A very easy way to get me in the kind of mood that makes me want to be unreasonably cruel to animals and homeless people, is to put me in the vicinity of this kind of exchange:
Person 1: “Wow, how do you get this soup/roast/spaghetti ‘al tretchirattollorlio to taste soooo amazing?
Person 2: “You know? I don’t really do anything – I just make it. Although I do find that if I just cook it at right angles to the meridian that bisects the setting sun and Longitudinal location of the lost city of Atlantis, it somehow makes it taste like Michelin-starred cooking every time!”
Person 1: “The Lost City of Atlantis you say?”
Person 2: “Totally. I can send my personal alignment guru around to adjust your kitchen-orientation if you want?”
Person 1: “Oh! I don’t know what I’d do without you, now lets get back to snorting this line of Knysna oysters…”
Person 2: “Yummy. Pass the cream-cheese.”
Oh. Please. Save. Me.
In the never-ending quest to add more flavour, depth and richness to our home cooking, there is a never-ending supply of TV chefs, supermarkets, manufacturers and people who need to flog books, all offering quick fixes and shortcuts so that we too can “infuse the excitement of the Far East into our home cooking!” Ready-made sauces, shortcut spice combos, insta-flavourings and “time-saving” techniques are everywhere, like Cell C sales reps. And people from Fourways. Which is not necessarily a good thing.
But there’s a problem, quick fixes always taste like quick fixes. You mouth can spot a shortcut every single time. And that’s mostly because every single ‘FLAVOUR IN A BAG’, ‘HINT OF THE ORIENT’, ‘COOK’S SPECIAL PROVENCAL WHITE WINE SAUCE’ that you can buy is basically made from the same three chemicals. My dear friend Rebecca (http://kahnage.wordpress.com) describes it as the Woolies SaltyCreamy Effect: basically that no matter what ready-made cooking aid or instant meal you get from Woolworths, it always has the exact same “salty/creamy” type flavour. Try it – it’s all just slight variations on the same thing. And as much as I love a certain reliability in what I eat – it really gets tiring after a bit. I swear you could smear my curtains with Heat ‘n Eat Durban Curry and yup….salty/creamy drapery.
There is no substitute for sauces made from scratch, roasts basted in real juices, casseroles and pies made with home-made concentrates – and don’t roll your eyes at me, they don’t need to be laborious complicated things. Because a lot of the time, what’s at the center of every amazing dish is really just a simple home-made stock. I’m not lying to you, it really is the easiest and most rewarding thing to do. Other than you know… winning the lottery or hitting a six or something.
Okay so obviously homemade stock isn’t automatically going to turn you into a domestic deity, but it’s a superb place to start, a little mental adjustment that basically flips a switch in your head that not all flavours come from MSG powder.
It’s retarded what a lift home-made stock gives anything you make, but it’s also retarded the mental block people have to actually just fucking doing it. I think it’s mostly got to do with the endless reams of cooking shows with fat red-faced british matrons droning on about leeks and rendered goose-fat and blah blah blah shutup shutup! At the end of the day, stock was invented as a way to use up all the crap that’s left over in your fridge (or the medieval equivalent thereof – which usually was actual crap stored in a bale of hay).
Withered carrots that you forgot in the veg drawer? Use them! The last manky onion that somehow was hidden under the sack of sweet potatoes? Throw it in! Just had a roast chicken? Keep the carcass!!! Because that’s actually all it is, leftovers boiled in a pot, seasoned and reduced to the point where you have a rich flavour-packed liquid that’s going to, repeat after me – make anything you cook taste like it was birthed by an angel.
Throw it in a pot, boil it for an hour, strain, pour into an ice-cube tray. Use at your convenience. Seriously. Want an insta-pasta sauce? Fry some onions, pour in a tin of whole peeled tomatoes, add three frozen iceblocks of home-made chicken stock, season with salt and pepper, and you literally have pasta-insanity in 10 minutes.
Please, try it. Just once. And if it doesn’t work or improve you flavours – feel free to call me names and throw things at my cat.
Anything including, but not limited to:
Chopped up onions, carrots, celery, garlic, bell peppers, leeks, artichokes (although if you’ve left those lying around until all they’re good for is stock you deserve to be beaten with a sharp stick), roast chicken or fish carcass, herbs (dried ones are fine – thyme, oreganum, parsley, marjorum, bay leaves), salt, a sprinkle of whole peppercorns, and my secret ingredient – a teaspoon of hot English mustard.
What to do:
Throw it in a pot, fill with water, bring it a boil and then lower the temperature to a gentle simmer and leave it or about an hour and half – topping up with water if needed.
Let it cool – and then strain the liquid through a sieve or colander into ice-trays and store in the freezer. Use it for pasta sauces, potato bakes, roasts, stir-fries, roasted vegetables, soups, pies – anything. And if you can’t taste the added silky depth in what you’re making – I’ll eat this webpage.