Don’t Discard The Bones

You don’t really need good stocks in your kitchen, just like you don’t really need flowers in your garden or tickets to the Grand Final, or an opinion on the Mabo judgement or the Australian Republic. Life goes on. It’s just a little bit different.

I have tended away from making stocks in the past for a couple of life-threatening reasons. One, I’d rarely had the spare time to be chopping and roasting and watching the bubbles gently touch the surface; two, stock-making tends to be something to do with routine, rather than creativity. It’s a bit like making green with paints: no matter what, you do you need blue and yellow. Same with stocks. You need water, and vegetables, often bones, and time. You can solve each of these problems with the pressure cooker. Like a steam train it achieves brilliantly, yet it makes you sit back and enjoy.

You can take your mind and spirit inside the pressure cooker and think of the wheels of creative processes at work. This is old technology, but technology which remains unchallenged by the new. So, you can be shonky with the routine, and allow the pressure and the vacuum to hold in as much goodness as you put into the pot. Nothing escapes. All the flavours are held together, compressed. You start with a litre of water, and you finish with almost a litre of the most intensely flavoured stock you can imagine, and all of it in no more than half an hour. Right now, I can’t imagine life without this little huffer and puffer.

A simple stock, of vegetables or chicken or veal or lamb or shellfish, can add an inordinate amount of weight to a simple meal. Cook the right rice in a vegetable stock, and you’ve got a risotto that shines with the starchy flavour of the rice, yet is also enhanced by that subtle underflavour of carrots and celery, and garlic and parsnips and herbs. Cook lamb shanks in a thick stock of lamb flavoured with port, and you know exactly what you would order for your last meal on death row. Whisk a little butter and lemon juice into a thick veal stock and pour a few teaspoons about a heavily browned veal roast, and all you can do is sigh. Bubble steamed potatoes in a stock of beef and leave them be: eat them warm or cold.

Most soups need that middle flavour that comes from a well- made stock. You can make good soups without stock building up the middle, but you can’t make great soups. And when it’s all over, and there’s some jellied stock in the fridge, there is nothing better on earth than a chicken sandwich, ripped from your just-roasted chicken, warm, and covered with the richly flavoured, voluptuous jelly that comes from cold chicken stock.

A Meaty Stock

Fill your pressure cooker full of roasted shin bones, or feet of the chooks, and all the aromatic vegies you can find: carrots, parsnips, fennel, celery, garlic and whatever’s going off in the bottom of the crisper. Cover with water and a cup of white wine. Cook at full steam for 30 minutes or so, and allow the steam to escape. Strain and leave to cool, before putting it in the fridge to jellify. Any excess fat will sit on the top of the jelly. Remove the fat, taste and season to your needs.

Vegetable Stock

The finer the cut, the more surfaces the vegetables give to the pot. All that is missing from a meaty version is perhaps the stickiness.

2 onions, chopped

2 large carrots, sliced

1 parsnip, sliced

2 sticks celery, chopped

½ red pepper, sliced

4 mushrooms, peeled and chopped (dried mushrooms are terrific)

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 bay leaf




1 teaspoon salt

2 L water


Toss all the vegetables and herbs together, add the salt and the water, and cook gently in a stockpot for 60-70 minutes. This is done in 35 minutes in the pressure cooker, and tastes much better and richer.

  • Most stocks are made with the same routine: roast the bones, to enrich their flavour, and add the usual suspects, such as celery, carrots and parsnips. Cover with water, and cook until all the flavours you put in have been assumed by the water. Make your own variations. Remember the volume of liquid you put into a pressure cooker is pretty much the volume of liquid you get out. Evaporation is all but eliminated.
  • Once the stock is in hand, you know you’re going to have a very good soup. The next step depends on what you add, and don’t add, to the basics.
  • Great soups have great middle flavours: spices, chillies, citrus zests, fortified wines like sherry, herbs, chunky additions unrelated to the key player (for example, corn in a pumpkin soup).
  • Once you get going, don’t worry too much about recipes. Just write down those key breakthroughs that transport certain things to a new level. For me the best recent discoveries were carrots cooked in port as part of a crayfish torn yam, and quince as a partner to pumpkin in a pumpkin soup.
  • Cream enriches, and so does butter. Olive oil flavours, and so does parmesan.
  • Soups don’t have to be smooth, or clear, or chunky. They have to be as you like them.


  • Don’t get fancy. The fact is, a stock is no more than flavoured water. One of its by-products, when made with certain cuts of meat or poultry, is that the bones toss out their natural gelatine, and the gelatine is dissolved in the flavoured water, and sets. If for no other reason, that makes a meaty stock better than a vegetable stock.
  • Work out the vegetables that give you the best stock, at the best price. No doubt a stock based on fresh truffles would be pretty flash, but it hardly makes for good commonsense. So, when daylight hours start fading away, make sure your vegetable crisper is filled with celery and carrots and parsnips. In autumn, when they’re cheap, toss in red peppers.
  • The pressure cooker makes for the best stocks, no question. The flavours are compressed, squeezed to within an inch of their lives, and held in pretty much the same amount of water as you started with.