Master stock recipe

Posted on October 18, 2012

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As promised, albeit a little later than I had intended, here is my little write up on master stock. Quite a few recipes refer to it and a number of celebrity chefs have raved about its use. But what exactly is it? I didn’t really understand what this was until I did my own research.

Master stock has its origins in Cantonese and southern Chinese cuisine. It refers to a liquid that is repeatedly used for poaching and/or braising meat, particularly chicken and other poultry. It’s not really a stock in the conventional sense of a chicken stock or vegetable stock, although you can always start a master stock with chicken stock as the base liquid. Even its preparation departs quite a bit from my usual understanding of a stock. Unlike conventional stocks that usually take hours to extract flavours, a master stock can be produced in as little as 20 minutes, and its flavour relies heavily on the condiments added. Being Chinese in origin, shaoxing rice wine, soy sauce and aromatics such as ginger and star anise are commonly featured.

Once prepared, a master stock can be used a number of times. The theory behind it is that with each use, the stock’s flavour is further enhanced and over time, will intensify. There are stories of hundred year old stocks still in use in Asia. In fact some very popular noodles soup vendors across Asia claim to have a superior soup base because of their century old master stock. They just keep adding ingredients and diluting the master stock as required.

I don’t tend to poach meats very often, and even when I braise meats, I would serve the sauce with the meat so I haven’t yet acquired a master stock as such. But given my curiousity, it was only a matter of time before I attempted one.

There are plenty of chef’s recipes for master stock, including Kylie Kwong’s and Neil Perry’s as well as variations from other cooking enthusiasts. Mine has a similar flavour profile to Neil Perry’s one, but there are a few key differences in terms of how I’ve prepared it.

Based on a demonstration by Adam Liaw earlier this year, I started my stock by making a caramel with oil and sugar before adding the other ingredients. Don’t fret too much about adding oil in your stock, this stock isn’t for drinking and you can always skim off the oil at a later stage if you wish. If you don’t have one already, I strongly suggest you procure an ultra fine mesh strainer. This tool will be invaluable in helping you remove oil and other impurities in stock. I bought mine from an Asian cookery store for about $3.

In terms of preserving your master stock, after you’ve used it to cook meat, remove meat and bring the stock to boil. Skim off any impurities, strain and allow to cool rapidly. Once cooled, place in an airtight container and freeze. It’s best to use the master stock at minimum once a month. Even if you don’t need to poach anything, ensure you re-boil the stock and remove any impurities once a month. The stock can be diluted with water if need be.

RECIPE – Master stock (makes approximately 1.4L)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1L water
  • 200mL shaoxing rice wine
  • 200mL soy sauce
  • ~80g of yellow rock sugar crushed to powder
  • 1 clove garlic lightly bashed
  • 1 shallot halved
  • 2 spring onions cut into 3 pieces
  • ~6cm piece of ginger finely sliced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise
  • 1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns

Method:

  1. In a pot, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of sugar on medium to high heat until sugar has dissolved and forms a caramel.
  2. Once caramel has formed, add in aromatics to release fragrance.
  3. Add in liquids and rock sugar.
  4. Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer. Continue to simmer for at least 20 minutes to allow flavours to develop. While the stock is not intended for drinking, be sure to taste the stock and adjust sugar and soy sauce as required so that sweet and savory notes are in balance.
  5. While still simmering, skim the stock for impurities including any excess oil. Once cooked, strain and allow to cool.
  6. Your master stock is now ready to be used.

Having made and used my own master stock, I can genuinely say that it does make a difference compared to poaching meat in water alone. The master stock imparts its gentle flavours into the meat, leaving the meat flavoursome enough without requiring any additional seasoning. It actually works better than I thought it would.

It is a beautiful, as well as healthy, way to cook meat and makes poaching a lot more interesting than it first appears.  So far, I’ve only poached chicken in it, but in time will branch out to use it for other meats too. I’m really glad that I made this master stock and I am so looking forward to sampling how its flavour will evolve and intensify with each subsequent use.

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