One of the most basic, yet most important ingredients in any kitchen has to be Stock.
From Gravy to Soup, Sauce to Stew, a good quality stock is the base of so many great dishes, yet far too often its an ingredient that is overlooked or taken for granted.
Now I love nothing more than to cook with a stock that I have produced myself. Slowly cooking out the bones to produce a flavoursome broth that makes the most beautiful Gravy, but lets face it, who on a Wednesday night at home, has time to produce a beef stock with which to make a cottage pie?!
For years, Essential Cuisine has been supplying the catering trade with good quality stock mixes and now one of their newest ingredients is available to the home cook. I was sent a pack of four stock concentrates, 1 each of their Beef, Chicken, Lamb and Vegetable Stock, so that I could review them for this blog.
The stocks come as individual 150ml bottles at around £3.45 each, or as a complete pack of 4 at £13.50. They have a shelf life of 4 months, although I can hardly see them lasting that long as they are just so versatile.
I started off my test with the Vegetable Stock. adding 4 teaspoons (20ml) of the concentrate to a litre of water with diced potato, carrot, swede and coriander. Within 30 mins I had produced a rich and flavoursome vegetable soup. It needed no other seasoning other than a little pepper. I’m not usually a big Vegetable Stock person, however I have to say this was a tasty treat.
Next I made up a Red Wine Jus to go with a Lamb Dish. Rather than adding stock to the Jus and reducing further, I simply added the Lamb Stock Concentrate directly into the reduction. Not only was it perfect to drizzle over my dish, but it was also quicker than having to reduce it even further. I can really see the concentrates being added to loads of dishes in the future, including Spaghetti Bolognese and cottage pie, with just a simple squirt adding a new depth of flavour, with no hassle whatsoever.
Another dish that I really love to make is Fondant Potatoes. Those soft and buttery spuds, bursting with flavour, having been slow cooked in stock. Like so many dishes, the quality of stock really makes a difference to the taste of this final dish and in the past I have found many stock cubes/’pots’ to be un-natural tasting and quite salty.
To make the perfect Fondant Potato I simply cut the potatoes into cylinders, soak to remove excess starch and then pat dry.
I melt 25g of butter with a little rapeseed oil (The oil helps to prevent the butter from burning)
When the butter is frothing gently, place the potatoes into the pan and cook gently for 10 mins.
While cooking place 2 teaspoons of Essential Cuisine Chicken Stock into 150ml of hot water.
Turn the potatoes and spoon the butter over the top of the potatoes – they should be golden brown on top.
Add the stock into the pan and place the whole dish into a preheated oven at 180 deg (Fan) for 30 mins.
Serve immediately for a soft, indulgent and full of flavour potato.
Orzo is a small pasta which resembles a large grain of rice, used in Greek Dishes such as Youvetsi (A Greek Stew), it’s flavour is dependant on a good stock, not too different to a Risotto.
Brown some Chicken Thighs and put to one side, Fry off some Onion and Garlic and add the browned chicken, add Cherry Tomato’s and mix through. Add 100ml of stock (I’ve made up 400 ml of stock using 400ml of water and 4 teaspoon of Essential Cuisine Chicken Stock)
Place in the oven for 30 mins at 180 deg, remove and add the remaining stock – add 250g of Orzo Pasta, some chopped Parsley and put back in the oven for 20 mins.
Take out and serve
The real test for a stock, in my personal opinion, is a good gravy.
I make a paste of flour and meat fat from the cooking of whichever meat, and add a stock made with the essential cuisine concentrate. The first Gravy I’ve tried is Chicken. Heating on a medium heat the stock reduces and thickens, producing a glossy, rich tasting delight.
I have been using the Stock Concentrates from Essential Cuisine for just over a week and I’m already wondering how I ever lived without it. Having tried so many others in the past, this is a real winner.
I shall update the blog in another couple of weeks after testing them all a little further – but so far, its a double thumbs up from me.
Stockists are currently limited to some Booths Stores, Lakeland or online from one of my favourite online stockists Sous Chef
Or find out more about Essential Cuisine for the home cook, check out their website here