A master stock in Chinese cooking is as analogous to that of a sourdough starter and baker. It can be nurtured, raised and then maintained for weeks, months and even years. Legend has it that in China there are stocks that are hundreds of years old, passed down through generations.
The main use of a master stock is to *poach or braise meat which results in the stock imparting a multitude of flavours to the meat, as well as giving the meat a reddish-brown colour; a result due to the presence of soy sauce.
The flavour profile of a master stock is enhanced over time, the improvement of which is a result of the braising or poaching. There are some lines of thinking that states you should only braise one particular meat per master stock, but I have yet to find any real advantage of doing so. For me, the variation of meat types gives the stock a fantastic character.
Like many ancient concoctions a master stock is a formula that has an almost infinitesimal number of variations each usually passed down through generations of families. However, the base of these stocks have key vital ingredients, namely soy sauce, sugar, shao xing wine, spices such as star anise, coriander seed, cinnamon and Szechuan pepper, garlic and mandarin peel.
It is only recently that I have discovered the versatility and amazing character of a master stock and it is a now must-have stock in my humble kitchen.
To keep those nasty little microorganisms away from this liquid gold it’s vitally important that any impurities are removed from the stock once it has been used. Typically I will boil the stock for a few minutes after use, let it cool to room temperature and then leave it in the fridge overnight. I then skim away any fat and strain the stock into a clean container. If I am not going to use it again in the next few days, which is usually the case, I freeze it. It will, however, keep in the fridge for about 4 or 5 days but it must be used again within this time frame otherwise it will deteriorate and become unsafe to use.
Over time the stock level will reduce, mainly to evaporation. To replenish the stock I make another standard batch and then add it to the existing stock. This dilutes the complex flavour structure of the existing stock, but after a few uses it returns; and it also replenishes the flavour with a fresh spiciness.
The recipe here is the variation that I use, but there is nothing to stop you from experimenting and designing a master stock to suit your palette and requirements.
* The term poach means to gently simmer food that is completely immersed in liquid; the term braise means to barely simmer food in a little liquid.
Chinese Master StockPrint
- 3 litres cold water |
- 225ml light Soy | I find that heavy soy is too powerful for this stock.
- 500ml Shaoxing wine | Also known as Chinese cooking wine.
- 225g yellow rock sugar | Yellow rock sugar is a star. It adds a more subtle sweetness than white refined sugar and also gives the stock a glossiness which is passed on to the poached or braised meat.
- 5 cloves garlic | Crushed.
- 2 sticks cinnamon |
- 2 sticks cloves 3 |
- 6 star anise | For me, this spice is the essence of China.
- 5 green cardamom pods | Gently split the pods.
- 1½ tsp. cumin seeds |
- 1 tsp. Szechuan pepper |
- 1 tsp. coriander seeds |
- 1 tsp. fennel seeds |
- 3 x 5cm pieces mandarin peel | Most recipes ask for dried mandarin peel. I use fresh and am happy with the result. If you want to use it, dried mandarin peel can be bought. Otherwise fresh mandarin peel can be dried out in an 80 deg. C oven for 2-3 hours or so.
Add the water to a stock pot. To the water add all the other ingredients and then bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for no more than 30 minutes. Take the stock off the heat and allow it to cool. Once cool strain through a fine sieve. You can use it straight away, store it in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freeze it.