Water: the giver of life and filler of swimming pools. Tap water is clean, safe and a miracle of municipal engineering. I boil spaghetti in it. I moisten my toothbrush with it. However, to have a really good stock, you need water that doesn’t reek of chlorine. A basic countertop water filter like a Brita reduces much of that taint (for the true purist, a reverse osmosis gadget in your kitchen can deliver Michelin-starred stock). To be perfectly honest, I have cooked with straight-out tap water and the chlorine is not terribly bad in my community – just a bit nit picky on my part – it can’t hurt to take that extra step.
The next consideration is the vegetables. Here’s something interesting: a de facto vegetable stock, such as I’m discussing here, does not really exist in traditional French cookery. The French Culinary Institute text has no recipe for a vegetable stock. Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking does not have such a recipe. Nor does the Larousse Sauce Bible. The tradition from which many of these classics derive, treat vegetable stocks as something to poach fish in: a court bouillon. However, in these modern times of lighter, fresher cooking, a court bouillon is no longer merely an after-thought – we can, and should make it the star of the show. As it is, the classic French poaching liquor is indeed successful at capturing the most critical of base flavours; namely a mirapoix and a bouquet garni – the very flavours we look for in a good vegetable stock. To me, the following are absolutely essential to a proper vegetable stock (enough to fill a small to medium sauce pan):
- Half an onion, skin-on
- One clove of garlic, skin-on
- Two or three fresh bay leaves (please use fresh – they are so much better than dry)
- Two or three branches of fresh thyme
- Six or seven whole black peppercorns