at home?
Making stock seems like a tedious process but it really isn’t, though it does take some time. The basics are simple. All you need to do is boil some meat, bones and vegetables in a pot of water and skim off any foam or grease that appears on the surface of the liquid. After a few hours, you are left with a rich tasting broth that becomes a base for soups, gravies, curries and even stir-fry dishes.
The first thing you have to do is determine what type of stock you want to make.
Most restaurants are very particular about their stock and always have beef, chicken and vegetable stock ready at all times. For a home kitchen, you generally just need one type, and it’s the type that you want to use most often. In my home, it’s chicken stock because it’s the most versatile stock and can be used in almost any dish.
For a good chicken stock, I prefer a mix of chicken bones and chicken meat, in equal amounts. The combination of bone and meat tends to provide the strongest and complex flavours. However, it’s extremely important to note that when you’re working with meat, you don’t want to get a lot of fat into the stock because while fat does carry flavour, it will make a cloudy and greasytasting broth. So it’s best to stick to chicken breast, with all its skin and fat trimmed off.
As for the bones, I prefer them roasted before using them in my stock. Roasting bones helps get rid of impurities like blood and fat. It also helps to intensify the flavour of the bones because it evaporates any excess liquid. Roasting also kills bacteria, especially if you’re using leftover bones from a previous dish.
As for vegetables, I tend to stick to the traditional mirepoix, a combination of onions, carrots and celery as my base. The reason why this combination works is because it adds a subtle sweetness and freshness to your broth. Other vegetables can be used but will change the flavour profile of your end product, particularly if the vegetable has a strong flavour, like mushrooms or broccoli.
Herbs and spices are optional when it comes to stock, especially if you want to use it in Asian dishes. While it can make your stock more aromatic, a strong rosemary scent doesn’t make a good curry. The Here’s my favourite recipe for chicken stock: 2 chicken breasts
1 chicken carcass
2 small onions
10 black pepper kernels 2 carrots
1 stalk celery
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch coriander
2.5 litres water
Salt, to taste
3 tbsps chopped mint leaves
1. Preheat your oven to 200ºC. 2. Roast chicken carcass until fully
browned, 30 - 40 minutes.
3. In a large stockpot, place the chicken carcass and the rest of the ingredients, except salt. 4. Gently simmer for three to four hours, skimming foam and oil off the top of your stock every 20 minutes.
5. Remove all the ingredients, add
salt to taste.
6. The stock can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week, or frozen for up to three months. best thing to do if you want to give your stock an extra kick is to flavour it with a spice or herb that swings both ways in Asian and Western dishes, like black pepper kernels and coriander.
Another trick to making a good versatile stock is to simmer for the longest time possible. It takes at least three hours to yield reasonable results. While this does sound a little much to most, it doesn’t really need to be taken care of. If you think having to skim off the foam and fat constantly is too much work, then forgo this step. While most chefs will tell you it’s a “no, no”, it really doesn’t interfere with the final flavour. You might end up with a cloudy broth but it would generally taste the same. Just make sure to sieve it before use.
Keeping stock is easy too. All you have to do is sieve it, and freeze portions of it in individual bags. Or you can freeze it in an ice tray and have cubes of frozen chicken flavour ready to be added to your dishes. Stock should last for up to three months if frozen properly.
Making stock is an easy, affordable and worthwhile effort.