Photo courtesy of TheCulinaryGeek and Creative Commons licensing.

A few weeks agoI saw something on TV that has been buzzing around in my brain ever since: a master stock.  Australia is running this fantastic show, Junior Masterchef Australia – an Iron Chef for kids.  These kids are amazing!  With one look and one taste, they recreate a dish to perfection – that day I watched them whip up poached pears with spiced cranberry sauce with vanilla mascarpone and a tuille.  Eight-year-olds!  Making tuille!  At that age I was barely beyond burning water.

As if that wasn’t inspiring enough, the show also hosts a master class, to teach another set of ridiculously talented kids how to become a top-grade chef by their bar mitzvah.  On the master class that I caught, the visiting chef briefly discussed his master stock: an ever-evolving batch of chicken stock that his restaurant has been nursing for several years.  The master stock is similar in concept to a sourdough starter, that develops a complex flavor over time, and similar in execution to a compost heap in that you add to it regularly, using whatever seasonings and vegetables you would normally discard from your everyday cooking.  I soon discovered, as I scrambled to the internet to find out what I could, that the master stock has deep roots in Asian cooking and some families have been nurturing theirs for hundreds of years!

Everything I’ve found so far indicates that master stocks have been kept in the Asian style, confining the ingredients to ginger, soy sauce, rice wine, and other spices often found in Asian food.  Sources caution to keep to one kind of meat for your stock, and chicken seems to be the most popular. Portions are pulled out for recipes calling for stock, but the magic seems to rest in the whole chickens that are cooked in master stock.  This serves a dual purpose of cooking an intensely flavorful chicken and extracting broth-friendly nutrients and flavors from the chicken at the same time.  Doesn’t it sound amazing?

I don’t cook Asian food very often, but I started thinking: why couldn’t this be adapted to the kind of cooking I do more often, which is based on local and seasonal offerings with a bit of a European bent?  Could a master stock be kept using the herbs I use most often: thyme, oregano, rosemary and sage?

Honestly, I have no idea, but I don’t see why not!  So when I get home (six days, folks!) I am embarking on my Master Stock Experiment.  I’m going to keep a stock going for about 4-8 weeks, adding to it the odds and ends of vegetables and herbs used throughout the week, plus chicken bones and, once a week, a whole chicken.  Can I create a rich, complex, flavorful stock?  Or will it end up muddy from too many competing flavors?  There’s only one way to find out.

If you’re sufficiently intrigued, simply Google “master stock” and start reading.  Stock, also called bone broth, is one of the most incredibly nutritive foods you can eat, and adds incredible flavor to so many dishes.  It’s definitely worth having around.  Sally Fallon’s excellent article, “Beautiful Broth”, sums it up nicely.

Have you heard of this, or tried it in the past?  What do you think will happen?  Any advice or suggestions to offer?  If you’d like to join in on the experiment, please stay tuned for updates and let me know how you’re doing!  Just click on the tag “master-stock” to follow along.

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