A quick-brewed infusion doesn’t require the investment of stock, and it is a great improvement over plain water. Most of these suggestions start with a single cup of water. Some ingredients, like nutritional yeast flakes and miso, can just be stirred into warm water. Others, like chicken and fish scraps, need to be simmered until they are cooked through. Use these “mock stocks” as a base for slurries, to liquefy purees, to moisten salsas, or to deglaze roasting pans or skillets.
Veggie Trimmings: Combine equal quantities of cold water and chopped vegetable scraps from the meal you are preparing—such as cauliflower or celery leaves, broccoli, chard or mushroom stems, parsley stems, carrot tops, tomato skins and seeds, pea pods, and/or clean potato peels—in a saucepan. Add a pinch of salt, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for at least 5 minutes. Strain.
Onion and Garlic: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1/2 cup chopped or thinly sliced onion, shallot, leek greens, and/or sliced scallions, and 2 sliced garlic cloves. Cover and leave to steep for 5 minutes. Or combine the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for 5 minutes; strain. For a sweeter flavor, sauté the vegetables in a bit of oil until tender before adding cold water. For a slightly smoky taste, char the raw onions and garlic directly on a burner or with a blowtorch before combining with the water. You can also add onions, shallots, and/or garlic to virtually any savory infusion.
Mock Beef: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1/2 cup chopped or thinly sliced onion or shallots, 2 sliced garlic cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon Marmite. Stir and leave to steep for 5 minutes. Or combine the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain. For a sweeter flavor, sauté the onions and garlic in a bit of oil until golden brown before adding the Marmite and water.
Tomato: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 2 or 3 chopped dried tomatoes (not packed in oil) or 2 teaspoons tomato paste and 1 slice of onion and 1 sliced garlic clove. Cover and leave to steep for at least 5 minutes. Or combine the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain.
Carrot: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1/2 cup grated carrots, 1 slice of onion, 1 sliced garlic clove, and 1 teaspoon tomato paste or 1 tablespoon ketchup (optional). Stir well, cover, and leave to steep for 5 minutes. Or combine the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain.
Ginger, Honey, and Citrus: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 2 coins fresh ginger, 2 or 3 wide strips of lemon, orange, or grapefruit zest, and 1 tablespoon honey. Cover and leave to steep for 5 minutes: Strain. Depending on the menu, you can add a dried chile, piece of star anise, or bruised herb stems for variation.
Chicken: Combine 1/2 cup chopped raw chicken scraps, such as bits of meat, bones, and/or skin, and 2 cups cold water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 10 minutes. Strain.
Mock Chicken: Stir 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes and a pinch of poultry seasoning (optional) into 1 cup water.
Miso: Stir 1 tablespoon miso into 1 cup water.
Black, Green, or Herbal Tea: Steep 2 tablespoons loose leaf tea or 2 tea bags in 1 cup boiling water for 3 minutes; strain. Try licorice, mint, chamomile, Turkish apple, rooibos (red bush), dried hibiscus (flor de jamaica), rose hips, ginger, or sage. Black teas can add bitter tannins, a slight smokiness, and astringency. Green teas can add a floral, vegetal, or slightly citrusy element.
Umami: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon ketchup, 1 anchovy or 1/4 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional), and 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce. Stir well and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain.
Corncob: Cut a corncob into 1-inch/21/2 cm pieces. Put in a saucepan with enough cold water to cover and simmer, covered, for 5 to 7 minutes. Strain. Use raw, cooked, or even lightly roasted cobs.
Cured or Dried Meat: Combine 1/4 to 1/3 cup finely chopped very lean bacon, prosciutto ends, ham, and/or salami scraps with 1 cup water in a saucepan, cover, and simmer for at least 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse until you are ready to strain and use. It will be cloudy.
Dried Fruits: Combine 1/4 cup chopped dried fruit, such as raisins, golden raisins, dates, figs, apricots, prunes, and/or dried pears with 1 cup water in a saucepan and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes. Strain. This can mimic the fruitiness of sweet wines without the alcohol.
Roasted Barley Tea: Simmer 1 tablespoon roasted barley (Korean barley tea) in 1 cup water for 5 minutes. Strain. It may be tempting to increase the quantity of grain, but it can give the liquid a more acrid, almost burnt flavor and is not recommended.
Fresh Herbs: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 3 to 5 sprigs dense or hearty herbs, like rosemary or thyme; 3 to 5 bay leaves; or up to 1/2 cup bruised tender herbs such as chervil, chives, or cilantro. Cover and leave to steep for 5 minutes. Strain.
Shrimp Shells or Fish Trimmings: Combine very fresh or frozen shrimp shells or fish trimmings such as heads, frames, or collars and enough cold water to cover in a pot. Simmer for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve or two layers of dampened cheesecloth.
Apple or Pear Peelings and Cores: Cover the scrubbed peelings and core from 1 apple or pear with water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain.
Anchovies or Dried Shrimp: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 6 to 8 cleaned, preserved anchovies (dried, canned, or salted) or 2 tablespoons dried shrimp and simmer or leave to infuse for 5 minutes. Strain. For the best flavor, toast the shrimp in a dry pan for 1 minute before adding the water.
Excerpted from Mastering Sauces: The Home Cook’s Guide to New Techniques for Fresh Flavors by Susan Volland. Copyright © 2015 by Susan Volland. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
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