Tag Archives: stock

Fish Stock

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Making fish pie today so plenty of grisly remains, in particular, prawn heads, which are The Best Thing Ever for making fish stock. I had twelve “large” prawns which weighed around 350g in total. (Yes, I know, in certain parts of the world, these would be considered tiny, but hey ho.)

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So, heads cut off, shells removed, and into a medium saucepan. The meat was butterflied (use a small pair of scissors to do this) to remove the vein (well, the gastrointestinal tract) and reserved for the fish pie.

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Meanwhile, the grisly remains were given a good rinse, and I added: half an onion, salt, a few black peppercorns, and a bay leaf. Oh, and since I was skinning a cod fillet, I threw the skin in as well. (I was also skinning a smoked haddock fillet, but didn’t use that skin as the stock would have tasted of nothing but smoked haddock. The salmon skin was too oily, so also discarded.)

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Topped up with cold water to 2L, and the whole lot brought to a gentle simmer for twenty minutes, and then strained through a fine sieve.

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The resulting liquid was allowed to settle, disgorging quite a large amount of sediment.

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The saucepan was given a perfunctory rinse, and the liquid carefully poured back, so the sediment stayed in the bowl. Finally, brought back to the boil briefly, and the small amount of scum skimmed off. Final yield: one litre of fishy goodness.


A Chicken in Every Pot

Simmering a chicken in a pot for a few hours is a remarkably good way to cook the bird, and has a slightly mediaeval feel about it. Of course, you miss out on the crispy skin you’d get if you roasted the bird, but the tender succulent meat compensates nicely, as does the happy by-product of several litres of chicken stock. This does take all morning, but only involves twenty minutes’ actual work.

You’ll need a posh bird for this, but it doesn’t have to be large. For my six litre pot, I use the following:

  • a small free range chicken, about 1.5 kilos, giblets removed
  • some crudely chopped onions, celery and carrots – around 600 grams
  • a dozen whole black peppercorns, four large cloves peeled garlic, two bay leaves, half tsp salt

Top with water up to six litres, bring to the boil, and then reduce heat to the barest simmer: you want gentle glooping, not furious bubbling. It’s important that you don’t let it boil furiously, as the liquid will go grey and horrid, and the chicken rubbery. The chook will, inconveniently, not quite submerge, so turn it over a few times, when you remember, just to make sure.

After about two hours – longer, if you have a larger bird – the chicken will be falling apart, so carefully transfer it to a rimmed chopping board – a big wooden spoon in one hand and tongs in the other will do nicely. The same tongs and spoon can then be used to strip the carcass – although you’re basically just lifting the meat off and leaving the skin and bones behind, as all of the connective tissue will have dissolved. My 1.5 kilo chicken yielded 1.25 kilos of meat without too much effort.

If you have vermin, they will come running, so make sure the kitchen is clean after this, and the grisly remains are inaccessible. If you have a cat, you won’t have vermin, but the heady aroma from the pot may get the poor mog quite excited, so some bribery may be in order. Ditto children and partners.

Now, back to the pot. You should have ended up with the best part of four litres of chicken stock. You can chuck out the veg at this stage, as they will have yielded up their flavour to the broth and not be much good. There will be some fat in the stock, which is fine if you’re using it immediately. If you put the stock in the fridge overnight, the fat will solidify and can be easily removed and discarded.

So, what to do with this?

  • you could simply make risotto: 600g meat, 1.5L stock and 300g rice will feed four people generously, and save the rest of the meat and stock for another time
  • serve the warm chicken meat with some boiled new potatoes, mayonnaise and salad – and then follow up with a soup made from the stock in which you’ve simmered some fresh veg and maybe some noodles
  • make chicken pies! (more about this later)

Some variations:

  • a tomato or two will add a nice colour and flavour to the stock
  • if you’ve got a bunch of parsley handy, then throw in the stalks
  • the leaves from the celery will also contribute to the flavour
  • more garlic won’t hurt
  • leeks are good as well
  • you can do this with the grisly remains of a roast chicken if you just want stock
  • sometimes you can get trays of chicken wings on the cheap: these are good for the stockpot (again, you want free range, as factory farmed chicken yields very unpleasant stock)

Butternut Squash and Chorizo Soup

Another easy soup for the mid-week zombie march. You will need:

  • one butternut squash (or a very small pumpkin)
  • about a handful (50g) of chopped up chorizo (a reasonably spicy one, preferably – you could use pancetta but I don’t think that would deliver the same amount of excitement)
  • about a litre of stock (chicken, vegetable, or just reach for the Marigold powdered boullion)

Cut the squash down the middle, scoop out the seeds with a metal spoon, and slice a channel down the middle, with channels across as well. Butternut squash are treacherous, so be careful when you do this.

Pack the chorizo into the hollows, and grind over a spot of salt and pepper. Put them in a shallow baking dish, and into the oven at 180ºC for an hour. (The pancetta will ooze fat, so don’t use a baking sheet unless you want hot pig fat on the floor of your oven.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, get the stock into a saucepan, and hot. I had a block of stock in the freezer (no idea whether it was animal, vegetable or mineral) so popped it in the pan to defrost. (End result: vegetable, if a little on the bland side.)

When you retrieve the squash from the oven, the channels will have opened out and the chorizo fat soaked into the flesh. In addition, the flesh on the surface will have started to caramelise. Yum.

Let the squash cool a bit. Using a pair of barbecue tongs to hold them, use a metal spoon to scrape out the soft flesh and chorizo, and add it to the saucepan of hot stock. Stroke the flesh gently with the spoon and it should come off the skin easily. The biggest challenge of this operation is not to simply eat the hot squash then and there. (It does make a terrific side dish.)

The soup will then need to be simmered for another fifteen minutes or so, but another half hour if the flesh was a little fibrous, i.e. hadn’t cooked all the way through in the oven.

I use the hand blender (purée wand in US English) to smooth out any last pockets of resistance. You could just have a go with a potato masher and leave it chunky.

Salt and pepper to taste. Maybe a teensy pinch of paprika if you’ve used pancetta.

Smoked Mackerel Risotto

Smoked mackerel is one of my public vices. I can happily eat the stuff on its own, roughly shoved onto some toast with a squirt of lemon and some pepper. Never had it as a child (we used to have smoked cod, which was a chemical orange colour and horrid) so no nursery associations, but it strikes me as comfort food.

This, then, is a bit of an experiment. Can I combine the slightly sharp smoky fishiness with the gentle ooze of a risotto? The answer is yes, although the results don’t quite taste like risotto.

I used:

  • 300g Arborio rice (or your preferred risotto rice)
  • a large onion
  • 200g smoked mackerel fillets, skinned and flaked into large pieces (or some other hot smoked fish, if you prefer – note that most “smoked” salmon is cured and cold smoked, so not suitable for this recipe)
  • 150g shelled peas (frozen is fine, you could maybe use mangetout, but definitely some form of crisp legume)
  • about a litre of vegetable stock (fish stock would be too OTT for this)

Make the risotto in the usual way – adding the peas and fish about five minutes before the end.

You probably won’t need any extra salt, but more pepper than usual.

Some people get very sniffy about seafood plus cheese, but I think that stirring in maybe 25g of parmesan is the right thing to do. The sharp salty flavour helps balance the starchy goo.

In hindsight, it really could have done with a bunch of parsley, and maybe some lemon zest. Fresh thyme leaves might be worth a go as well.

Beef Stew

Saturday morning has commenced with a headache, a mound of unwashed dishes, and a bunch of bills in the letterbox. I climb into the remaining three items of clean clothing on the premises and visit the bakery for an emergency lattè. Thence the posh supermarket for a plastic bag of ready-to-go casserole vegetables and a plastic bag of braising beef. After ten minutes’ work, they are merrily burbling away in the oven, in my grandest casserole. The flat fills with heavenly smells, which make the morning’s laundering, washing and hoovering pass with less than the expected trauma.

This dish requires one pot and one spoon. Here’s what you need.

  • 500g root vegetables, washed, peeled and chopped, or a bag of same from the supermarket – mine contained swede, onion, carrot and leek
  • 500g stewing steak, chopped into rough cubes
  • a glass of red wine
  • four cloves of garlic, peeled
  • thyme (dried is alright) and a few bay leaves

Fry the meat in a mixture of butter and oil, until browned on the outside, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. Set aside, and then fry the veg, adding more fat if necessary. Return the meat, sprinkle with about a tablespoon (15g) of plain flour, and stir like mad. (You could toss the meat in the flour to begin with, but I don’t think it makes much difference.)

Add the wine, and stir like mad, incorporating any flour that’s stuck to the bottom of the pot into the liquid. Cover with boiling water from the jug, and some posh powdered stock, e.g. Marigold Bouillon. Add the garlic, a bay leaf or two, and the thyme. Maybe a tablespoon of tomato paste; more for colour than anything else. On this occasion, I popped in a large dried chilli (not chopped) which I fished out before serving: added a pleasant zing to the proceedings.

In my case, I then pop the lid on and consign the pot to the oven (140ºC, fan forced) for the next two hours. If you have a gas ring you trust, you could instead leave it on the hob, turned down nice and low. The aim is for a gentle simmer, with the occasional bubble lazily erupting on the surface.

After two hours, check the seasoning. The meat should have collapsed by this point, if not, another hour won’t hurt.

Variations

Use Guinness instead of wine.

Use lots of wine – Pomiane mentions a litre – and no stock. (Sans doute un litron de la gros rouge qui tache et pousse au crime.)

Whole baby onions, if you can be motivated to peel them.

Beware of spuds. Baby Charlottes work well, floury potatoes will collapse and turn the whole thing into starchy beef concrete.

Do it with lamb shanks; one per guest. The bones will ooze wonderful things into your stew. (Browning the lamb shanks first is harder work.)

Pommes Boulangères

I am always amazed at how something this simple can taste this good.

Legend has it that pommes boulangères originated with French housewives cooking this dish in the local bakers’ ovens. Why their own ovens weren’t up to the task history does not relate.

As usual there are a surprising number of variations, but let’s stick with the basics.

  • potatoes, either waxy or floury – the waxy ones will hold their shape, but the floury ones will make the liquid thick and gooey
  • and for each 500g spuds
    • one large onion
    • two bay leaves
  • enough stock to cover (meat or vegetable based)

Decide whether or not the potatoes need peeling. The Charlottes I’m using today have such delicate skins that it doesn’t seem worth the bother. Slice the potatoes thinly; about the thickness of a pound coin. If you have a lot of potatoes then a mandoline is a wonderful thing, although you may not think it so wonderful when you’re trying to clean it later.

Peel and slice the onions to about the same thickness as the potato.

Place a layer of sliced potato on the bottom of an oven proof dish, then all the sliced onion in a layer, then the bay leaves, salt, and pepper. You can also peel and sliver a clove of garlic, and add that as well. (I normally would, except that today’s main course involves two heads already.) Some people add a few knobs of butter at this stage as well. Then finish off with another layer of potatoes on top. You might want to save your most photogenic slices for this purpose, and it looks nice if they overlap.

Pour enough stock into the dish to just come up to the top layer of the potatoes. If you don’t quite have enough stock, just top up with water. This is definitely a dish which will benefit from some nice homemade stock, but don’t be embarrassed to reach for the bouillon powder.

Finally, pop into an oven at 180ºC. After an hour, some of the slices on top with be crisp and crunchy, and there’ll be a hint of mash developing at the bottom. Regardless of that, make sure the potatoes are tender to the point of a sharp knife.

Caveat

I’ve just said three layers, which means a large and shallow dish. If you use more layers, you’ll need to increase the cooking time.

You’ll notice in the photos that I’ve used about six layers: this wasn’t a problem as the potatoes were cohabiting an oven at 150ºC for three hours with some slow lamb. When I took the lamb out to rest, I cranked the oven up to 200ºC for fifteen minutes to give the topmost layer a better tan.

Leek and Potato Soup

Again, but this time with the leftover potato and celeriac mash.

Peel, slice and fry two slim leeks: equivalent to, but containing more flavour than one giant leek. Fry the leek in butter with a splash of oil to stop in burning. You want a heat low enough so that it takes about 15 minutes for them to get lightly browned and sticky.

Add about a litre of stock, making sure you incorporate any gooey bits on the bottom of the pan from the leeks.

Then, about 500g of leftover mash, and bring it up to the boil.

Salt and pepper, and if in doubt, a bay leaf or two won’t hurt.

Let it simmer for a bit, so the starch in the spuds is unleashed and can thicken the soup. (A quick attack with the hand blender if, like me, you haven’t chopped the leeks finely enough or there are lumps in the mash. One need never fear making soup mid week with one of these in the cupboard.)

Once that’s all done, and the heat is off, you could crumble a small amount of Stilton or Gorgonzola into the soup, stirring until it has melted. Or just serve with a dollop of crème fraîche.

Then sit back and enjoy the comforting starchy goodness of it all.

Party Rice

Ooof. It’s that time of year, so I guess I must be having a party, which means coming up with a way of feeding lots of people. How about this?

It’s neither paella nor risotto, but nevertheless, rather good. It has evolved over some time, starting with a recipe from Silvana Franco.

For every four guests, you will need:

  • chilli (will vary on your chilli, but suggest enough to add a tingle, but not enough to make it hot)
  • 2 fat cloves garlic, or as much as you dare (I keep on saying that with garlic, don’t I?)
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 red capsicum
  • 100g peas (or beans, mangetout)
  • Kalamata olives (as many as you like, but leave the stones in)
  • 200g long grain rice (not arborio or anything fancy, just basic long grain)
  • 900 mL stock
  • turmeric (half a teaspoon)
  • paprika (half a teaspoon)
  • salt/pepper, plus lemon wedges to garnish

Here’s how:

  1. Thinly slice – don’t crush – the garlic, and fry gently with the chilli in some olive oil
  2. Slice/dice/whatever the onion and capsicum, and add – keep on frying ’til soft
  3. Make the necessary arrangements to have the stock ready and hot
  4. Add a bit more oil and the rice, turn the heat up and fry the rice as you would if you were making a risotto
  5. Add the turmeric, paprika and olives
  6. pour over the hot stock, stir vigorously
  7. Turn the heat right down and leave for 15 minutes – the heat should be high enough to cook the rice, and low enough so that it doesn’t burn on the bottom – check occasionally – the ideal situation is to get it slightly crunchy underneath – so regular stirring is not on
  8. Add the peas about five minutes before serving

In Advance

You can prepare this in advance, by getting up to the stage where you fry the rice, and then adding only 200 mL of concentrated stock, stirring to deglaze the pan, and then covering and allowing to cool. The following day, spread the rice out in a roasting tin, add 800mL hot water, and pop in an oven on about 150C for about 20 minutes.

Vegetarians avert your gaze now

Obviously you can add meat. Some possibilities:

  • start by gently frying some pancetta or sliced chorizo in the pan, until all the fat has oozed out, and then carry on as normal
  • add some leftover roast chicken or duck with the stock, or just fry up some chopped up chicken thigh fillets (don’t bother with breast meat, not interesting enough for this kind of recipe)
  • add some prawns or other shellfish at the same time as the peas
  • in theory, you could use saffron instead of turmeric, but I’ve never dared

Risotto

Well, since I’ve been asked, here’s my best go at explaining what needs to be done.

Some people say it’s all about the rice. You’re going to need hard, starchy, short grain, that’s tough enough to endure half an hour on the hob. Carnaroli, Vialone Nano, or Arborio are the varieties to look for, these days most supermarkets will helpfully label the packet as “risotto rice”. There are tribes of Risotto Fascists who will argue until they’re blue in the face about which of these is best. (One thing you do need to watch out for are packets of “instant” risotto: just don’t.)

It’s not just about the rice. The other essential here is the stock. That tub of Marigold bouillon powder will get you out of all sorts of tight corners, and failing all else, can be used for risotto as well, but, this is a dish that will really show off a good, homemade stock. (Don’t bother with stock cubes.)

So, assuming four generous servings

  • 300g rice
  • 1.5L stock
  • 1 large onion
  • 200mL wine (if you’re not prepared to drink it, don’t cook with it)
  • butter, olive oil
  • grana (preferably Parmesan)
  • stuff (chicken, prawns, sausages, herbs, vegetables, …)

So, let’s get going. Start by putting the stock in a saucepan, and bringing it to the boil. Then reduce it to the barest simmer. You may run out of stock, so make sure you’ve also filled and boiled the kettle.

You’ll need a sauté pan, one with a heavy base that will heat evenly, vertical sides so the rice won’t escape, and a tight fitting lid. Peel and dice the onion, and fry in about a tablespoon of olive oil and 20g of butter. Once the onion is translucent, add the rice, and stir thoroughly, until all the grains are coated with the fat. You can always add another knob of butter if there’s not enough.

Turn up the heat a bit and fry the rice, stirring constantly. As the rice starts to toast, you’ll see a slight build up of patina on the bottom of the pan; if this starts to get brown then reduce the heat. After a couple of minutes, the rice will start “singing”, as the tiny amount of residual moisture turns to steam. This is a similar principle to what happens when you make a roux: you’re cooking the grain in fat to help tease out the starch. (You can impress people by referring to this phase as the tostatura.)

Tip in the wine. There will be steam, hissing, and bubbling. You need to keep stirring, making sure you scrape off the patina from the bottom of the pan, incorporating it into the dish.

Once the wine has been absorbed, add a couple of ladles of hot stock, and keep stirring. Now, this business about stirring. You’ll be using a wooden spoon, preferably one of those with a spatula type edge, and you just need to gently move it through the rice, along the bottom of the pan, to keep the heat circulating, and making sure nothing spends too long on the bottom or it will burn.

Now, just for a moment, stop stirring. Does the risotto immediately start bubbling furiously? You need to turn the heat down. Does the risotto just sit there and do nothing? You need to turn the heat up. Does the risotto start to bubble after about thirty seconds? Bingo, the heat is right. Now start stirring again: you don’t want it to burn. Don’t panic if you need to leave it alone for a minute to answer the door, or just pour yourself a glass of something medicinal. Just make sure that if it’s more than a minute that you take it off the heat, and give it a thorough stir when you get back. The world won’t end. But the point of lots of stirring is to get a nice creamy consistency in the liquid.

Much twaddle has been written about the next twenty minutes. In a nutshell, all you need do is add a ladle of stock, keep stirring until it’s been absorbed, and repeat. After about twenty minutes, fish out a few grains of rice on a fork and have a taste. If the rice is still quite crunchy, you’ll need to keep adding liquid and stirring until it’s done; probably another five minutes. If you’ve run out of stock, add some hot water from that kettle I instructed you to boil earlier on. At the end of all this, what you’re aiming for is cooked rice, which will have tripled in volume, sitting in some creamy gloopy liquid.

And now for the mantecatura – another word that you can use to impress people. This is where you turn off the heat, stir in the grana and any other delicate ingredients, put the lid on, and leave it alone for five minutes. Risotto Fascists will argue endlessly about whether or not you should also add some more butter at this stage. If you do, about 25g, chopped into small cubes, should be enough.

Dish up.

Variations

  • The best risotto is the one that you make using the meat and stock from a leftover roast chicken – add the meat about halfway through the stir’n’add phase
  • Mushrooms are good – I use the chestnut ones – you can also make the “stock” by soaking dried porcini in hot water
  • Obvious example of the butternut squash in the previous post
  • Two chicken breasts that you’ve fried earlier and chopped up, maybe with a handful of wild rocket at the same time as you add the cheese
  • Some previously cooked and chopped up sausages and a few veg for something very substantial

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

An impromptu dinner party this evening, and not a lot on hand. But, as Jill Dupleix says, “having stock in your freezer is the very definition of social security,” and there is some vegetable stock in the freezer, and a butternut squash in the cupboard. Since it’s unlikely that I’ll need to turn the squash into a coach for an incognito appearance at the Prince’s Ball, I decided to make risotto instead.

Firstly, the squash gets cut in half, seeds scooped out, and then scored deeply, but not so deeply as to break the skin. Some salt, pepper and a few pieces of butter, and into the oven at 180C for an hour.

Now, after half an hour, I checked and ooops, I’d put too much butter on, and it was starting to escape the baking tray. I poured some off, but since there was still plenty in the hollows, so I popped a gently squished clove of garlic in each, and returned to the oven.

Check whether it’s done by prodding with a skewer and making sure all the bits are soft. Don’t worry if there are a few burnt bits. Place the squash to one side, and allow to cool. This can be done earlier in the day, if convenient.

The risotto is a standard, by-the-numbers affair. One onion, 250g Arborio rice, butter, olive oil, stock, yada yada yada. I’ll write detailed instructions later on, if only to assuage the anxieties of Julian Barnes.

Whilst you’re doing the risotto, peel the cold roasted squash, and cut into half inch chunks. It will practically fall to pieces anyway, along the lines you scored earlier. The skin should slip off, but might need coaxing here and there. You can do this earlier if you don’t believe you can leave a risotto unattended for more than thirty seconds. (You can, but never leave the room.)

Once the risotto is at the resting phase, pop the squash in, pop the lid back on and leave for five minutes. Then stir very gently, so as not to break up the squash. There will inevitably be a few casualties, but they’ll just ooze some orange juice into the dish, which looks nice.

Pass the Parmesan.

The profiterôles afterwards were bought from the shop, but the chocolate and Armagnac sauce was homemade. No, I can’t remember precisely how I did it; I was drunk at the time. (Don’t try that yourself.)