Tim Hayward’s programme on stock for Radio 4’s Food Programme this week extracted a wealth of information about the development of stocks and stock cubes, and piqued our interest in the subject.
Stock is one of those elements in cooking that is apparently simple but which takes attention and skill to make really well. Stock comes in a variety of guises, from a simple broth, to a clear-as-a-bell consommé.
It is a culinary fundamental that requires few ingredients and simple instructions – warning enough that ‘experience’ is the unnamed key ingredient. You start off with roughness; bones, carcasses, meat trimmings, crudely cut veg, a handful of herbs and you finish with complexity, savouriness, and a liquid which looks by turns silky and light-capturing. It’s cooking magic.
Professional chefs take great care over their stocks and have their own preferences. Thomas Keller excludes celery from his stocks, as it adds a bitter note. As a nonpareil for decadence, Marco Pierre White ordered in crates and crates of whole chickens, destined only for stock, for his 3-starred Oak Room restaurant. In 2011’s Great British Menu, Johnny Mountain aroused the disapproval of judge Marcus Wareing over his resistance to using fish heads in his stock for a bouillabaisse, stating fish heads had no place in his cooking. Marcus didn’t agree, and Johnny’s dish, sans heads, came off the loser.
It’s easy to see why the professionals take time and intense care over their stocks – they are the root of much that issues from the kitchen, most notably, stocks provide the base for sauces, the crowning glory of many dishes. The job of saucier in the kitchen is the highest in the brigade (pipped only by the sous- and head-chefs. During service, the saucier makes sure the sauces are on hand for the head-chef, ready to apply the final spoonful or drizzle to finish the dish. Stocks are the beginning of the eloquent finishing touch to the dish.
A head-chef applying sauce from, yes, a sauce-pan, to a dish on the pass, moments before being served to a customer
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