Susan Volland, author of Mastering Sauces, says making stock doesn't have to be complicated. "I developed these different mock stocks, infusions and ideas where in five or ten minutes, you can make a more complex liquid that will be a step up from plain water," she says.
Sally Swift: How do you define the term "sauce"? What does that mean to you?
Susan Volland: I think sauce is a global term. Sauces tend to be clustered as being very French. I think a sauce can be a flavorful broth. I think it can be a salsa and a chunky, fresh ingredient. I think it can be creamy or bright. But it doesn't always have to be French. That's the point of the book. They can be really easy.
SS: That's exactly right, which gets me to the point of this interview: your brilliant ideas on mock stocks.
SV: I realized that in traditional sauce-making books and lessons, in terms of teaching people how to make sauces, they're like: "You have to start with giant vats of bubbling veal bones. They have to stay on your stove for 48 hours. They have to be strained perfectly and reduced into this particular gel and concentration."
That is an intimidating spot when in actuality the value of stock is crucial. It's a wonderful flavor and liquid complexity, but it doesn't need to be that complicated. I decided to back way up and say, "We don't have to start with 48 hours and veal bones. We can start making liquids flavorful like you would a cup of tea."
I developed these different mock stocks, infusions and ideas where in five or ten minutes, you can make a more complex liquid that will be a step up from plain water.
SS: Give me an example of something that you would use to make a mock stock.
SV: You can use dried mushroom infusions. I think sun-dried tomatoes, onions and carrot tops make a really good quick infusion if you put them in water. I love shrimp shells simmered in a little cold water on the stove while you're doing your stir-fry or getting your ingredients prepped. I like an apple peeling thrown together with a slice of ginger. You can add that flavor to your pan sauce. It's going to be vegetarian. It's going to be a lot fresher and more natural than grabbing a cube or a can of something in your cupboard.
SS: One of the more unusual things that you talk about is cheese water.
SV: Cheese water is very interesting.
SS: It doesn't sound all that great, I have to say.
SV: Cheese water sounds kind of sweaty, doesn't it?
But no, it's something that I learned from the Modernist Cuisine team when I was testing the recipes for their books. They would grate beautiful cheese, combine it with water, cook it in a sous vide tank at a moderate temperature and then strain it. You'd have this wonderful liquid with all of those soluble aged cheese flavors, because cheese flavors are water-soluble.
I wanted to test that out with something a little bit more simple. I don't know about you, but sometimes my cheese drawer gets some dried bits and pieces that I don't get to as quickly as I want to.
SS: And those Parmesan rinds.
SV: Little Parmesan rinds, something that got a little more air than it should.
I take those and use that same concept. But instead of using a sous vide pot, I grate them up, pour boiling water over them, stir them with a wooden spoon, and let them sit for about five or 10 minutes. The solids will drop to the bottom of the bowl. Then you just decant or pour off the top. You have this liquid, virtually fat-free, cheese-flavored water that you can use to cook vegetables, you can add to your pasta sauce or you can splash into your cream sauce.
It's not as perfectly flavored. It doesn't have that natural cheese flavor. But it is a great way to get that flavor without the texture, with just that soluble flavor into your foods.
SS: These seem to me to be great opportunities to brew up some things that would be alternatives to wine for people who don't use alcohol.
SV: I've used tamarind water a lot as a wine substitute, a thin tamarind. You take tamarind pulp, and you add a little bit more hot water than you would use regularly. It's quite clear at that point. It's tangy, it's fruity and it has a depth of flavor. As opposed to using grape juice or non-alcoholic wine, it's something you can throw together that holds in your cupboard. You can use that to splash into darker foods, to use as wine in stocks, just to add that fruity complexity without having an open bottle or breaking open a bottle.
SS: It seems to me that if I open my cupboard, there are a lot of things in there that I could use to make mock stocks.
SV: Here's one of my favorites. I tend to go to the Asian market and just stock up on all this great stuff for a couple recipes. Then I look in my cupboard and I have an entire globe of dry ingredients in there.
We talked about the dry mushrooms. I don't usually use the expensive dry mushrooms. I use the big forest mushrooms that aren't too expensive. I also tend to have dried anchovies for making Korean broths and soups. I often have dried shrimp for Thai cooking and some Latin American cooking.
I will definitely grab those dried components in my cupboard and simmer them with a little bit of water. Then I have this wonderfully savory and very umami-rich cooking liquid. But I didn't have to rely on an instant product.
Sally Swift is the managing producer and co-creator of The Splendid Table. Before developing the show, she worked in film, video and television, including stints at Twin Cities Public Television, Paisley Park, and Comic Relief with Billy Crystal. She also survived a stint as segment producer on The Jenny Jones Show.