..Some Trimmings are Too Good to Just Compost:
(c) 2015, Davd
Carrot tops and tails, onion layers that are starting to dry and too tough to feed to people, herb stems and turnip peelings — can seriously improve the flavour of your next rice or bean dish, soup, sauce or gravy—and that’s only the beginning.
As you advance from being a so-so cook to being one whose contributions are sought after at potlucks, whose dinner invitations are valued even if nobody special will be there (or because the somebody special who is there is you—the cook); one of the skills you need to add to the ordinary recipe book and can opener stuff, is making stock. Stock is the liquid that results when food which is safe, but too scruffy to put on anyone’s dinner plate, is boiled in water to extract its flavour and some of the minerals—even vitamins—it can contribute. Many chefs make stock from bones and trimmings of meat and fish; and it’s a skill worth learning. This blog will present the simpler skill of making vegetable stock.
Chefs who make meat stock, include vegetables and usually herbs in the water. Naturally, the vegetables and herbs they use, are the ones whose looks are least presentable to the customers, such as a carrot, onion, or turnip that was cut by the shovel or fork that harvested it. If the skins of root vegetables are clean enough (of chemicals as well as of dirt) they may be put in the stockpot instead of whole vegetables, or to reduce the number needed.
Most home kitchens don’t process enough bones to make bone stock—except perhaps for the holiday turkeys and hams that many people do cook at home. Some of you reading this probably have boiled the bone and trimmings from a ham or a turkey in a big pot to make what you might have called stock, or broth, or soup base. If you included some herbs and perhaps things like celery leaves and trimmings, doing that doubtless made a better soup.
For “most of the time” when you don’t have bones to boil for their flavour and perhaps that of scraps of meat clinging to those bones, you can still make stock—from vegetables and herbs.
The last few days of April, i cooked white rice using vegetable stock instead of water, added some salted wild mushrooms—and that rice with mushrooms, plus a few early chives, made a delicious grain dish to go with a small steak. Plain white rice would not have tasted nearly as good… and the stock was made from turnip peelings, cabbage, carrot and onion trimmings, second-class oregano and liveche*. All those vegetables and herbs can be grown in Maritime Canada.
The process of making stock is simple: Collect clean vegetable trimmings (they do not have to be as clean as they would be to eat them raw—boiling sterilizes—but the taste of dirt is not what you want! nor is pesticide residue.) Use trimmings from more than one vegetable: Try to have at least three different vegetable flavours in every batch of stock, and generally, the more the better. Vegetables that are very closely related (such as broccoli, cabbage ,and cauliflower) should preferably be counted as one flavour.
Turnips, especially the “yellow” or “Swede” ones, make for good stock: I don’t know exactly why, but stock with turnip peels and trimmings does seem to have a “well rounded flavour”—as will what you cook with it. When you peel clean turnips, save the peelings. Freeze them even, if there are so many that they would go beyond balance with the other vegetables and herbs if put all in one batch. Then when you don’t have turnip peelings around, grab some from that bag in the freezer. Same for celery if you buy it—don’t throw out the trimmings if they’re clean enough for the stockpot. (Few places in Canada can grow celery easily, but most people in Canada live where liveche* will grow.) Carrots seldom need peeling, but the tops and tails are valuable for stock—don’t throw them out either.
Growing your own culinary herbs, especially chives, liveche*, oregano, sage, and savory, will provide you with leftover stems and second-class leaves that will improve the stock you make. Tarragon and thyme are harder to grow; tarragon is good in stock to be used with fish or poultry, and OK with beef and pork and vegetarian foods; thyme gives “strength” to stock for anything that’s not cooked sweet… as does oregano, which for me, is easier to grow. Parsley is good with most anything that’s not cooked sweet, and especially good with seafood… but if you have liveche or celery in your stockpot already, you don’t need the parsley; add a little if you have plenty and the stock will be used with seafood.
If you make your own beer and wine, as i’ve done for a few decades, then you’ll be rinsing the bottles soon after they are emptied, for re-use. Rinse them into a jar, and use that “beer and wine dregs” as part of the water with which you make stock (or all of it, if you’ve many empty bottles and few trimmings, as might be the case after guests have come for dinner, if your vegetables came from a store already trimmed, or on New Year’s Day.) Malt, hops, and wine flavours diversify and improve stock. (If one of your guests left half a glass of wine or beer go flat, you can put that in the stockpot, too—boiling sterilizes—but don’t put spoiled beer or wine there unless you know for sure its flavour will help and not hurt the overall mixture.)
Generally, fruit (sweet) and vegetable (salty or savoury) flavours don’t mix as well as fruits with fruits and vegetables with vegetables. Table wine is an exception; it goes with both. (Botanically, tomatoes are fruit, but in kitchen categories, they’re vegetables. Cucumbers are also called fruits botanically—but i wouldn’t put them in a stockpot. Large numbers of extra cucumbers can be made into a few different good pickles and relishes.) The rule seems to be “Salty with salty and sweet with sweet.”)
When you’ve collected a decent volume of vegetable trimmings and herb stems [or just surplus herbs], put it loosely into a good sized cooking pot, cover with water, usually to about twice the depth of the layer of trimmings, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10-15 minutes—and the stock is done. Next, let it cool, then pour it into a jar [put a lid on it] and refrigerate. If you’ve plenty of time and a place to leave the pot, let the vegetables in it drain a few minutes and pour that last little bit of stock into the jar, too. Then toss the boiled-out vegetable pieces into the small bucket under the sink where you collect compostables. They’ll still contribute that way as well.
When you boil vegetables for the table, the water in which they were boiled can then be made into stock. If you steam vegetables like bean sprouts, broccoli, carrots or cabbage, a few bits of herb and vegetable peels and trimmings in the steaming water, will make it into stock while the carrots, cabbage, etc. are being cooked. The steaming basket separates the scruffy looking flavourings from the nice vegetables that will actually be served, which means you needn’t make the stock in two stages.
After you’ve made several batches of stock, you’ll begin developing an intuitive sense of what flavours will go well together, and what stock mixtures will make the best liquid for what uses. Meanwhile, don’t worry. Stock made “at random” will virtually always improve gravies, sauces, soups, beans [and peas and lentils], and grain, when you use it to replace cooking water.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? More flavour in the sauce or the soup or gravy or grain, is a good thing. Now you know how professional cooks do it… the easier way, anyhow.
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* Liveche (Levisticum officinale) is a tall, perennial relative of celery with a richer, stronger taste than celery itself. The leaves dry well hung in bunches in a shady place (I prefer the woodshed) and can be used instead of celery in sauces, soups and stuffings. It is probably the most desirable herb of all for making stock, though chives, thyme and oregano are also very good.