The cheat: stock

Your stockpot is still in the cupboard and winter has depleted your supplies. Don't despair: there are ways to solve a stock crisis.

We are obsessed with making stock at home here at GT. It's dead easy, doesn't require a tremendous amount of attention and really does make a world of difference in all kinds of dishes, not least of all soups. But the day occasionally comes when you get caught between what you've had stocked in the freezer and your next batch, and the local butcher is out of their house-made stock. And on that day, we might turn to a prepackaged stock.

Your best friend here is your sense of taste. Open the packet and try the stock; if it doesn't taste good enough to enjoy as it is, you shouldn't bother cooking with it. In many instances water is preferable to bad stock.

We rate Maggie Beer's chicken stock, which has a natural flavour and a promising film of chicken fat on top. Stock from Moredough Kitchens is more readily available and has good flavour. It is slightly saltier, though, so be careful when seasoning. We also like The Stock Merchant's stock - it is nice and clear, with a lighter flavour.

Braised spring vegetables with parmesan
Serves 4-6
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, add 4 chopped golden shallots and 2 crushed garlic cloves and stir until tender (5 minutes), then add 2 bunches thinly sliced asparagus, 350gm broccolini, broken into florets and stalks thinly sliced, 2 diced zucchini, 120gm each sliced green beans, sliced sugar-snap peas and podded peas. Stir until just tender (3-5 minutes), then add 750ml chicken or vegetable stock. Bring to the boil and simmer over medium heat until vegetables are tender (4-8 minutes). Season to taste and serve hot with grated parmesan, sliced basil and extra-virgin olive oil to taste.

Barley, prawn and lemon pilaf
Serves 4
Heat 60ml olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, add 5 diced golden shallots and 2 crushed garlic cloves and stir until tender (5-7 minutes). Add 250gm pearl barley and stir to toast (2 minutes). Add 850ml chicken stock, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed and barley is tender (35-40 minutes). Add 300gm coarsely chopped uncooked prawn meat, 1 tbsp finely chopped chives, ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, juice and finely grated rind of ½ lemon and 1 tsp finely chopped tarragon, and stir until prawns are just cooked (1-2 minutes). Serve hot with finely grated pecorino to taste.

Braised lettuce, pancetta and peas
Serves 4 as a side
Heat 60ml olive oil in a wide, deep frying pan over medium-high heat, add 75gm diced mild pancetta and 4 thinly sliced golden shallots, then stir until golden (8-12 minutes). Add 150gm podded peas and 500ml chicken stock, cover and bring to the simmer over medium heat. Simmer until peas are just tender (5 minutes), then add 2 coarsely chopped baby gem lettuces, cover and cook until just wilted (2-3 minutes). Add 20gm butter, 1 tsp finely chopped tarragon and season to taste. Serve hot.

Chicken dumplings in fragrant broth
Serves 4
Bring 1 litre of chicken stock to the simmer over medium heat, add 70gm thinly sliced galangal, 1 coarsely chopped lemongrass stalk (white part only), 5 torn kaffir lime leaves, 2 halved small red chillies and 60ml fish sauce. Meanwhile, finely mince 2 chicken breasts (780gm) with ½ cup coarsely chopped coriander, 1 crushed garlic clove, 1 tbsp potato starch and ½ tsp finely ground white pepper in a food processor. Roll mixture into walnut-size balls, add to broth and simmer until cooked (8 minutes). Serve hot with steamed jasmine rice.

Hot tips
+ Veal, vegetable and fish stocks are all on the market, but we find chicken stock to be the best flavoured of all the ready-made stocks.
+ Some stocks come dry-store ready, but others will need to be refrigerated - make sure you double-check before packing them away.
+ A freshly made stock from a good butchery almost doesn't count as cheating. Ask your butcher next time you visit.


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