According to Mastering Stocks and Broth (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2017) stocks and broths are the foundation of good cooking, yet information on their use is often relegated to the introductions or appendices of cookbooks. Hard to believe, since most passionate home cooks and professional chefs know that using stocks and broths — both on their own and as the base for a recipe — can turn a moderately flavorful dish into a masterpiece. Mastering Stocks and Broths is the comprehensive guide to culinary stocks and broths that passionate home cooks and innovative chefs have all been waiting for.
Even though animal-based stocks and broths are fundamental to most chefs’ kitchens, plant-based stocks should be used as the seasons provide, and with as much enthusiasm. Flavor, as well as nutrition, is the driver here.
The range of flavors you can extract from vegetables is as vast as their kingdom. An earthy mushroom stock is a great substitute for beef stock; a squash consommé imparts the lightness of chicken stock. Infuse the smoke of applewood into a tomato and apply it to broth—the smoke and fruit suspended in liquid to affect the whole dish. Add seaweed for a boost of minerals and to impart a silky mouthfeel; a satisfying umami emerges from below the vegetal note.
Vegetables are more delicate than bones: Within the first hour of simmering, some vitamins will denature while others will become enhanced. Surprisingly, vegetable stocks can have more calcium than bone broths, and a homemade vegetable stock contains less fat, carbohydrates, and sodium than grocery store alternatives. Locate vegetables from an organic farmer you trust, preferably one that manages an assorted range of crops. More variety on a farm can help enrich the soil and minimize disease in the fields; natural immunity in crops means less need for pesticides and other harmful chemicals. All of these details translate to better health in the stockpot.
The vegetables used in stock are consistent with those in animal-based stocks and broths. Raw onions are sharp; leeks are mild and buttery; carrots are sweet and colorful. Other vegetables, such as fennel and parsnips, impart subtle flavors that add complexity to the base. Vegetables take less time to break down than bones, which means vegetable stocks require considerably less simmering time. The rate of extraction is further influenced by how much vegetable matter is exposed to water: The finer the chop, the less time in the pot.
The recipes in this section follow a repetitive technique while employing varying ingredients. The result is a palette of color and a range of flavor that lends itself to exploration in the kitchen. Don’t stop here: Experiment with other vegetables. For instance, corn cobs produce a milky broth with a nutty quality; yellow beets, roasted and peeled, yield a bright orange broth—both suitable as a foundation upon which to build new dishes.
Vegetable stocks do not contain proteins that bind molecules and thicken the liquid. As such, they lose flavor quickly and should be used or frozen within two days. You can add plant-based thickeners, such as kelp or agar-agar, or a small amount of grass-fed gelatin to stabilize the foundation.
When selecting vegetables for stock, locate a farm that encourages crop diversity on the land. You should be able to find onions, leeks, and carrots—maybe fennel, too—from the same farmer. The vegetables in these stocks are chopped in a food processor to expedite infusion into the liquid. Vegetable stock serves as an all-purpose medium for cooking.
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This excerpt is adapted from Rachael Mamane’s book Mastering Stocks and Broths: A Comprehensive Culinary Approach Using Traditional Techniques and No-Waste Methods (Chelsea Green, 2017) and is printed with permission from the publisher.