Tag Archives: vegetables

Forgotten Foods #5: Parsley Root

Every now and again I write a post on forgotten foods, and here is one vegetable that was used widely in Medieval times, but has fallen very much out of use in this country: parsley root.

We are all very familiar with the culinary uses of parsley leaves, but the root has been much ignored in Britain of late. Parsley root is what celeriac is to celery and it is still commonly used in northern Germany (hence its other name ‘Hamburg’ parsley), Croatia, Bulgaria, Poland and Russia. It is an essential element in a truly authentic borscht.

Parsley root pops up every now and again in Medieval recipes but it popped up rather more recently in Manchester from my fruit and veg suppliers Organic North. I assume it’s started to appear here because of the recent influx of Eastern European folk to the UK and demand is high!

In our old cook books, it only seems to crop up as an ingredient in pottages and the like, but seems to have been used extensively by local physicians in all sorts of tinctures to cure dropsy and scarlet fever, as well as in bladder and kidney ‘teas’ because of its supposed diuretic properties. It turns out that parsley root is very good for the liver, so they might have been on to something there.

parsley-roots

Parsley root (Photo: Harvest to Table)

Parsley roots are a pale creamy-white, like a parsnip, but less yellow, and are thin and slender like a carrot. They lack that woody part to their roots that large parsnips have, being tender all the way up like a carrot. They taste predominately of parsley, but also of celeriac and parsnip.

They can be eaten raw in salads or as part of a coleslaw; the organic ones I got hold of made my tongue go a little numb after eating a raw one!

Cooked, they can be used like any root vegetable in soups. Apparently, they roast very well and make excellent chips. Their slight earthiness marries well with fish especially shellfish. I found a great-looking recipe for scallops in parsley root milk by American chef Karen Brooks – one to try next!

If you are unsuccessful in your search to find your own parsley roots, don’t worry because they are very easy to grow, taking just 3 months from seed to harvest. They overwinter well and can be dug up, replanted in a pot, and popped on a windowsill where the leaves will regrow to give you a personal supply of forced parsley herb.

 

Roast Parsley Root Soup

The best ways to enjoy any root vegetable is to either roast it or turn it into soup. Here’s a perfect combination of the two from my chef Matt, I particularly like that – the onion aside – all the vegetables are from the parsley family, so they all work together very well, never taking focus away from our star ingredient.

parsley root soup

3 tbs olive oil

1 medium onion, sliced

6 fine parsley roots, peeled and chopped into 1cm slices

1 carrot, prepared just as the parsley root

2 celery sticks, roughly chopped

2 or 3 sprigs of thyme

2 fresh bay leaves

Salt and pepper

1 litre light vegetable stock or water

A splash of white wine or white vermouth (optional)

Chopped parsley root leaves or celery leaves to garnish.

 

First preheat the oven to 200°C and then heat the oil in a sturdy roasting tin over a hob. Tumble in the onion, parsley roots, carrot, celery, thyme and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper then turn the vegetables over in the pan until evenly coated with the oil. Once things have picked up a little colour, place the tin in the oven for around 20 minutes, stirring at half time.

When the vegetables are cooked though place them in a saucepan with the stock or water. Deglaze the pan with the wine or vermouth, if using, otherwise use a little water and tip all those nice burnt bits into the saucepan.

Bring the soup up to a bare simmer and cook until things are very soft. Allow to cool a little bit before fishing out the herbs and blitzing in a blender.

Check your seasoning, reheat and serve in bowls with some chopped parsley or celery leaves.

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Third Course: ‘Mutton to eat as venison’ with Lenten Pie

elizabeth raffald

Here we are at the mid-way point of the Dinner Party Through Time and we have arrived in the Georgian period with two great recipes inspired and stolen from the excellent 18th century cook book The Experienced English Housewife by Elizabeth Raffald. The book and the great lady herself deserve a post to themselves really; it lets such a light into the world of grander houses during that time. It’s a book I often leaf-through, so it was the obvious choice.

I thought that the course should be from opposite ends of the gastronomic spectrum with a rich leg of mutton, specially prepared to taste just like venison, and a Lenten pie, specially made for fast days and full of lovely vegetables and herbs.

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To dress a Leg of Mutton to eat like Venison

Get the largest and fattest leg of mutton you can get cut out like a haunch of venison as soon as it is killed, whilst; it will eat the tenderer. Take out the bloody vein, stick it in several places in the under side with a sharp pointed knife, pour over it a bottle of red wine, turn it in the wine four or five times a day for five days. Then dry it exceeding well with a clean cloth, hang it up in the air with the thick end uppermost for five days; dry it night and morning to keep it from being damp or growing musty. When you roast it cover it with paper and paste as you do venison. Serve it up with venison sauce. It will take four hours roasting.

It was very intriguing, but it was also obviously unachievable. Looking in other books, I found many versions of it, sometimes roasted, sometimes braised, but always marinated in red wine (and often in the blood of the beast too!). I knew the recipe looked familiar, and it finally dawned on me that an updated recipe for it appeared in good old English Food by good old Jane Grigson. It’s not served with a rich venison sauce, but a gravy made with the cooking liquor

There’s a 4 day marinating time for this recipe, so plan ahead if you fancy making it. It is worth it, this is one of the most delicious things I have ever cooked and eaten. It is beautifully gamey, but with the moist succulence you would expect from lamb or mutton. It is magically transformed! Witchcraft can only be to blame.

Here’s what you need:

1 full leg of mutton (or lamb)

For the marinade:

250g onions, chopped

250g carrots, chopped

100g celery, chopped

4 or 5 cloves of garlic, chopped

3 tbs sunflower oil or lard

2 bay leaves

3 good sprigs of thyme

6 sprigs of parsley

3 sprigs of rosemary

12 crushed juniper berries

12 crushed coriander seeds

15 crushed black peppercorns

1 tbs salt

750ml red wine

175ml red wine vinegar

To cook the mutton:

3 onions, sliced

3 carrots, diced

3 celery stalks, sliced

3 leeks, sliced

375g unsmoked streaky bacon, chopped

90g salted butter

Veal stock or water

To make the marinade, fry the vegetables in the oil or fat. Take your time over this and get them good and brown; the veg won’t be in the final dish, but their flavour will be. Let them cool, and mix with the remaining marinade ingredients.

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Score the fat of the leg into a diamond pattern, like you would do for a ham. Find a large, deep dish or pot and place the lamb inside and pour over the marinade. Make sure the whole leg gets the marinade on it, so turn it over a few times. Keep the leg somewhere cool – a fridge, or a nice cool cellar or pantry – and cover it with foil. Turn it twice a day for four days.

When the four days is up, get the new set of vegetables ready. To cook the mutton, spread the prepared vegetables over the base of a deep roasting tin, place the leg on top and strain the marinade over it. Top up the marinade liquid with veal stock or water so that it comes up two-thirds of the way up the tin. Cover with foil.

You have two choices now: either bring the whole thing slowly to boil and simmer gently for 3 hours on the hob, or bring to simmer and pop it in a cool oven instead, 150⁰C will do it, for a similar amount of time. Turn the joint over after ninety minutes and in the final half an hour, ladle out 2 pints of the cooking liquid and boil it down hard to make a concentrated, richly flavoured stock.

When the cooking time is up, remove the leg and put it into another roasting tin and turn the oven up to 220⁰C. Roast for a good 20 minutes and baste well with the concentrated stock to achieve a nice glaze. Any remaining concentrated stock can be used as gravy.

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An Herb Pie for Lent

Take lettuce, leeks, spinach, beets and parsley, of each a handful. Give them a boil, then chop them small, and have ready boiled in a cloth one quart of groats with two or three onions in them. Put them in a frying pan with the herbs and a good deal of salt, a pound of butter and a few apples cut thin. Stew them a few minutes over the fire, fill your or raised crust with it, one hour will bake it. Then serve it up.

Groats are whole grains of cereals and oats or barley could have been used, but I chose whole wheat. The only change I made was to use a normal shortcrust pastry and make a regular double-crust pie in a tin, rather than a raised crust with a hot water pastry. I regret that a bit now, but I wasn’t as good at pastry then as I am today. It is a good pie – some plainer cooking that married very well with the rich meat.

Here’s how I approached the recipe:

1 onion, chopped

oil or butter

150g wholewheat groats

generous knob of butter

2 Cox’s apples, peeled, cored and sliced

2 little gem lettuce, sliced

1 leek, sliced

1 medium golden beetroot, diced

1 handful of spinach, rinsed

1 bunch parsley, chopped

shortcrust pastry

Begin by gently frying the onion in a little butter or oil until soft and golden. Add the groats and cover with water. Simmer gently until the groats are tender, topping up with more water if things look a little dry. Season with salt and pepper and allow to cool. Meanwhile fry and soften the apples in butter and let those cool too.

Mix the apples with the groats and the remaining vegetables and line a pie tin with shortcrust pastry. Tip in the mixture and cover with more pastry in the usual way.

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Glaze with beaten egg and bake at 200⁰C for 20 minutes until golden, then turn down to 175⁰C for 35 to 40 minutes.

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Second Course: Hashed Chickens with Turnips and Roast Quinces (1660)

charles II

“It’s all back on again!”: Charles II

So, it’s the next course in my Dinner Party Through Time and we have moved up to 1660. It’s the year of the Restoration of the British Monarchy after that to-do with Oliver Cromwell.

Now this recipe has turned out to be a bit of a mystery because as I write it up for you from my notebooks, dear reader, I cannot find out which seventeenth century cook book it is from! My notes say the year, but nothing else. Those of you that like historical cook books will be thinking “the idiot! It’s the Accomplisht Cook by Robert May that he is looking for.” But no, it’s not there. I have looked and looked; through my own collection as well as the internet and I cannot find these blessed chickens or turnips anywhere. If anyone can help me out here, I’d be most grateful.

Anyway, let’s get on with the recipe. Poached chicken is served here with turnips in a creamy and tart sauce. Many things are served as a hash in old books as well as new. In this case, a hash is essentially meat served with some vegetables. As we go on through time, a hash becomes more of a left-over dish, such as the famous corned beef hash.

Along with the hashed chickens, I served up some quinces roasted up with butter, sugar and honey; a typical way of cooking them in the mid-seventeenth century. I couldn’t do a dinner party through time without including the delicious quince.

hashed chickens

One last thing before I give you the recipe – use good quality truly free-range chickens. A mass-produced supermarket bird (even a free-range one) will not cut the mustard. I got my chicken, via my local butcher, from the very excellent Packington. Ask your butcher for the nearest similar supplier to you. They do cost quite a lot more, but it is well worth it, and you can certainly tell by the quality of the cooking liquor from poaching the chickens. It makes the base of a delicious soup, so on no account throw it away!

Right, on we go…

For the chickens:

2 free-range large chickens, e.g. from Packingham

2 onions, quartered

2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped

4 sticks celery, coarsely chopped

1 fennel bulb, coarsely chopped

bouquet garni of bay leaves, thyme, rosemary

1 tsp black peppercorns

blade of mace

2 tsp salt

For the quinces:

6 good-sized quinces, peeled, cored and quartered

6 knobs of butter

1 tbs sugar

1 tbs honey

For the turnips:

1 kg turnips, peeled and cut into 2cm/1 inch cubes

100g butter

chicken or vegetable stock

75ml white wine or cider vinegar

1 tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

¼ tsp each ground black pepper and ground ginger

2 egg yolks

150ml double cream

Garnish: thinly sliced toast

 

It looks quite a list of ingredients here, but it’s actually pretty straight-forward. Don’t worry if some things are ready before others – everything can be kept warm under foil or in a low oven.

Start by placing all of the ingredients for the turnips, except for the cream and egg yolks, in a saucepan, adding just enough stock to almost cover them. Cover, and cook on a bare simmer for around 2 hours until very tender. Next, strain the cooking liquor into another saucepan over a low heat. Beat together the yolks and cream and pour into strained liquor, whisking all the time. The sauce with thicken as you whisk. Whatever you do, do not allow the sauce to boil. Return the sauce to the turnips.

During the 2 hours the turnips cook, get on with the other elements of the dish. Lower your chickens, which you might like to quarter first, into a deep stock pot. Get them tightly-packed and snug. Tuck in the vegetables, herbs and spices. Pour in enough water so that it almost covers everything. Pop on the lid and slowly bring to a simmer; let it plop and gurgle only a little. Check a leg after 35 minutes, if it’s nice and tender, you are done. If you are using a really free-range chicken, it may take a little longer.

As you wait for the chicken and turnips to cook, you can get on with the roast quince. Arrange them in an ovenproof dish and coat them in the sugar and honey. Place knobs of butter between the quince pieces. Roast in a moderate oven, around 180⁰C, until tender; around 20-30 minutes. Make sure you turn them every now and again. When ready, keep warm under foil.

Arrange the chicken meat on or off the bone as you prefer with the turnips and quinces all around. Pour over some sauce and tuck in the toast. Serve extra sauce is boats or jugs.

 

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Dulse

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The Dulse Gatherers by William Marshall Brown, 1863-1936

Nobody really eats dulse, or any other seaweed for that matter, in England these days, though they used to. It is a pity because I do like the stuff. It is eaten in Ireland and parts of Scotland still; I ask friends to bring back a bag of it whenever they cross the seas. I recently received a bag from my friend Hugh.

Dulse had been eaten for over one thousand years in North-Western Europe, the ancient Celtic Warriors of old ate dulse as they were marching, and during the seventeenth century British sailors ate it to prevent scurvy (although it was originally used as an alternative to chewing tobacco). Even today, its healthful properties are noted; my friend Evelyn from Ballymena, Northern Island tells me:

When I was pregnant, the midwife thought I was very healthy as my blood pressure and iron levels were so good. Iron goes up to 17 mg/dl max but I was the first person she’d seen that had 15 – apparently quite unheard of for a lady, especially a pregnant lady! We put it down to the dulse (nothing else remotely healthy going on at that time in my diet), and she’s been recommending it to everyone.

Its popularity in Ireland as well as Scotland led to dulse being popular in the USA too when they emigrated over the Pond, although none of my American friends seem to have heard of it.

The dulse industry has obviously died a bit of a death in England, and the rest of the UK and Ireland, compared to days of yore. Charles Dickens, writing in 1858, reminisces about childhood holidays in Aberdeen where there were often over a dozen ‘dulse-wives’ selling dulse:

[O]f all the figures on the Castlegate, none where more picturesque than the dulse-wives. They sat in a row on little wooden stools, with their wicker creels placed before them on the granite paving stones. Dressed in clean white mutches, or caps, with silk-hankerchiefs spread over their breasts, and blue stuff wrappers and petticoats, the ruddy and sonsie dulse-women looked the types of health and strength… Many a time, where my whole weekly income was a halfpenny, a Friday’s bawbee, I have expended it on dulse, in preference to apples, pears, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, wild peas and sugar-sticks.

He recalls a conversation:

A young one would say: “Come to me, bonnie laddie, and I’ll gie ye mair for yer bawbee than any o’ them.”

An old one would say: “Come to me, bonnie laddie, and I’ll tell what like yer wife will be.”

“Yer dinner ken yerself.”

“Hoot aye – I ken brawly: she’ll hae a head and feet, an mou’, and eyen, and may be a nose, and will be as auld as me, if she lives as lang.”

“Aye: but ye gie me very little dulse for my bawbee.”

“Aye,” replies the honest woman, adding another handful, “but sic a wife is weel worth mair siller.”

The dulse-wives exploded into laughter, when the woman suggested some one like herself, as the ideal wife which youth is doomed always to pursue and never to attain.

Oh! those dulse-wives.

My friend Evelyn reminisces:

It comes with shells and little crustaceans on it; my friend Maisie used to spend hours ‘cleaning’ dulse & would then give me nice little bags with no icky bits on them. Strangely it doesn’t seem to fall under any health and safety rules. Old men that live by the sea just grab a load and dry it on the rocks in the sun.

You can also buy it dried and flaked in sealed bags looking  like reddish tea leaves. Even better, of course, you can forage for it. I must say seaside foraging forms a hole in my knowledge. I should try and remedy that.

Cooking with Dulse

Dulse can be eaten as is, or used in salad and sandwiches. I personally think it is best eaten cooked so I’ve included a couple of simple recipes for you.

Mashed Potato with Dulse

This is a great recipe and much healthier than regular mash because it uses olive oil as opposed to butter. It’s vegan and gluten free too, so you shouldn’t get any complaints from anyone!

It could not be easier, really. First, scrub and then boil some potatoes in their skins without adding any salt. Remove the skins and mash them. Next, finely shred the dulse and fry it in olive oil – you’ll need about 15 grams of dulse for every kilogram of potatoes used. Of course, if you are using the flakes, you can sprinkle them straight into the hot oil. This takes just a few seconds. Add the oil and dulse to the spuds and mix, mashing in some extra olive oil if need be. Season.

Serve with lamb, beef, chicken or fish

Lamb & Dulse Broth with Dulse Shards

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I came up with this soup when I found some frozen lamb stock secreted at the back of a freezer-drawer recently. It draws on that classic combination of lamb and seaweed. This recipe requires the rock-dried dulse to make the sweet-tasting shards, but any dulse can be used for the soup itself.

Ingredients

1 tbs butter or olive oil

1 carrot, diced

1 stick celery, diced

a sprig of thyme

a sprig of rosemary

a bay leaf

60g red lentils

2 or 3 tbs dried, chopped dulse

1 litre well-flavoured lamb stock

salt & pepper

For the dulse shards:

‘leaves’ of dried dulse

sunflower, groundnut or rapeseed oil for frying

 

Melt the butter or oil in a saucepan, add the carrot, celery and herbs. Fry gently for 10 or 15 minutes until the vegetables are soft and translucent. Add the lentils and fry for another two minutes before adding the dulse and lamb stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for around 20-25 minutes until the lentils have cooked and broken up, thickening the broth. Season.

Meanwhile, prepare the dulse shards. Heat up some oil in a frying pan and when hot, throw just one or two dulse pieces into the oil. The dulse will immediately sizzle, crisp and change colour as if by magic. After just a few seconds, remove and drain on kitchen paper. Fry all your dulse pieces in this way, and break them up into shards and place them gently on top of your finished soup.

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To Make Vegetable Stock

As promised in my last post a good recipe for a basic vegetable stock which is definitely robust enough to be swapped for chicken or fish stock in any recipe.

It is hard to be exact when making stock because it depends upon the vegetables you like, the vegetables you have and what the stock is to be used for. It’s also worth mentioning that if you don’t have tomatoes, for example, don’t worry, just include something else to make up for it.

The basics are fundamental. You need at least three of the following: onion, leek, carrot, celery and garlic and then everything else is a bonus. I would say you should use at least 3 more vegetables.

The good thing about a vegetable stock is that because it is only simmered for 20 minutes you can get away with cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, or any other brassicas before they go all farty. Asparagus trimmings, sweetcorn, pea pods, and anything else you can think of all count. Keep your trimmings in a freezer bag until they are required.

The same goes for herbs: freeze parsley stalks and anything else that is looking a bit sad sat in the bottom of the fridge. Avoid mint as it tends to overpower vegetable stocks.

The spices I like to use are peppercorns, cloves and then either some fennel seeds or some allspice berries, but it’s up to you really; cumin or cardamom, nutmeg or mace, chillies or lemon peel have all worked successfully in the past.

Remember: the whole point of making your own stock is that you don’t get the same thing every time. I have never included a vegetable that hasn’t worked, even ones you won’t suspect like beetroots, cucumbers, lettuces and courgettes.

For more general information on stocks click here.

This recipe makes around 1 ¾ litres of stock.

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Ingredients

At least 3 of the following: 1 large onion, 1 carrot, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 sticks celery (with leaves), 1 leek (include the green top)

75g brassica – e.g. cabbage, broccoli, turnip &c

2 tomatoes

½ fennel bulb

Any other vegetable trimmings (if using all trimmings, go for at least 300g in weight)

30g butter or 2 tbs olive oil

2 bay leaves

6-10 parsley stalks

4 springs of thyme

1 sprig rosemary

6 peppercorns

6 allspice berries or a teaspoon of fennel seeds

3 cloves

around 2 litres of water

 

Begin by preparing your mirepoix; a mirepoix is just vegetables chopped very small so that the maximum amount of flavour can be extracted in the minimum amount of time. I go for the easy option and use a food processor.

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Heat the butter or oil in a pan and fry the vegetables for around 10 minutes so that they soften but don’t colour.

Tip the vegetables into a large saucepan or stockpot along with your herbs and spices. Cover them with cold water and slowly bring to a bare simmer. Try and make sure the stock doesn’t boil. Simmer the stock on the smallest hob on the lowest possible heat so that it merrily ticks away for around 20 minutes.

Let the stock cool slightly before straining it off. Avoid seasoning it with salt – wait until you’ve made the dish you are to use the stock for.

Your vegetable stock is now ready to use.

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If you want, you can reduce it, but you must be careful not to boil it hard as the subtle flavours will evaporate and the stock will look and taste like overcooked sprouts. The best way reduce it is to pour the stock into a wide pan and let it simmer and reduce gently.

 

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Stock-making, a quick guide

Stock is the body and soul of soups – Lindsay Bareham

I have been making my own stocks for years now and it is part of my regular kitchen routine. I sequester bones, meat offcuts, fish heads and trimmings, vegetable peelings and herb stalks in bags in the bottom of my freezer so that I can combine them appropriately whenever I need to. It’s a thrifty way of living; often making a large batch of stock costs only the price of the fuel that cooked it.

For those that do not cook much at home, stock-making is sometimes regarded as some kind of alchemy, yet this is a misconception, and indeed there are many very complicated stock recipes, but the home cook (I include myself here) need not bother with these. The chances are you have made stock several times and have thrown it down the sink without a second thought, because in its most basic form, the water you cook your vegetables in is a good, light vegetable stock.

From a history point of view, one cannot pin-point when stocks were first made, and one cannot unravel the origins of stock from soup. Take this example from Good Things in England by Florence White:

[The soup] is nothing more than the water in which young cabbage has been boiled…It is extremely good and delicate and tastes very much like chicken broth. It is not merely an economy but a luxury; one of the best of health and beauty drinks.

Wise and thrifty cooks throughout the millennia used the water that their tough meat joints were simmered in or their fish poached in and used them as the base of another dish. One of my favourite dishes is poached silverside of beef which consists of beef, herbs, a couple of veg and water. The resulting broth makes beautifully-tasting soup.

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Poached Silverside of Beef

Seeing as we are trying to be thrifty folk, I thought I would give you a quick guide to stock-making. As I have mentioned, it will save you money, and – like when you make your own bread – you will see how sublime it can taste. Every stock you make will taste a little different each time and it can be tailored to suit its use, e.g. add a few fennel seeds to a stock for a fish soup. Best of all, your soups and stews won’t taste of stock cubes. There is nothing wrong with having a stash of them in your food cupboard, I would do too, but with my very frustrating onion and tomato intolerances, I usually have to do my own. The point is, that when you use bought stock cubes, every soup and stew ends up tasting the same.

What makes up a stock?

This is the beauty of stock-making; there are no hard-and-fast rules with respect to ingredients.

All good stocks should contain some flavoursome vegetables and aromatic herbs and spices, often called a bouquet garni, as well as the main ingredient: this might be meat and bones, fish, or, more vegetables. The stock might be seasoned or enriched with salt, wine, soy sauce, Worcester sauce, tomato puree, mushroom ketchup or any number of other things, though it is usually best to do this once the soup or stew that the stock is being used for has been made.

Stock vegetables

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The vegetables used in your stock are often key to the quality as they add a lot of depth. The three basic vegetables used for most stocks are carrots, celery and onion, though I personally add garlic and leek to this ‘trinity’ (a trinity in five parts?). My general rule of thumb is to try and include at least three of the five. Anything else is a bonus, really. Fennel is a good addition, if used sparingly, as are tomatoes, mushroom peelings, pea pods. Lentils, parsnips and potatoes add an earthiness, but should be avoided if you don’t like your stock cloudy. Brassicas such as cabbage, cauliflower, of sprouts should be used very sparingly, especially in meat or poultry stocks that have a lengthy cooking time, they are great in vegetables stocks though. Vegetables need to be roughly chopped in long-cooked meat stocks, and chopped small (a mirepoix as it is called in the trade) in quick-cook vegetable and fish stocks. A food processor makes an easy job of it.

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Herbs, spices and other aromatics

Like the vegetables, the herbs and spices you add will depend upon what you have and they are essential. Must-haves herbs include bay leaves, parsley stalks, thyme and rosemary. Other herbs are great if you can get hold of them. Dill stalks in a fish stock are delicious as is a tiny mint sprig in a summertime lamb stock. I keep and freeze all my herb stalks to use later in stocks – there’s no need to throw them away. Must-have spices include black peppercorns, cloves and allspice berries.

The thinly-pared rinds of citrus fruits are also used quite a lot: a strip of orange peel transforms a game stock and lemon rind really lifts chicken, vegetable and fish stocks.

These herbs and spices are often tied up into a faggot or bouquet garni, though I never bother to tie mine up for stock, though I do for stews and soups where careful and efficient removal is required.

Poultry, meat and game

Use whatever you have – raw meat and bones, or bones from a roast. A little goes a long way: I have made game stock using a single woodcock carcass that still tasted great. It is best to avoid bones that have already been stewed as most of the flavour will already have leached out, but do add any left-over pan juices, jelly or gravy. Raw meat or bones will benefit greatly from a quick roasting in a hot oven for 20 minutes or so.

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The important thing here is to treat your stock meat properly – if you boil the stock hard, the tasty amino acids and textural gelatine will not go into your stock, but will either form a nasty grey scum or will be trapped within the meat. Low simmers and long cooking times are essential.

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It is best to avoid kidneys and livers in stocks, as their flavour is far too strong, but hearts, tongues and heads all make good additions.

Fish

Fish stocks, in contrast to meat stocks, can be made in minutes. Use bones and trimmings in your stock, but avoid oily fish such as mackerel and sardines. Mussel, clam, cockle or oyster liquor would be delicious, if you ever have any.

Clarifying Stock

You might want to clarify your stock after straining it. This is straight-forward enough to do and there are several methods. The quick method is to whisk a mixture of egg whites and broken egg shells into the hot stock. The eggs grab hold of and magically mop-up the cloudy substances. The slow – and best – method is to freeze the stock, tie it in muslin and let the melting stock drip through. This method makes beautifully clear stocks.

There are a few tricks to avoid cloudiness in the first place: Don’t use starchy vegetables like potatoes, lentils and parsnips and avoid peppercorns. The best way is it leave the stock be; prodding, poking and rearranging items is the surest way to cloud it.

Some stock-making rules:

  1. Start with cold water and bring to a simmer slowly. This is the most important rule of all. As the water gradually heats, the flavours leach out and don’t boil away and connective tissues break down to release their gelatine. The stock should never get hotter than a bare simmer; you want the odd gurgle, nothing more
  2. Remove the scum before you add the herbs and spices. If you don’t the scum gets all caught up in it, making a nasty grey mess. Skim the scum, then add the aromatics.
  3. Remove the layer of fat. Nobody wants greasy soup. The best way to do this is to let it cool and then scrape the fat layer away. If time is an issue, lay paper napkins on the stock’s surface.
  4. The amount of water you use depends on your pot. Don’t follow the recipe when it comes to adding water. Arrange the ingredients in your pan with few gaps and add enough water to just cover.
  5. Break the bones and cut up the meat. This increases the surface area and therefore increases the flavour of your stock.
  6. When storing stock, cool it quickly and keep in the fridge up to 2 or 3 days. Any longer than that, freeze it.
  7. Reducing stocks enhance the flavours and mean you can store more in the freezer. You must strain the stock and skim it of fat before reducing it. Meat stocks you can boil it quite heard, but vegetable and fish stocks need to be treated a little more gently.

Stock recipes

Every post I write that I write that gives a stock recipe or information about stock I tag it appropriately. Click here to see the posts.

I will post a very good vegetable stock recipe in the next day or so, as it is the most useful of all the stocks and I already have posted a duck stock recipe.

The best advice is really to use stock recipes as a guide only, use what you have to hand. Keep your vegetable and meat trimmings in a bag I your freezer and you’ll find that you’ll quickly fill them.

2013-03-21 20.18.50

Poaching sweetbreads in a light vegetable stock called a court-bouillon

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Filed under cooking, food, General, Meat, Recipes, Soups, Uncategorized, Vegetables

Asparagus

asparagus plate

A botanical plate showing the life cycle of the asparagus plant

Asparagus season in the UK very short, going from only May until June. Of course, these days we are no longer a slave to the seasons and can have fresh asparagus that has been grown in Peru or Kenya whenever we like. I love the stuff, but I do feel that our food loses some if its magic when seasons no longer matter. It is for this reason I only buy British asparagus.

Asparagus has been eaten in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome and has been loved in France for many centuries, and it is the carefully cultivated and selected French type of asparagus that made its way to Britain in the seventeenth century, a time of great ‘vegetable improvement’, and it is still grown here today. This does not mean that prior to this date we did not eat it or try to cultivate it.

The etymology of asparagus is interesting – many people think that it was called sparrow grass, but the upper class thought it a vulgar term and subtly changed its name to asparagus to make it sound more posh. This is not quite true: it actually began life as asparagus coming from Mediæval Latin, then it was shortened to sparage in Late Old English and then further modified to asperages in Middle English. It was anglicised to sperach or sperage in the 16th century, but strangely it was officially spelled as asparagus to be in line with Latin. The word asparagus became associated with “stiffness and pedantry”, and the “folk-etymologi[s]ed” sparrow grass arose in reaction to these Latin throwbacks. All this information came from the wonderful Online Etymological Dictionary. I love the Old English word – eorðnafela – sounds like some kind of elf queen from a Tolkien book.

There are three main types of asparagus which all come from the same plant: there are the common all-green tender spears that have very good flavour, and then there is white asparagus, made by ‘forcing’ the spears to grow in the absence of light by earthing up around and over tips. These are not typically grown in Britain, though you do spot them from time to time, though they have usually come from Holland or Belgium, where white asparagus is popular. Lastly, there is lavender-tipped asparagus which is simply white asparagus that has been allowed the see the sun again and just colour slightly. White and lavender-tipped are much more fibrous than the green but have a much more delicate flavour.

Asparagus is also infamous for a certain side-effect after it has been eaten and digested: the distinctive smell it leaves in our urine, which is liked by some, but hated by others:

[Asparagus] cause a filthy and disagreeable smell in the urine, as everybody knows.

Louis Lemery, Treatise of All Sorts of Food, 1702

all night long after a dinner at which I had partaken of [asparagus], they played (lyrical and coarse in their jesting as the fairies in Shakespeare’s Dream) at transforming my chamber pot into a vase of aromatic perfume.

Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Times, 1913

[Proust always overdid things – have you ever read his description of madeleines?]

The chemical in question is called asparagusic acid, though not everyone has the ability to produce it (though most do) and not everyone has the ability to smell it (though most can).

Proust

Big ponce: Proust

Preparing Asparagus.

It is very straight-forward to prepare asparagus. You first need to remove the woody part at the base of the stem. You can do this with a knife, but this involves guess-work, so it is easier to break the spears one at a time because they have a natural snap point where the woodiness lessens. You can trim the ends of course if you want to be fancy. If you have very thin young spears, you may not have to snap them at all. Along the stem of the plant there are strange little leaves that lie flat against the stem; you can remove these if you like, but I tend not to unless the spears are particularly thick.

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Asparagus and Eggs

Asparagus needs little cooking: just a few minutes steaming is required. Traditionally it is cooked in a tall asparagus pan so that the spears can be boiled upright. Here’s how I like to cook mine – it shows off the flavour of asparagus cooked simply.

Prepare your spears and place them in a pan in just a few millimetres of salted boiling water. Cover so that the asparagus part-boils and part-times. Check if they are cooked by probing the thickest part of a spear – it should be nice and tender. Asparagus spears of a middling thickness will take no longer than four minutes, and will most likely be done in three. Once cooked, Remove the spears and keep them warm, whilst you return the pan to the heat and whisk in a few cubes of butter and reduce to just a couple of tablespoons. Season with salt (if needed) and black pepper.

Serve on toast with some of the asparagus-flavoured butter and poached eggs.

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