A Salesman's Dream

It has recently come to my attention that I shouldn’t be allowed into shops on my own. Whatever the shop, I am a danger to myself (well, my wallet anyway), presumably brought on by the surprise of having money for the first time in about 6 years. At first I thought the problem was only present when I went to small independent shops. I figured I did it just because I felt bad about walking around a small shop, asking questions and then leaving with nothing. The other week I went into small wine shop intending to enquire as to the price of a particular bottle of white rioja. I left about half an hour later, with my bottle of rioja, a case of 6 other wines and a bottle of vintage port.

A moment of weakness, but I justified it, as wine is always a reasonable purchase.

Then the other day I went into John Lewis on Oxford Street to look for a new laptop. Being the ever inquisitive fellow I am, I wandered vaguely towards the juicers, mainly because I found it incredible that there were so many different kinds of juicer available that the shop had a whole wall devoted to them. I was immediately pounced upon and somehow ended up having a 10 minute conversation with a salesman covering the benefits of the various juicers, warranties and the differences between hard fruit and soft fruit varieties. It was part way through discussing which parts of the machine could be put in the dishwasher that I came to my senses, realised I had no intention of buying a juicer and excused myself. I am clearly the dream customer for a salesman.

(And whilst we’re talking of dreams, I recently had one where Whoopi Goldberg and I got into a heated argument as I caught her sneaking laxatives into my food. I think some serious interpretation work may be required.)

Luckily, my latest purchases have been incredibly necessary, and also pleasingly cheap. About 5kg veal bones, several calves’ feet, a few kilos of chicken wings and several kilos chicken carcasses. No, I am not creating a very real diorama of some kind of farmyard massacre. It is in fact stock weekend at the Lury house. Probably should have called this blog ‘taking stock’ or something – too late now.

Making stock is one of a few things that, with relatively little effort, can dramatically improve the food you can produce at home. The main reason that your sauce isn’t as good as a restaurant’s? You don’t have veal stock. Risotto not as flavourful? You have an overly salty, largely flavourless stock probably from a cube.

One thing that I find incredibly annoying in recipes is when you are instructed to ‘reduce until a coating consistency’. More often than not, the ingredients in whatever they’re telling you to reduce are some wine, stock and cooking juices. And the chef (I use this word loosely if these are the instructions they’ve given) has normally, in order to make the recipe more accessible, told you that shop bought stock is fine. This is, I’m afraid to say, not true. You can reduce a shop bought stock as much as you want, it will never turn into the consistency you are looking for because they simply don’t contain the gelatine required to provide that coating consistency. This is why the calf’s foot or pigs’ trotters are so important in a real stock. They naturally contain large amounts of gelatine that help to give the stock body, and when reduced, the smooth, slightly glossy texture that we’re looking for.

Recipes for stock are dime a dozen, so I’m not going to extend this post for no good reason by typing them out. However most recipes found on the internet only vary in minor degrees based on what vegetables are included etc, and to paraphrase Phil Howard, using one carrot or two isn’t what’s going to make the difference between a good stock and a bad stock, it’s the quality of the ingredients and the careful preparation that matter.

Whilst the cooking time may be long, the actual work time is usually no more than a few minutes, the rest of the time the pan can be left unattended, so the effort really is minimal for the rewards that can be gained.

So go forth, make stock. Thank me with monetary gifts.