Sunday, 12 February 2012

Essential Cuisine Stocks

Without a good stock we’d be nowhere in the kitchen; a proper stock adds body, depth and flavouring, it is the cornerstone to many a recipe. Where would we be without a stock? No gravies, no risottos, no consommes...

In the past, nothing was wasted in the kitchen – huge pots bubbled up on the stove with all the trimmings  popped in to create the basis of dishes we know and love; lob scouse, Lancashire hot pot, soup. However those days are gone and with them the need to save every last penny. With long hours worked and less meals cooked from scratch, many home cooks find there’s no time to prepare this liquid gold.

Apart from a monthly chicken stock (family tradition) I don't have the time for stock making (ie I'm lazy) or we never eat enough meat to stockpile the bones for something like beef stock. My freezer’s already full to burst, so meticulously adding in bone after bone to a stock bag and then remembering to use them just doesn’t happen in our household. So it’s to the trusty prepared stocks, mainly cubes and powders, that I turn.

Usually it’s a Kallo cube – it’s all organic so I know what I’m getting and can eat easy, but it's a pain in proverbial to dissolve, or there’s the low salt Swiss bouillon for when I’m on a health kick. But a few weeks back an interesting parcel dropped on to my mat; a selection of stocks made by Essential Cuisine.

Essential Cuisine have been making stocks for the past 17 years, since Nigel Crane couldn't find anything on the market to suit his needs. The company has been selling mainly to professional kitchens and catering outlets, but are now opening up to the home market - their little pots make about six litres if you follow the instructions.

The first difference with this stock is the texture – it’s a very fine, loose powder with no lumps in or freeze dried vegetable bits. This means it dissolves in a flash with no loose bits floating on the top (annoying for a risotto or clear soup), plus if your seasoning’s not right you can put a bit more in with no fear of lumps forming or having to mash it in. Over the past weeks I’ve substituted the Essential Cuisine stocks and monitored the results, which I’ve been very happy with.

The veg stock is lighter than my usual two and has a less salty flavour. Essential Cuisine use celeriac in their stock and this flavour shines through rather than being drowned out by other flavours - there's also tomato and garlic; not traditional but they add a deeper, almost smokey flavour and a big hit of umami. There's also a pleasing ratio of oil - my other stocks have oils quite near to the top f the ingredients lists (meaning there's more in the recipe), but it's the last thing in the Essential cuisine stock. On an environmental note they use vegetable oil rather than palm oil as all my other stocks do (my issue with palm oil is enough to fill a blog, even supposedly environmentally sustainable palm oil). I’d say it was a little sweeter than my usual stock, but this wasn’t a bad thing; adding a rounded flavour to everything I made. Towards the end of the week I became a little lazy and started using the stock as a general seasoning to every dish I made. Tut tut.

I’ve never used a fish stock before as I’d usually use a veg stock, or maybe even chicken for a robust dish. Whilst t’boy was out I took the chance to cook up a squid risotto, not something he’d touch with a barge pole.

The fish stock is a bit of an odd colour, a dull dun pink; but this goes when added to water – the preparation you end up with looks a little like miso soup. I had worried this would be overly fishy, but the flavour was delicate and light with a hint of sweetness to balance everything out.

Making the risotto I was astonished at the flavour; sweetly salty, deeply savoury and a little fishy in a good way. Suddenly I was making restaurant tasting risotto in my little kitchen - a revelation! Towards the end of cooking the rice I switched to using the veg stock, so not to overpower the squid. This worked extraordinarily well, adding a little extra favour to the risotto.

Essential Cuisine’s stocks are brilliant; they’re very well put together, balanced and bring a touch of restaurant cooking to your own kitchen. The stocks are gluten free, low in salt, have no MSG and there's even a Halal range, so everyone can get in on the benefits!

Essential Cuisine - Website - Twitter - Facebook - Shop

Please note I was sent these stock samples for free, but it was under no expectation of writing nice things – I was just very impressed with what I received.

Ps check out the website for lots of interesting recipes.

Squid and Tomato Risotto – Serves 1 – Prep 5 mins – Cooking 20 mins

100g Risotto rice – I used carnaroli
200ml Essential Cuisine Fish Stock and 100ml Veg stock (or can just use all fish stock if you like)
One small glass of white wine (optional, I didn’t use as I didn’t have any in)
Half a small onion, diced small
One garlic clove, chopped small
15g Parmesan cheese (I actually used Gouda as I like the more farm-yardy taste, rich)
150g of squid (I used small squid tubes, but you can use more)
Left over tomato sauce from pasta (had tomatoes, roast pepper and smoked paprika in) or 6 cherry tomatoes
EV olive oil for finishing
Basil leaves

  1. Make up the stock in a small pan on the stove – you need to keep the stock warm so keep it on a low heat whilst you cook your risotto.
  2. Pop some olive oil (or butter) in a heavy based frying pan and put it on a low-middle heat, sweat the onions for about five minutes till soft. Do not brown them.
  3. Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes – do not catch or brown.
  4. Add the rice to the pan and cook for a few minutes until the grains are coated with the oil and a bit translucent. Keep on a medium heat.
  5. Add the wine (if using) and stir in to absorb – I just used an extra ladle of stock as I’d forgotten to get some wine in.
  6. Keep adding stock a ladle at a time and stirring in until all the stock is absorbed.
  7. Keep tasting the risotto and stop when there’s a little bite in the rice (al dente) and there’s a creamy texture to the whole thing.
  8. Take the risotto off the heat and grate in some cheese, stir, then pop a lid on and put to one side.
  9. Heat up your tomato sauce and while this is going on fry up your squid in a frying pan, don’t add too much to the pan or you won’t fry it, it’ll steam!
  10. Add your tentacles first as they take a little more time to cook, then add the squid and cook for about 1-2 mins each side. Make sure you keep cooking time short, but with the tentacles, get them to brown slightly as it adds a really good flavour.
  11. Taste the risotto and season as necessary (the cheese and the stock should be salty enough, but you might like to check). Add salt if needed.
  12. Assemble your risotto on a plate, tomato sauce on top and around, squid on top, then topped off with basil leaves and some extra virgin oil.
Please note, if you are using the cherry tomatoes; pre-heat the oven to 180c, put the tomatoes in a baking try with some balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil. Roast for 25 mins and then top your risotto with them.

Chorizo and Butter Bean Homemade Pot Noodle (inspired by Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall)
Serves 2 – Prep 10 mins – Cooking 5 min

Two nests of noodles – I like to use medium egg
Half a red onion or four spring onions – sliced really fine
Eight cherry tomatoes
Two mushrooms
One pak choi – sliced
Two small green chillies – sliced
Half a tin of butter beans (please don’t put dry ones in, must already have been cooked)
Half a pepper – sliced – or can used roasted peppers from a jar
Some chorizo, diced – I buy a whole ring and slice bits off rather than the awful supermarket sliced stuff
Some fresh parsley
2 tsp smoked paprika (1 tsp each)
3 tsp Essential cuisine veg stock powder (1 ½ tsp each)
½ lemon cut in quarters
Salt and pepper

  1. Get a container you can put all the ingredients in AND pour hot water in – we save the plastic soup cartons and use those.
  2. In each container add the stock and paprika, add the smallest dash of salt and a good grind of pepper.
  3. Add the noodles and break them up fine as you’ll need them to get soft with out stirring them up.
  4. Layer up the veg in each pot – I tend to put the denser things nearer the noodles (pepper, pak choi stems) and the more delicate stuff at the top ie parsley leaves and the tops of the pak choi.
  5. Add your butter beans, chorizo and lemon and pop the lid on.
  6. When you want it, add hot water to the top, put the lid on, leave for five mins, stir, squeeze in the lemon and then eat.
  7. Be careful of the chilli when you’re chomping down and take out if needed!
This can be amended to suit any tastes or any veg you have in the fridge. We often cook extra salmon and have a salmon ramen the next day, or go French and put in left over roast chicken and roasted garlic. Have fun!

1 comment:

  1. I always used Essential Cuisine Stocks which came in a plastic pouch. Recently Ive been unable to find these in my supermarket at Victoria Park Auckland. To my horror I was told they are no longer being made! Are the little pots of powder you mention, a more recent product?