There are two things in a kitchen that say “I’m really serious about my cooking”. One is a well aged sour-dough starter, whilst the other is a master stock.
Both of these things can, and do, last decades, and in some extraordinary circumstances, can be traced back to centuries. Obviously, through use and replenishment, the origins of the stock or starter are long gone, but history behind these culinary natural wonders show a level of commitment that goes above and beyond what the normal home chef might do these days.
I have been wanting to get both going on my kitchen for quite some time, and thanks to a mid-week discussion at work, today marks the birth of my own master stock. The sour-dough? Well, that will need to wait for another day.
A master stock is a flavoured broth that is used to poach meat; typically pork, fish or fowl (including chicken, duck, etc). Originating in Cantonese cuisine, it’s base is usually water, soy sauce, and Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine). To this liquid base, a variety of aromatics and spices can be added, though these usually include: star anise, citrus peel, peppercorns (often Szechuan), cassia bark (cinnamon), ginger, garlic, mushrooms, onions, and/or shallots.
My master stock consists of the following (at least for now):
- 1.5 litres water (purified or filtered)
- 1 cup Soy Sauce
- 1 cup Chinese rice wine
- 150g Palm Sugar
- Peel from 1/2 mandarine
- 4 x Star Anise
- 4 x Cardamom pods
- 1 Tbsp Garlic
- 1 Tbsp Ginger
- 1 Tbsp Chicken stock power (low sodium)
- 3/4 Tbsp Peppercorns
- 2 tsp Cinnamon
Bring all of the ingredients to boil in a large pot. Reduce the heat and simmer for another 30 minutes. Store in the fridge or freezer until next use.
Once used, top back up with water and flavourings as you see fit. Bring back to the boil, and skim off any impurities. Strain and store as before.
To use a master stock, it is heated in a pot to boiling before the meat is carefully lowered into it. Then it is brought back to a boil, and then reduced to a simmer until the meat is almost cooked. The pan is then removed from the heat and the meat allowed to cool in the liquid. Once the meat has been evacuated, the liquid is returned to the boil, and any impurities skimmed off the top, before it is strained and stored (frozen, usually for home cooks) for use next time. If needed, the stock can bee topped up with water, or dressed up with more aromatics and spiced, but the usage of the stock over time will gift it a complex flavour that makes each use more sublime than the last.
Keeping a good master stock is an investment, and takes a commitment that goes beyond the world of convenience we currently live in, which is a bit ironic given it is a very simple and quick way to supercharge the flavour in a chicken or slab of pork. So, take the plunge today and start your own master stock today. If you get a chance, let me know about your experiences, and what you put in your master stock to add flavour. And sometime in the near future, i’ll let you know how the chicken goes!
Enjoy the meal.