Monday, July 4, 2011

French Vegetable Stock

1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic
1 large turnip, cubed
3 large carrots, sliced
3 large potatoes, cubed
6 celery sticks with leaves, chopped
6 sprigs parsley
6 dried laurel leaves
Kosher salt to taste
Black pepper corns (whole)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Bouquet garni - a little bag of herbs which is like a tea bag with herbs inside

Note: If you do not have a bouquet garni, you can add any combination of the standard herbs to taste, either fresh or dried. I add about a teaspoonful of each, but it really is up to you. You can subtly alter the flavour of the soup by changing the combination of herbs depending on what you have available. The chowder always tastes delicious, and always slightly different depending how you flavoured it.

If you add the dried herbs instead of the bouquet, the stock will be delicately flecked with little bits of greenery but that in no wise detracts from the pretty result at the end. If they are fresh herbs you can throw in the sprigs whole because the nutrients are extracted through cooking and it is probably better not to chop them. The more we chop and process foods the more nutrients are removed in the process, so for the stock part you can chop the veggies in bite-sized pieces, they do not have to be finely diced or sliced. Also bear in mind that it gets poured through a colander in the end to separate the veggies from the stock water, so the herbs will slip through but not much else.

You can really use any of your favourite dried herbs, but I tend to avoid strongly flavoured ones such as fennel. All of the following work well, and do not worry if you do not have them all. The outcome is always good with this stock. Good choices:

Dried parsley (especially if you do not have fresh parsley sprigs)

1. In a large soup stock pot or Dutch oven as they are sometimes called, heat the olive oil (careful not to overheat) and add the garlic and onions first, sautéing them until lightly browned.
2. Add the chopped carrots, turnips, potatoes and celery. Save the celery leaves to add at the same time as the parsley sprigs and herbs.
3. Sautée the vegetables for about 15 - 20 minutes until lightly browned. I sometimes use leeks instead of onions, or I use them both if I have extra leeks. Leeks are schleppy because they have to be washed very carefully, they tend to hide bits of earth between their layers of leaves but they are a very nice onion alternative and they also double up their flavours as they are one of the ingredients in the chowder itself.
4. Fill the pot all the way to the top with cold water - please use filtered water, it is worth it. Leave about 2 inches’ worth of room at the top, because when the stock goes to a rolling boil it will splatter over the top if the pot is too full.
5. Add the parsley sprigs, celery and laurel leaves, bouquet of herbs, salt and peppercorns. It is not necessary to add a lot of salt as you will adjust the seasoning of the soup itself at the end of the process. Adding salt helps bring water to a boil faster, and I find that about a tablespoon of salt is enough in a stock pot this size. It is always better to start with too little salt than with too much.
6. Turn to high heat and bring the stock to a rolling boil.
7. When it reaches boiling point the stock will bubble vigorously, so turn back to medium heat and let it simmer evenly for 2 - 3 hours. The heat should not be too low; you should still see small bubbles.
8. When done, let the stock cool down completely before separating the vegetables. The flavours and nutrients will continue to be absorbed in the water and it is safer for the cook to work with tepid or cold stock during the pouring process separating the veggies from the stock water. If you are making your soup the following day, the stock can happily sit in the fridge overnight with the vegetables still inside.
9. When cooled down, take a second stock pot of equal size and pour the stock through a colander into the pot, catching the vegetables in the colander. The original recipe says "discard the vegetables" but please do not throw them in the garbage - compost them instead, the earth loves them but the garbage does not.

Environmental Note: Food waste should never be put in the garbage but always composted; this is by reason of the fact that food waste in landfills causes a terrible amount of methane which is more damaging to the earth’s ozone layer than even the output of cars. This environmental fact makes it very difficult to live in an earth-friendly fashion if you eat meat at all, because of course meat and bones cannot be composted unless your city has a sophisticated organic waste recycling program such as the one we have in Toronto - and even that program has problems because we produce more than we have the capacity to compost with the facilities we have.

Some people say the stock veggies are still good enough to be eaten even though we know that this length of boiling takes most of the nutrients out of the veggies and into the water. The British, and also our grandmothers in South Africa, used to cook veggies for a very long time - this has no point as the water takes out almost all the nutrients from most veggies if you boil them for longer than 20 minutes. Same goes for flavour. Your stock will be extremely nutritious and flavourful but the veggies not so much, although they always still look good. If someone thinks of something brilliant to do with them, please let me know. I just don't like the word "discard" where it pertains to food, and many people who have seen the stock veggies have remarked that they still look good enough to eat. We do not use them in the soup itself, because we use fresh finely chopped veggies duplicating some of what we used in the stock, instead and we cook them only for a short time before adding them to the soup. This makes for a magnificent concentrated flavour and maximizes the nutritional value.

Now your stock is ready to make a stunning array of amazing soups from scratch; not only the corn chowder but many other soups. You can make just about any soup with this. Where recipes say use chicken stock for a vegetable soup, you can always use this magnificent stock for a vegetarian version of the same recipe. Vegetarians should be very careful in restaurants about ordering vegetable soup because 99% of the time it is made with chicken stock; I always ask the restaurant what kind of stock they have used, even for the mushroom soup. Most of the time they tell me the truth. (I can tell when people are lying, but that is not a skill that is easy to cultivate.) The veggie stock can of course also replace meat stock in vegetarian versions of any number of recipes other than soup. And I daresay you can float matzoh balls in it.

I shall post the corn chowder recipe right after these messages.

- DJ Gigi


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