Sunday, November 4, 2007
Soup Week - back to basics
Well its Soup week here at The Fat Expat and I’m pretty pleased about that as I am huge fan so sit back, relax and prepare to enjoy.
We are going back to basics here; you cannot make a soup without really good stock. Period. Don’t even think about using stock cubes, they are 99% salt and are absolutely abhorrent. Can you tell that I have strong opinions about this? Making your own stock is so easy as you will see that you really have no excuse so relegate those little cubes of woe to the back of the cupboard and follow these simple instructions!
Stock can obviously be made with the carcass, bones or bits of meat of any animal or fish. The vegetarian option is to just leave them out and boil only the veggies!
The idea of making stock is to boil up the bones to extract as much flavour from them as possible. Using bones or scraggy ends of meat that have already been cooked or roasted will produce a cloudy, darker stock. Using uncooked bones or meat will produce a clearer stock but it will not have as deep a flavour. If you do use bones from a roast make sure you remove any burnt bits before cooking as these can leave a bitter taste.
If you are lucky to have prawns one day don't throw away the shells or the heads, chuck them into a big pot of water and boil them up, they make a really good flavoursome stock though they do produce quite a bit of scum and sediment so you will probably need to clarify it later.
If you want to make an Asian-tasting stock to make up a Thai dish (like tom yum goong for example) just follow the recipe below and add to the pot a good sized knob of peeled fresh ginger, some fresh coriander leaves (roots, stems and all) and a couple of stalks of fresh lemongrass which have been bashed a bit.
I have bags of stock ‘cubes’ in my freezer. When I make a batch of stock, which I do after any roast using the leftovers, I boil and boil it down after it has been strained until I am left with a really thick, very strong liquid that is probably 10% of its original volume and then pour this into ice cube trays. These are then frozen and stored in freezer bags. I use them exactly as you would use a normal stock cube, ie reconstitute with boiling water when needed.
Making stock is also a great way of using up those tired looking leftover vegetables lurking at the back of the fridge drawer. I don’t follow any real hard and fast rules beyond the basic five or so must-have ingredients and will chuck in pretty much whatever I can get my hands on. There are a few things you don’t put into a stock pot, like potatoes, but it is pretty much a free-for-all.
Things to avoid; potatoes mentioned above because they fall apart and the bits get everywhere. I also discovered once whilst trying to make a Thai broth that adding whole lemon or limes is a disaster unless your idea of fun is seeing your guests suck in their cheeks, pucker their lips tightly and squeeze their eyes shut!
Anyway here is what I do when making up my basic chicken stock;
In the biggest pot you have, in fact a stock pot preferably, put two small whole chickens. Spinneys do a bag of two frozen ones for Dhs 10 which is perfect. To make lamb or beef stock just substitute the respective bones accordingly!
And then add:
2 peeled onions, quartered.
1 whole bulb of garlic, no need to peel.
2 tsp whole black peppercorns
4 or 5 bay leaves
2 carrots, no need to peel
4 or 5 stalks celery.
1 tsp sea salt
And that is it. Throw in whatever else you can find, fill the pot to the brim with cold water and bring slowly to a simmer. I do mean slowly as heating the stock too fast will have the effect of sealing in the juices in the meat, slow heating releases them. In fact, if you can and time allows, leave the pot to sit with everything in it, including the water, for about an hour or so before turning on the heat.
Then you should simmer the stock for at least three hours, longer if possible. For the first two hours have the pot covered and the last hour uncovered. Leave to cool, and then strain through the finest meshed sieve you can find.
During cooking a scum will rise to the surface, particularly at the beginning. Don’t skim this, it will get reabsorbed during the cooking process. If you need to produce a very clear, clarified stock read further down.
After I have strained the stock I normally put it into the fridge for about an hour. What this does is harden any fat that might be floating on the surface which I then scrape off. Once done it is back into the pot, back onto the heat and I reduce it down to the thick liquid that I talked about in the introduction. Leave it to cool, pour into ice cube trays and viola!
If you want to clarify stock it is a bit of a bore but this is what you need to do after you have cooked and strained it as above (but before the boiling to reduce bit)
The stock should be room temperature and into the pot stir in one slightly beaten egg white and one crumbled egg shell for EACH litre of stock.
Bring to a simmer very slowly, a thick scum will rise, do not skim it. Push the scum to one side to allow more to rise. Do not let the stock boil as this will disturb the process. Let it gently simmer for about 10 minutes, remove from heat and let stand for about 1 hour.
When cooled, push the scum to one side and using a ladle pour the stock through a sieve lined with a muslin cloth that has been soaked with hot water and wrung out.
I can guarantee that you will be left with the most beautiful, clear, amber coloured and deeply flavoured stock. Utterly divine.
Here endeth the lesson.
Tomorrow I hand over to Alexander who will tickle your taste buds with yet more soup-licious recipes!