Stock up on flavours

There’s much to be said for mak­ing your own stock, writes Ai­man Ah­mad Anuar

New Straits Times - - Pulse - In­gre­dI­ents: Method:

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.

STOCK BA­SICS

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.

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