Better vegetable stock
Edward Schneider tells us how. The Eldest will like this tip—she loves her pressure cookers.
Tasteless vegetable stock: you’ve probably bought it; you’ve probably made it; and you’ve surely wondered why you’ve bothered. It has always puzzled me that a pot of vegetables and herbs have so much flavor when you eat them or use them in a stew, but when simmered in water yield such an insipid broth — even if you brown them first. But it never puzzled me enough to investigate the problem: most of the time I prefer to use chicken or veal stock.
There are, however, those dishes or occasions that call out for vegetable stock — a light risotto, a vegetarian guest — and salted water is a poor substitute.
A couple of years ago Jackie and I, having overcome our parent-instilled fear of improvised explosive devices, bought ourselves a pressure cooker, which we use mainly for dried beans. I noticed that the broth from pressure-cooked beans was considerably more flavorful than what I was used to, and I began to add additional water to the pot so that there would be extra broth.
Then the penny dropped: use the pressure cooker to make vegetable stock, and it would get more of the goodness out of those onions, carrots, leeks and whatever else went into the pot.
It really works. Typically, I lightly brown the vegetables — making sure there are a few onions and numerous carrots and a little celery; leeks are desirable and the tiniest mite of garlic not unwelcome — then add plenty of water and some herbs. I always use parsley, and lots of it, but I’m more judicious with thyme and bay because their intrusive flavors seem to be intensified under pressure. Same goes for pepper — just a half teaspoon of whole black peppercorns is ample. Use whatever vegetables you want: tomato peelings, a bit of bell pepper, the odd celery root or parsnip, scraps of lemongrass. But bear in mind that distinctive flavors will circumscribe the stock’s versatility.
And put in some salt, just a little.
Clamp on the lid and bring the cooker up to full pressure. Turn down the heat and let it cook dangerously away for twenty or twenty-five minutes (read the instructions). Then, don’t release the pressure unless you need the stock right away: let it cool on its own. Strain, chill and store or freeze.
It really will taste of the vegetables rather than the shopping bag you brought them home in.