Ok, so my last rant on here not too long ago was on stock and how it is not simply a garbage pail of vegetable and meat extraction for the sake of a supposedly flavorful broth. Now, for the Eastern Orthodox out there, it’s currently Great Lent meaning that if you’re observing the fast strictly, you’re not having meat, fish, dairy, and various other things that go pretty deep into church rules that you can look up somewhere online if you’re into that sort of thing. That means that for a lot of observant Orthodox Christians, there will be a lot of soup made over the next 40ish days. But why settle for boring water based soup when you can (fanfare) jazz it up with a bit of stock?!
The truth is, vegetable-based stocks are incredibly versatile liquids as long as you know what you’re doing with them. Soup? Check. Risotto? Check. Bread? Oh yes, bread too! The trick, however, is just knowing how to make the base stock.
So, at its simplest, vegetable stock works as follows: chop vegetables very finely, sauté lightly in a stock pot, cover with water, simmer, and strain. The end. I still prefer Thomas Keller’s recipe which uses onion, leek, carrot, and fennel for the vegetables. Leeks impart a fantastic mild oniony flavor to just about anything without the harshness one normally gets from a white or Vidalia onion. Fennel gives the stock a little extra “something”: an anise aromatic flavor that makes the stock just a little more elegant. All of that said, you can stick with the basic mirepoix trinity of onion, carrot, and celery and be no worse off because of it.
The other stock alternative is mushroom. Keller’s recipe (below) asks for three separate strainings for a super-refined stock. If you’re lazy, I’m sure you can just simmer it once and strain once, but I prefer the former alternative. Even though the average mushroom doesn’t appear to have a whole ton of liquid in it (as opposed to the above-mentioned veg) there is a ton of flavor to be extracted. Get a pound or so of button mushrooms, run them through a food processor with (again) carrot, onion, and celery, briefly sauté, hit with the tiniest pinch of curry powder (trust me), cover with water, simmer, and strain.
So what do you do with them? Whatever you would normally do with any other stock. Typically, I use regular vegetable stock where I might normally use chicken stock: with lighter-flavored foods. Mushroom – on the other hand – I use where I might normally use beef stock. While hardly vegetarian friendly, I have accidentally used mushroom stock in a beef stew before and actually enjoyed it more than when I used beef stock. Weird right?
Vegetable stocks in many ways show off the versatility of stock overall. You can use either of these in risotto, for instance. If making homemade bread, switch out whatever the recipe recommends for water with stock. You’ll suddenly realize how unreasonably good homemade bread can be. Soups? You get the picture.
So stop buying that canned/boxed/cubed garbage. It’s jam-packed with excess sodium anyway (and not the good type). The lovely veg stock you’ll have after following the recipes I post? Just tasty vegetable goodness. So whatever you choose to make with it, if you’ve got an hour and a bunch of (aromatic) vegetables, you can make stock. Please do so. It will make me, and hopefully you, very happy.
Vegetable Stock (adapted from The Bouchon Cookbook)
1.5lbs (1 large bunch) leeks, white part only, coarsely chopped
1lb carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1.5lbs (2 large) onions, coarsely chopped
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and coarsely chopped
¼ cup canola oil
2 bay leaves
2 thyme sprigs
1 large bunch Italian parsley
Finely chop all veg in a food processor. Cook the vegetables in the canola oil in a medium stockpot over low heat for 5-8 minutes, or until softened. Add bay leaves, thyme parsley, and about 3-4 quarts of water. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for about 45 minutes. Strain into a container and cool rapidly.
Mushroom stock (adapted from The French Laundry Cookbook)
1lb button mushrooms, washed and sliced
1C sliced carrots
1C sliced leeks
1C sliced onions
½ C Italian parsley sprigs
¼ C canola oil
1/2t curry powder
1 bay leaf
1 large sprig thyme
Finely grind the mushrooms, carrots, leeks, onions, and parsley separately in a food processor, pulsing and scraping the sides as necessary. Heat the oil in a stockpot. Add the vegetables and curry powder. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the bay leaf, thyme, and 2 qts of the water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes. Strain the stock into a separate pot and return the vegetables to the first pot. Add remaining 2 qts of water and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain into reserved stock, bring to a simmer for 45 minutes and cool rapidly.