Before you begin

Mum’s letter to us

I thought tonight was appropriate to share mum’s letter which accompanied each of our first versions of the Never Ending Cookbook. Given it was written on Christmas Day 1999, I can well imagine it being sometime past middnight (since this first edition was wrapped and ready on Christmas morning), her sitting with a Scotch on one side, ashtray on the other in her study and typing out these words of wisdom.

I’m full of admiration for her insights into fads and phases and I can just imagine what she would think of us all with our slow cookers and Thermomixes!

The original word document is long since gone from the computer – a virus took out her entire hard drive shortly after she died, so my apologies for the scan. Having her ‘mum’ signature makes it pretty special though. xxx 

LetterfromMum1022

LetterfromMum2023

Fish stock (fish fumet)

Fish and other seafood must be treated differently from meat or chicken when making stock. It cannot be simmered for hours as meat can, or the resulting stock will be bitter, and quite toxic. Fish fumet always contains white wine, but you can make it without and add the wine later, when you are using the stock in a soup or sauce.

For years we have used a scaled and cleaned whole bream or whiting frames as the starting point for fish fumet, but fish frames, particularly reef fish frames are usually available very cheaply from any good fishmonger. I have used red emperor, nanagai, coral trout and even Tasmanian salmon, although the salmon frames give a distinctly salmon taste.

50g butter or a little grapeseed oil
3 sticks celery
1 medium onion, chopped
Sprigs of parsley and thyme
½ bay leaf
½ bottle of dry white wine
Whiting frames and/or scaled and cleaned whole bream, or
1 or 2 white fleshed reef fish frames
Water to cover

In a large stockpot, melt the butter or heat the oil and add the herbs, onions, carrots and celery. Cook over a gentle heat without browning. Add the fish frames and /or the whole bream and allow the frames to saute briefly, turning them to ensure even cooking.

Add the white wine. Cover the pot and increase heat to high. When the wine has reduced to half its previous volume, put in enough cold water to cover the fish. Bring back to the boil, reduce heat, skim and simmer the stock for no more than 30 minutes.

Strain the stock through a coarse sieve, pressing the fish and vegetables with the back of a spoon to release as much flavour as possible. Return fish and vegetables to the pot, add a little boiling water and stir well, but do not cook any further. Strain this into the stock. Discard the frames and the vegetables and re-strain the stock through a fine sieve.

Refrigerate stock so that the fats rise to the surface, then skim. (Fish frames do contain fat.)

Fish stock will keep well in the freezer.

Roasted (brown) chicken stock

I have never had a problem with chicken carcasses being placed straight in the stock pot without prior roasting. However Philip Johnson included a recipe for roasted chicken stock in his e’cco 1 cookbook, giving it as an alternative to traditional chicken stock. Gordon Ramsey, the bad boy of English cooking is unequivocal. White chicken stock, he says, is anaemic and to give it more depth of flavour, the first thing to do is to brown the carcasses. (He actually calls it Brown Chicken Stock.) I am sticking with Philip’s  name, (because a sauce made from browned chicken carcasses will not, technically, be a brown sauce). This recipe is a combination of both of theirs, plus mine. They both include raw garlic in the stock and I believe that raw garlic gives a harsh, unpleasant flavour. If I were using garlic, I would use garlic confit.

2 kg chicken bones and carcasses
1 carrot, diced
1 – 2 onions, roughly chopped
a few cloves of garlic confit (optional)
1 leek, well washed and sliced
2 tablespoons tomato puree
4 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoons white peppercorns
a few parsley stems
1 cup of white wine

Preheat the oven to 200C. Place chicken carcasses in a roasting pan and roast until golden. Take care not to colour the chicken too much as this will make the stock bitter.

Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the bones to a large stock pot and add remaining ingredients, except the wine. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil, skimming off any impurities that rise to the surface.

Pour off and discard any fat from roasting pan, then place pan over moderate heat and deglaze by adding the wine and stirring well to loosen the sediment. Pour mixture into stock pot and continue to simmer gently for 1 ½ hours, skimming occasionally.

Strain stock, cool and refrigerate overnight. Next morning, carefully remove any fat from the surface.

Freeze until ready to use.

Chicken stock

Making Chicken Stock

Chicken frames, as many as you can comfortably fit in the stock pot
1 – 2 onions, roughly chopped
1 carrot, chopped
4 – 6 sticks celery roughly chopped
A handful of parsley
Water to cover
Freshly ground black pepper

Place the frames in a large stock pot, add the onion, carrot, celery and parsley and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat, then cover and allow to simmer over very low heat for 5 – 6 hours if possible.

Strain, pressing the bones with the back of a spoon, to release all the juices. Transfer to a clean container and allow to cool. Refrigerate as soon as possible, then leave overnight until stock is completely cold and all fat has risen to the surface. De-grease the stock carefully. This is particularly important if you are making a consomme. The stock should be a thick jelly. Reheat just enough to liquefy the stock and pour into airtight containers, some of which should be no bigger than 250ml capacity.

Freeze when cool.

 You will notice that I never add salt to chicken stock. I prefer to season the dish to which the stock is added.

Stock or Bouillon

It should come as no surprise to you that I consider good stock to be the single most important ingredient to have on hand in the kitchen; regardless of what the recipe says, a stock cube crumbled in water is no substitute and often adds unwanted saltiness. We are lucky to be able to buy commercially prepared stock these days and this is quite good. Always have chicken, beef and vegetable stock on hand, whether it be commercially or home made, and when a recipe tells you to add water, think about whether substituting stock would be an improvement. When Nanya boiled peas, beans or carrots, (never vegetables of the cabbage family, such as broccoli, brussels sprouts or cauliflower,) the water was always kept to be added to gravies or soups.

 Campbell’s make a chicken consommé and a beef consommé, sold as canned soups, and these are excellent, as in both the stock has been reduced to a jelly and then clarified. They also make chicken, beef, fish and vegetable stocks, which are very acceptable.

 Stocks add depth to dishes. They transform soups, sauces, gravies, casseroles and a host of other dishes from ‘thin’ and uninteresting, to tasty and satisfying. The three basic stocks are chicken and beef, often called ‘bouillon’, and fish, which is often referred  to as ‘fumet’. You will notice that a fish fumet is made using white wine, although if the fumet is destined to be fish soup, the wine can be added later when the soup is being made.

 The technique for making beef stock is different from that of ‘white’ chicken stock.  It is the same, however, for roasted chicken stock. With beef stock, the beef, bones, chicken carcasses and some of the vegetables are usually roasted with a little oil or fat in a baking dish for an hour or so before being added to the stock pot. This procedure helps to colour the stock, and if it is not done at this early stage, no amount of simmering later will achieve the same result. Veal bones are often used, either with beef bones or on their own. Mushroom skins or stems and brown onion skins add colour. If making an ox-tail consommé, the beef bones should obviously be ox-tail. You will notice that demi-glace is really nothing more than a very sumptuous beef bouillon simmered very slowly for a very long time until it has reduced to sauce consistency.

 Chicken stock is very easy to make, especially now that boned chicken breasts and thighs are more popular than whole chickens and most specialty chicken shops are trying desperately to get rid of the carcasses. Unfortunately some of them are mincing all their carcasses for pet mince; while this is great for the pets, it could become a disaster for cooks. Whole chickens can be used, but this is obviously expensive and quite unnecessary. If using a whole chicken, always supplement it with extra carcasses.

Herbs (handy tips)

Herbs

Milly* can keep herbs fresh for weeks. I was in charge of herbs on our last reef trip on ‘Taslander’, and no doubt will be again this year. Nobody could believe that they could last the distance. Because I have most herbs growing I tend to be lazy about storing them, but Milly is a marvel. First she washes them well, shakes them out to dry, then leaves them for an hour or so to dry completely. Then she places a double sheet of absorbent kitchen paper in the bottom of a plastic take-away container and adds the herbs.
Even Milly can’t help with coriander, which is the most impossible of all herbs to store fresh. It is quite easy to grow, but has the annoying habit of going to seed as soon as it reaches maturity. If you want coriander on hand at all times, chop it finely, and pack it into ice block trays. Cover with water and freeze. When frozen, remove the blocks of frozen coriander from the ice block trays, place in plastic bags and seal. The ice-blocks will keep indefinitely in the freezer.
Kaffir lime leaves, called ‘makrut’ in Thailand, are the peculiar double leaves of the Thai lime tree. They are available dried from any good Asian supermarket, but if you are lucky enough to have some friends (like Bob and Anne Douglass) with a kaffir lime tree, ask them if they could spare some leaves and simply freeze them in zip-up plastic bags.
A lot of people seem to think that dill and fennel are the same plant. They are not, although both have the same feathery tops and both have the same slightly aniseed taste. If planted together they will cross-fertilise and you will end up with either all dill or all fennel. I can’t remember which. If you don’t believe me, dill is Anethum graveolens, fennel is Foeniculum vulgare dulce. Why two such unrelated plants are able to cross-pollinate is beyond me. Fennel has a swollen bulb-like base, which tastes of aniseed; it is sometimes sold as ‘aniseed’ rather than fennel.
Greek basil is not the same as sweet basil. Greek basil is a perennial plant that will grow easily from a cutting. Sweet basil is used extensively in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. It has a larger leaf than Greek basil and is an annual, not a perennial, and can only be grown from seed. Never use Greek basil in Thai or Vietnamese cooking.

*Publishers note: Milly was mum’s mum who was given the nickname Milly for Mother-In-Law by my dad. I was about 4 before I realised that  she was my grandma because I only knew her as Milly. We called her that all her life. x

Photo: frugallysustainable.com

Before you begin – Shallots and Green onions

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Shallots, spring onions, scallions and now, ‘green onions’.  The word ‘shallot’ in a recipe always presents a dilemma. If the recipe book is written by an Australian, you can be fairly sure that what is meant by a shallot is a long green onion, rather like an overgrown chive. However, in an attempt to resolve an already confused situation, some Australian recipe books have begun referring to these as ‘green onions’.

A true shallot looks very much like a large clove of garlic. Also known here as a French shallot, its skin has a pinkish tinge, whereas garlic has white skin. There are also brown shallots, with brown skin. If you are reading a French recipe book and you have a choice, buy the French shallots. They are available here, but only at the better fruit and vegetable outlets. If you can’t buy French shallots, use small brown pickling onions as a substitute. Some Australian writers, such as Stephanie Alexander, have bitten the bullet and are calling a shallot a shallot.

In America, a shallot is a true French shallot. What we know as ‘shallots’ are called ‘scallions’. I do not know how this confusion arose, but I do wish somebody would fix it. That, of course, would mean re-educating every little fruit and vegie seller in Australia. Perhaps if the big supermarkets began a campaign, something might happen, but if there is no money in it for them, I can’t see it happening.

In this recipe book I have tried to be consistent and use the term ‘green onion’.