How do I make good stock?

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Some simple, but high-quality ingredients should result in a delicious, delicate stock.

It’s just about putting a few quality ingredients in a pot and simmering it all for as long as possible

My chicken stock always ends up looking more like pale, insipid hot water than the golden stuff you see on TV cooking shows. Would I be better off buying it ready-made from the supermarket?
Jacqueline, Liverpool

The short answer is a resounding no, says Jeremy Lee, head chef at the legendary Quo Vadis in London’s Soho. “As far as I’m concerned, those plastic bags and pots of ‘fresh’ supermarket stock have all the integrity of a bottle of Tizer. Convenience – or at least the illusion of it – is the very devil here.”

That’s partly because there’s nothing at all convenient about spending three quid on 500ml of vaguely meat-flavoured liquid, tipping it into what you hope will turn out to be a culinary masterpiece, only for the end result to have nowhere near the depth you were expecting. “You’d probably get much the same results using just water,” Lee adds.

The solution, as with so many kitchen matters, is to make it yourself, he says. Sure, the likes of Lee have a professional kitchen to call on, where “meat scraps, veg trimmings and other bits and bobs turn up through the day to add to the stock pot, but it’s still an absolute cinch at home”.

It’s all of five minutes’ work, too. Forget the idea that you have to roast or brown everything first; it’s not necessary, Lee insists. “I prefer a light stock, especially with chicken, because then it’s suitable for everything from broths and risottos to sauces and braises – if it’s too strong, that limits how you can use it.” Plus, there’s more than enough flavour in a deglazed meat-cooking pan to create a stupendous sauce even with a gentle stock.

So what, exactly, should go in your chicken stock pot? “Not much,” Lee says. “A couple of good handfuls of chicken wings, thighs and/or drumsticks – the best quality you can afford, as always – a little leek, carrot, onion, celery, bay, peppercorns, parsley stalks…” He’s not averse to chucking in a cheaper-than-chips pig’s trotter or cow’s hoof, too, should you happen to have either to hand – “for all that glorious gelatine and extra flavour”. Then just cover with water, bring to a simmer and leave to putter away very gently, “the longer, the better, until all that goodness has leached out into the broth”.

“It’s very frugal, as all the best cooking is,” Lee says. He’s not wrong there: five or six litres of homemade stock will set you back about the same as a litre of the supermarket equivalent, it will have a much more rounded, fresher taste, you’ll have loads left over – and you know exactly what’s gone into making it, too. And always, always make a big batch and freeze at least half of it, Lee says. “There’s no point making just a pint,” he laughs.

At home, Lee makes things easier still by cooking his stock in the oven. “If it’s on low enough – around the 80-90C mark – you don’t even have the hassle of having to watch it, as you would on a stovetop. Stick it on overnight and, when you wake up, turn it off, leave to cool, strain and you’re good to go.” In other words, convenience food at its very best.