How does one make a chicken/beef/pork stock without the said chicken, beef or pork?
Sadly it is true. No matter how much you primp and prime your beloved veggies, they will never truly be meat – trust me, I have tried. However, sometimes you get a vegetarian dish that is so good, you barely miss the meat at all.
Now, to my omnivorous, meat-loving readers who may be scoffing at the previous comment: I know a lentil bolognese was never going to satisfy your craving for a beefy spag bol. But before you say “no thanks. I’ll have the medium-rare, rib-eye steak, cooked on the bone, pronto”, I’m going to ask you to give vegetarian dishes another chance. Meatless dishes can still be as flavourful, equally (if not more) rich, and still make you salivate. Oh, yes – it can.
Today, the proof is in the pudding (or shall I say, stock). This stock, which also doubles as a broth for noodles and the like, definitely does not lack personality. It is full-bodied, rich, and adds more flavour than you can possibly imagine to any dish you use it in. Oh, and it kicks the butt of most vegetable stocks I’ve ever tasted. SO LONG BLAND, WATERY, VEGETABLE STOCKS.
The tumultuous journey to the perfect stock: emulating a meat-based stock with just vegetables was always going to be a task to shake my bones.
The challenge: make a meaty, vegetable broth.
The Mount Everest: replicate that blasted umami flavour.
The obvious choice would have been mushrooms. Dried mushrooms, of course – for all that concentrated flavour. However, instead of using mushrooms (the ever-predictable, vegan meat-substitute), why not be a bit more imaginative? Why not make it even better?
My attention piqued when I found a recipe involving kombu, a dried Japanese kelp, but once again hit a road block: How many people (regular, non-food-obsessed people unlike yours truly) will actually trek through various ethnic stores to find a dehydrated sea plant that they’ve never heard of before with no guarantee they would ever find it?! Just like that, it was back to square one.
I still wanted to make a vegetable stock that would make all meat-based stocks quiver in their pots but in a way that anyone can replicate in their own home. So I started with the basics, the usual ol’ suspects; carrot, leek, onion, celery, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorn.
To amp up the heartiness and roast(iness?) of said humble vegetables, I pre-grilled the carrots, leek and onions.
Next? I looked to beef stock for inspiration- Beef stock has that dark, hearty and warming undertone. Oh yes, the ever complex star anise would do just the trick.
After an hour of simmering had passed, I stood by the pot and like a less glamorous version of a sommelier, I took alternating sips of the vegetable stock and beef stock; every addition to the pot carefully calculated. Sip, pause. Sip, pause. Think. Add. Repeat.
Now, for the life of me I could not stop myself from dabbling into ethnic ingredients once again. In my defence, some countries are just better than others when it comes to mastering the art of harvesting potent vegetarian ingredients. So, cue a dash of Korean fermented soybean paste to give it a punchy, umami richness that will make beef stock cry and then to finish, a little splash of Japanese mirin for a subtle sweetness. P.s. Don’t worry- you’ll find these easily in an Asian grocers; they’re a dime a dozen there. It is also worth while to check the shelves of your local supermarket, they should at least stock Japanese mirin.
The result: A multi-dimensional vegetable stock that is anything but boring.
Tip: Cook your rice, couscous or quinoa in this stock for some out-of-this-world flavour!
- 1/2 a large leek
- 1 brown onion, quartered
- 1-2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
- 2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 cloves
- 1/2-1 star anise
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 tsp peppercorn, crushed (or ground black pepper)
- A good pinch of salt
- 2 litres of water
- 3-4 tbsp Japanese mirin, a sweet rice wine vinegar
- 50g Korean fermented soybean paste*
- Grill your leek, onion, and carrots on a griddle pan or over a barbecue until lovely char marks appear.
- Next, place your grilled vegetables into a large pot with the celery, bay leaf, cloves, star anise, thyme, peppercorn and salt. Add 2 litres of water to the pot and bring to the boil.
- Once your liquid has come to a boil, turn down the heat, cover and let simmer for approximately 1-1.5 hours.
- Next, use a slotted spoon to remove as much of the solids as you can from the pot. Then pass your remaining stock through a mesh sieve or cheese cloth to render a clear stock. This ensures that you have removed any fragments of star anise or clove which won't be nice to bite into.
- Add the mirin and soybean paste to your stock and stir to combine. Then taste the stock - you may add a little more mirin (for sweetness) or soybean paste (for richness), to your liking, at this stage.
- The stock is now ready to be used but for best results, let cool to room temperature and then allow to sit in the fridge overnight to let the flavours develop.
- * Korean fermented soybean paste is not exchangeable for Japanese miso paste in this recipe.