Posted in Foodstuffs

Ingredient: Instant Dashi Powder

Instant Dashi 1

Some years ago, I wrote a post featuring the Japanese soup stock known as Dashi. In that post, I mentioned that Dashi could be a simple mushroom stock, or a stock made using just the seaweed called Kombu, or, more commonly, a more complex stock combining Kombu and the dried, smoky tuna known as Katsuobushi

Anyway, in my Katsuobushi post (see the above link), I showed several varieties of the proper fish product and one the ‘instant’ powdered versions. I was, it must be said, a bit scathing of the latter, indicating that it wasn’t, for several reasons, as good as the ‘real’ thing, but, while that is generally true, the same can be said for homemade chicken stock versus one made using bouillon cubes or extract. One uses homemade if that is practical but, sometimes, especially if only a little stock is needed, using an ‘instant’ substitute is perfectly acceptable…

Today, I thought I would take a little more detailed and closer look at the basic product, and also do a bit of a comparison of a few different brands. There are literally scores and scores of different instant dashi products to be found but the ones you see pictured here are three of the bonito tuna based ones that I have most commonly come across in my part of the world… Continue reading “Ingredient: Instant Dashi Powder”

Posted in Recipes

A Port ‘Demi-Glace’

Port Demi-Glace 1

A ‘Demi-Glace’ is a very rich sauce that is itself used as a base for other sauces in traditional classic French cuisine. At one time, it would be expected to be one of the essential skills for a chef to master but it seems to be far less commonly employed than was once the case. Indeed, back in the day, when I had quite a few jobs in the food service industry, I can recall only one chef actually making his own. A few kitchens used commercially prepared concentrates in lieu of the real thing, and the rest seemed unconscious of its existence.

Part of the reason for the decline in usage is, I am sure, that the traditional preparation is so dauntingly complex as to be intimidating, and actually requires such time and expense to make it impractical for the home cook. The basic form is the result of blending reduced brown stock with an Espagnole Sauce (which is itself based on brown sauce), and then further reducing it to a thick ‘half-glaze’. The result can then be used as the basis for many classic French sauces such as Bordelaise, or Sauce Robert, or else added to stews or ad hoc sauces for a major flavor infusion.

Anyway, the ponderous and complicated process of Escoffier’s day is now frequently supplanted by methods that dispense with the traditional Espagnole sauce and either thicken the basic stock with a light starch, or else rely entirely on reduction to concentrate and thicken. Today’s post is an experiment I tried in my own kitchen using the latter process, and which produced a pretty decent result …. Continue reading “A Port ‘Demi-Glace’”

Posted in General

Chinese Superior Stock

Chinese Superior Stock 1

A good Basic Chicken Stock is essential in the Chinese kitchen but for very special soups and other banquet-quality dishes (Shark’s –fin soup, for instance), a very rich broth known as ‘Superior Stock’, or 上湯 (shàng tāng), is required. Basically, a Superior Stock is prepared using chicken, pork and ham, very often the prized Chinese ham known as ‘Jinhua ham’. A select few other ingredients are used, ginger and scallion usually, but not much else in the way of other vegetables are added. It is a very rich and complex preparation and a good stock can make all the difference between a mediocre dish and one that is truly special…  Continue reading “Chinese Superior Stock”

Posted in Recipes

Dashi – Japanese Sea-stock

Dashi 1

In Japanese culinary parlance, Dashi, in the strictest sense, simply refers to a stock typically made from seaweed, mushrooms, dried fish, or a combination of these. Unless the type is actually specified, however, the bare term ‘Dashi’ means a stock made from Kombu and Katsuobushi. This very basic preparation is used in countless Japanese dishes including soups, hotpot or stewed dishes (nabemono) and a variety of sauces. Accordingly, it is one of the very cornerstones of the national cuisine…  Continue reading “Dashi – Japanese Sea-stock”

Posted in Experiments, Recipes

Firepot Rib and Corn Soup

Firepot Rib and Corn Soup 01

My Firepot Stock, although somewhat depleted, is now almost three months old and is still very nicely fresh and flavorful. As I have done most of the experiments I planned for the basic project, and, since the stockpot takes up a heck of a lot of space in my fridge, I have decided that I am going to not replenish it any further but, rather, use up what I have left for soups and sauces.

The inspiration for today’s soup comes, funnily enough, from one of my Chinese cookery books. I say ‘funnily enough’ because there is nothing in the original recipe that one would normally identify as Chinese, being simply pork rib, sweet corn and potato boiled in water with no other seasoning than salt. That recipe uses quite a bit of pork, with the result that quite a nice stock can be formed just using water, but, here, I am just making a small amount and will use my Firepot Stock as a rich and ready-made flavor base… Continue reading “Firepot Rib and Corn Soup”

Posted in Experiments, Recipes

Firepot Stock Project Part 2 – A Firepot Beef Dinner

Firepot Beef 1

Today’s experiment takes place on Day 9 of the Firepot Stock Project which began with Part 1, the making of the basic stock. Part 1 required two days to complete, and on Day 5, after resting the stock, I brought it to the boil to keep it fresh. I also replenished some of the water and simmered it with some added meat, bone and vegetable trimmings I had leftover from a couple of other recipes cooked in the meantime.  As you can see, our stock, even before the next major evolution, is acquiring new depths and layers of flavor.

The idea, here in Part 2, is to very slowly simmer a small ‘roast’ of beef in the stock and, at the same time, cook some vegetables in the pot along with it so that we will, in effect, be producing a whole meal at once along the lines of a ‘New-England Boiled Dinner’ or a French ‘Pot-au-Feu’. The New-England dish is, of course, based on corned beef, rather than a fresh roast, and the modern Pot-au-Feu tends to be a ‘one-off’ dish rather than a perpetual stew sort of affair, but the general spirit of both is preserved here and thus I am dubbing this experiment a ‘Firepot Beef Dinner’… Continue reading “Firepot Stock Project Part 2 – A Firepot Beef Dinner”

Posted in Experiments, Recipes

Fire-pot Stock Part 1: The Base

Firepot Stock 1

My Chinese Master Stock and Sunday Gravy projects both exemplify a culinary process whereby a cooking medium is slowly developed over a long period by successively cooking various ingredients so that they derive flavor from the medium and, in turn, add their flavor to it in successive layers of taste. The Chinese and Italian recipes I played around with are both useful and fairly versatile, but they are also somewhat limited in application given their color and basic flavorings, and I have long wanted to create a more generic medium that can easily be adapted to a much wider range of uses.

The idea of a perpetual stockpot continually simmering away on the back of the stove or fire is as old as kitchens themselves and, in times past, a cauldron could be kept simmering as an ever-changing, pot-luck sort of stew whose ingredients would be replenished with whatever was on hand at any given time. Indeed, the French Pot-au-Feu, although now made as a specific meal, has its roots in the medieval tradition of a perpetual stew.

For this project, I am going to use a more scientific and less haphazard approach than the typical ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ affair. The plan is to build a very basic, but rich stock using various cuts of pork and chicken, along with select vegetables, and then later build upon it by using the medium to cook further dishes. I would have liked to have called this a ‘master stock’, but since the Chinese have already taken the name, I am going to give a tip of hat to the pot-au-feu and call this a ‘Fire-pot Stock’… Continue reading “Fire-pot Stock Part 1: The Base”

Posted in Experiments, Recipes

Roasted Vegetable Stock

Roast Vegetable Stock 1

Today’srecipet is actually being made as a pre-cursor to another experimental culinary project I have in mind…

I have added leftover roasted vegetables to the stock-pot on many occasions  but I have been curious about the results of building a stock entirely from such ingredients. Today, my plan is to roast a select number of different vegetables and then simmer them with very little seasoning and just plain water as the medium. My object will be to test not just the flavor, but also the color and clarity in a continuing reduction of the resultant broth… Continue reading “Roasted Vegetable Stock”

Posted in Experiments, Recipes

Chinese Master Sauce (鹵水)

Master Sauce 1 - 1

In Chinese cookery, a ‘master sauce’ is less a ‘sauce’ than it is a complex and re-usable, aromatic broth that is used to serially cook various meats and other foods, thus both giving and developing its own new depths flavor. With each use, the stock becomes richer and can be prolonged (as long as certain care is taken to prevent spoilage) for a very long time. Whether strictly true or not, it is claimed that there are master sauces that have been in continual use for generations.

The Chinese word for master sauce is:


The first character, ‘鹵’,  is pronounced ‘lǔ’ and means brine, while the second, pronounced ‘shuǐ’, means ‘water’. Together, the two characters are most frequently translated as ‘marinade’.  For today’s post, I am simply going to begin a batch but, over the next few months, I shall be using the result to cook a series of meals and will keep you posted as to the development of the sauce over time…

Continue reading “Chinese Master Sauce (鹵水)”