Monday, June 20, 2011

Taking Stock

Vegetable Tea

When it comes to good food, it starts with vibrant, flavorful, quality ingredients.  Start with delicious and, chances are, you'll end with delicious.  And with summer upon us, the longer days and the heat lead me to crave brothy noodle soups, coconut curries, and buckwheat tabbouleh.  What do all of those have in common?  Well, besides making my mouth water, they all require a good stock.  

Yet again, this is something I learned from working at The Steeping Room.  The creativity and range of soups offered at the restaurant encouraged me to start making my own soup at home.  In the past I had made several attempts, but they often resulted in frustration and experiments that even I wouldn't eat.  But in speaking with Amy, co-owner and executive chef of The Steeping Room, I was offered a precious nugget of culinary wisdom that would make all the difference in the world.

Think of your stock as a tea.

Mind you, we were discussing vegetable stock.  Meat based stocks require a completely different approach, which was precisely why my previous attempts hadn't worked.  I was boiling my vegetables for upwards of 2 hours and ending up with bitter, rather stinky yellow liquid.  But with tea, especially "greener" teas (i.e., unoxidized or less oxidized and retaining more vegetal, grassy notes), optimal water temperature ranges from 140-180 degrees, much cooler than boiling, and as the tea gets greener and less oxidized, the less time required to steep.  And the same general principles apply to vegetable stock.

Basic Vegetable Stock (GF, DF, V, rSF, SF)

Suggested:  carrots, leeks, onion, garlic, fresh herbs, mushrooms, potatoes, celery, corn, squash

To be used in moderation: tomatoes, asparagus, eggplant, fennel, rosemary

To avoid: cruciferous vegetables (i.e., cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale)

Other additions:  peppercorns, bay leaves, apple, citrus (not lime)

1.  You can use vegetables whole, but I prefer to use mostly scraps, peelings, and trimmings from when I prep vegetables.  I feel like that is the best way to make use of the vegetables so nothing goes to waste.  And when you're done making stock, you can still compost them (as long as no oils or fats were used).  If I don't plan on making stock the same day as I prep, I simply freeze the scraps and save them for a rainy day.
2. For the amount of vegetables you have prepped for your stock, use the same amount of filtered water (e.g., 4 cups vegetables: 4 cups water). It doesn't have to be exact - just an inch or two of water to cover your vegetables should be sufficient.
3.  Use low to medium heat.  Low and slow is a good rule of thumb.  At most, you want a quick simmer, with tiny bubbles and steam.  Try to avoid boiling. 
4.  The time really depends on the purpose of your stock.  For a risotto or a summery soup that requires a lighter, clearer stock, you may only want to "steep" the vegetables for 10-20 minutes (the stock pictured at the top of the posting was only 12 minutes).  For a richer, full-bodied stock, cook for up to an hour.  More than 60 minutes generally yields diminishing returns, with bold, distinct flavors quickly becoming muddled and less dynamic.  Be vigilant with your tasting.
5.  When stock has reached desired flavor and character, strain and allow the liquid to cool.  It can be used right away while still hot or it can be cooled and then stored in the refrigerator for approximately 5 days.  You can also freeze your stock in ice cube trays for use at a later time.

Brrrr....frozen vegetable scraps
The beauty of flavors mingling

Don't go chasing waterfalls...

Reused, then recycled

 Quick and easy, right? 

What I love about making my own stock is the depth of flavor I can create by cooking vegetables for dishes in stock made from those vegetables' trimmings.  It reinforces the flavor from start to finish, and in the case of cooking grains or making soup, it can add that extra oomph of goodness.  Making your own stock can also save you a good amount of money.  If you buy stock on even a semi-regular basis, each time you make one quart of stock, that's roughly $3-$5 you're not spending.  And the cherry on top is that you won't be consuming all the sodium and additives common to prepackaged stock.  You know exactly what you're putting into your body, which I am all about.

I know that this may not appear to be as exciting as some of my previous recipe posts, but if you like to cook at all, I think this is an important recipe to have in your "toolbelt."  That little bit of extra time spent saving scraps and making "vegetable tea" will produce wonderful dividends in terms of flavor and, ultimately, satisfaction. 

Make one person's trash your culinary treasure.


  1. The secret is out.

    Jonathan is a vegetable stocker!!!!


  2. Going to try this.... thanks!!

    1. You're welcome, Amy! So simple and such an awesome way to create depths of flavor in so many things we cook. Enjoy!


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