When it comes to soup, you can use a stock cube, canned stock (though France doesn't seem to have that), or real stock - it will not change the passage of time. Stock will add depth and dimension but might mask the punch of your prize-winning produce. Water is sometimes enough.

Real stock however is a thing of beauty, to make and consume. If you are interested and think your soup will benefit (i.e. for Summer Minestrone), here's how I do mine.

N.B. If you make your own stock you will treat it like your baby. If you already have a baby, you will have difficulty deciding which induces the greatest sense of achievement in you. Don't be ashamed if it turns out to be the stock.

Vegetable Stock

Think about the soup/dish you are going to make. Adjust the vegetables accordingly i.e. root vegetables for hearty, winter soups; mushrooms for umami; ginger and lemongrass for Thai soups; carrots for sweetness.
  • Chop your vegetables - this will get more flavour going than dumping them in whole as with a meat stock. This one is not going to cook as long.
  • Fry off your vegetables to develop flavour at the start. Vegetable stock essentials are usually onions, celery, carrot and fresh parsley stalks, but go with your gut and decide if it needs to go in a particular direction, considering the final soup/dish you're making. How about fennel, leeks,  tomatoes, mushrooms, corncobs or peppers?
  • Avoid leafy vegetables, broccoli and cauliflower, beetroots and turnip.
  • Add peppercorns and bayleaf and any other aromatics like herbs, spices, garlic or ginger.
  • Add cold water to cover the vegetables. 
  • Season, bring to the boil, then simmer for about 40 minutes. A pressure cooker works wonders, but prevents you from tasting as you go along.
  • When you have the stock of your dreams, strain, pressing your lovely liquor out of the softened veggies, then discard the shrivelled soggies. 
  • If you want a lighter/clearer/purer stock, don't fry off the vegetables at the start, and don't press them at the end.

Beef Stock
  • Get bones. Beef ones. From the butcher or the supermarket. I got marrow bones.
  • Put them in a medium-heat oven for half an hour, then turn and add chunks of veg. I used peeled carrots, celery, garlic and onion. No need to chop, just hack and squeeze in among the bones. You want gentle browning, not blackening.
  • After another half an hour put everything in a big stove pot and add leek, parsley, bouquet garni/bay leaf/thyme, salt and peppercorns (steady on the salt, the stock will be used for another dish, so it's probably better to add salt to that instead).
  • Make sure you get any brown bits from the roasting tray into your pot (pop it over the stove for a bit with some water to scrape them up and get them in (they will try to stick to the tray in defiance but don't forget, you are bigger than they are)).
  • Cover with water (do not fear, nothing will drown, everything is extremely dead at this point).
  • Bring to the boil, skim any scum off, then simmer very gently with the lid half on for seven weeks. This time can be reduced to anything above four hours. I kept mine on for six.
  • Strain. I have a fine mesh sieve (this is a tip, I am not showing off). Discard everything but the glorious liquid you have created. 
  • Refrigerate.
  • The next morning you will find a layer of solidified fat on the top that you can easily remove. 
  • You may wish to strain again, depending on the fineness of your sieve. 
  • Behold your stock. You have reached the pinnacle of soup-making excellence.

Chicken Stock

See this recipe for the run down.
  • Start a day before you need it.
  • Keep your simmer very gentle.
  • Partially cover your pot.
  • The longer you cook bones, the jellier your stock will go; apparently this has lots of exceedingly good health benefits.  
  • Bend a tablespoon to a right angle to facilitate scraping off the layer of fat that comes to the top after refrigeration. 

Dashi (Japenese Stock)

  • For a couple of bowls worth of stock, add a couple of bowls of water to a pan. Logical, eh?
  • Put a large rectangle of konbu (dried kelp) into the water and bring to the boil SLOWLY. 
  • Just before it boils, remove the kombu and save.
  • Bring the liquid to a rapid boil then sprinkle in a couple of tablespoons of bonito flakes (fine, dried fish flakes).
  • Take the pan off the heat, wait for the flakes to sink, then strain the stock.
You have just made first dashi. You can use it for soups and sauces where there dashi takes a more prominent role in the dish. It is supposed to be pale yellow and stronger in flavour to second dashi, which you can now make with fresh water and the konbu and bonito from your first dashi.
  • Place fresh water and the used konbu and bonito into a pan and bring close to boil. 
  • Simmer for ten or fifteen minutes. Don't boil.
  • Strain.
This second extraction is supposed to be cloudy and lighter in flavour, and therefore used in dishes with stronger flavours where the dashi provides the background.

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