Vegetarian Reduced Stock
copyright © 1996 by Tom Dowdy
If you are an experienced cook and often have guests over for dinner, it's only a
matter of time before you run into needing to prepare dinner for vegetarian
friends. Perhaps they are good friends, and over the years you have "wow"ed them
with your Indian Dosas, and your Hunan Stir Fry Vegetables. But then one day
your friend says, "Frank mentioned that you are a great gourmet cook. How come
you've never cooked anything French for us?" "Sure," you think, "I can do that,"
and invite them over. It is then that you realize that most French dishes (even
those involving vegetables) use reduced meat stocks as part of their ingredients,
and your friends are 100% strict vegetarian.
My goal in creating this recipe has been to duplicate the richness of flavor and
texture that comes from a demiglace, but without using meat. The result is a
healthier sauce, and one that is adaptable to many uses, with less of a chance of
clashing with dietary restrictions. In addition, because of the nature of
vegetables, this particular approach also works well for creating sauce in a
pinch. Total preparation time is on the order of two hours, which is much less
than for a traditional demiglace. While I won't pretend that this stock is a one
for one substitute, it does now have a place in my kitchen alongside other more
My first experiment was to use a standard mixture of carrots, onions, and celery.
I kept herbs to a minimum and used red wine for most of the cooking liquid. The
result was good, but too much wine threw off the acid balance, and not enough
variety of vegetables made the flavor too one dimensional. In addition, I had
only sweated the vegetables, which did not provide enough rich color and
caramelized flavor to the stock. A reduction from this sauce went well over (of
all things) a seared steak. But this was hardly the centerpiece of a vegetarian
The second attempt was much better. A more equal amount of water and wine made
up the cooking liquid. Leeks and mushrooms added breadth to the flavor, while a
variety of herbs helped to keep interest. Browning the vegetables prior to
adding the liquid also helped to give the stock a richer brown color and flavor.
I found that browning directly in the pot or in a pan in the oven prior to adding
to the pot resulted in the same final flavor. The resulting stock worked well
over grilled vegetables, and fish. I knew I was headed in the right direction,
but didn't yet have a stock that stood well on its own.
The third attempt let me refine the proportions a bit more, and I found that I'd
become adept at judging the color of the initial browning. For this round, I
made a double batch, with the addition of parsnips (another traditional
ingredient). The resulting stock was what I was after, and I prepared several
dishes that contained no meat whatsoever, yet all had a rich flavor and texture
to them because of the stock used.
Additional experimentation can be done with other vegetables, if you so desire.
Do be aware, however, that the goal here is to make a relatively neutral flavored
stock, not one that has a unique taste on its own.
Clarifying the stock
A traditional meat stock is often clarified prior to final reduction. This
yields a more clear sauce when the demiglace is used in it. I generally find
this unnecessary for sauces that I prepare, but decided to see if the vegetable
stock was adversely effected by this step. I clarified the stock using the
standard egg-white method. I then prepared a simple reduction sauce from the
resulting recipe, and plated it on white china. The sauce was clear, but the
flavor was a bit muted this is typical for clarified stocks. The result was
not unpleasing, but as with all stocks, avoid clarification unless needed for the
final presentation, or if you wish a more delicate sauce. Another consideration
here is that use of egg whites in clarification makes this option non-vegan.
Cutting the Vegetables
In recipes with shorter cooking times (as in this one), it is important to cut
the dice of the vegetables smaller than when cooking for longer periods. This
done to make sure that as much of the flavor as possible is extracted. When
making a traditional meat stock, I usually only cut onions in quarters. For the
vegetarian stock, I used a 1/4 to 1/2 inch dice.
Browning the Vegetables
As stated above, I tried browning in the vegetables in both the pot and in the
oven at 400 degrees. The pot retains the flavors from the browning, but does
require a large pot and some form of oil for the browning. The oven provides a
more even and controlled browning for large amounts, but you do need to deglaze
the pan afterwards to ensure that none of the browned bits are lost. In either
case, the flavors that result are almost the same so use whichever preparation
method suits your case.
This browning step is the most annoying part of the dish, because it is important
to yield a rich brown color. It doesn't take too long, but you must watch and
stir the vegetables to avoid burning. Those experienced with the preparation of
French Onion Soup know that it can be tricky to determine the right heat on the
stove and correct amount of cooking time. Only experience will help you here.
One way to judge if you achieved the correct browning level is to add the water
before the wine and judge the resulting liquid color. It should be the medium
brown color of a browned chicken stock.
Testing during preparation
To verify the flavor of the stock, it is best to taste prior to the second
reduction. The flavor should be that of a well flavored stock, with no one
vegetable standing out too strong. The most typical problem here is with the
onions, but the mushrooms as well sometimes make too much of an appearance. The
recipe listed below gives measurements that I have found work well, but you may
wish to modify them based upon flavors noticed at this point. Remember as well
that you are tasting an unsalted stock, and that the flavors will intensify in a
final sauce that has salt.
The color of the stock at this point should be a reddish brown. If it is too red
or purple in color, this indicates that the vegetables were not browned enough,
and the sauce may have a more pronounced wine taste to it. If you find the
balance already too acid, you may wish to add additional water. In extreme
cases, a small amount of sugar also can help.
The final reduction from this effort yields an intensely flavored stock, suitable
for reduction sauces, or enrichment of existing sauces. The flavor is wide (the
variety of vegetables and herbs makes it difficult to pinpoint the flavor source)
and deep (intense, lingering flavor on the tongue) this makes an excellent
springboard for preparations on top of it. In this way, the sauce is the
vegetarian counterpart to a meat based reduction. Nothing is perfect, however.
The sauce does not have the rich "mouth feel" that fat in a meat sauce provides,
nor does it really have a "meat" flavor. I, for one, actually dislike vegetarian
dishes that try too hard to duplicate exactly the flavor or feel of meat. I'd
rather enjoy them for what they are, rather than for what they are not.
Just how veggie do you get?
When asking vegetarian friends over, it is a good idea to make sure you
understand their particular leanings. Do they limit consumption of meat, eat
some fish, eat no meat products of any kind? What about eggs and dairy? For
vegans, these are out as well. In addition, people have different reasons for
keeping a particular diet sometimes religious or moral, sometimes health,
sometimes political. If you know in advance, you can plan a menu that all will
enjoy nothing spoils an evening like realizing that your hours of preparation
repulse your guests due to including butter.
Master Recipe for Vegetarian Reduced Stock
2.25 C Onions
1T Butter (or vegetable oil)
4 1/2 C Water
2 1/2 C Red Wine
1T rosemary (fresh)
1T thyme (fresh)
1T marjoram (fresh)
1 Bay Leaf
1T Parsley (fresh)
In a large stock pot, melt the butter (or vegetable oil for vegan preparation),
and saute the vegetables over medium high heat until they begin to brown. Or add
previously oven browned vegetables to the heated pot. Add the cooking liquid and
herbs. Bring to a simmer, skimming off any scum. Simmer uncovered about an
hour, until the liquid appears to be reduced by about half. Strain in fine
sieve, clarify if desired, and return liquid to heat. Reduce again by two thirds.
Resulting liquid should be between 1 to 1.5 Cups.
Asparagus with Vegetable Glaze
1/2 C Reduced & Clarified Vegetable Stock
1 bunch Asparagus Spears
In small stock pot reduce vegetable stock to between 1/8 and 1/4 Cup, until it
achieves the desired thickness. Salt to taste. Salt and Pepper Spears, steam
for 5 minutes until tender. Glaze plate with stock, arrange spears on top.
Wild Mushrooms in Creamy Vegetable Sauce
1 T butter or vegetable oil
1/8 C diced yellow bell pepper
1T diced shallots
1 C wild mushrooms (morels or shitake work well)
1 C Reduced Vegetable Stock
1/4 C white wine
1 shot mederia wine
3 T heavy cream (optional)
In saute pan, saute shallots and bell pepper until they begin to wilt. Add
mushrooms and continue cooking until desired level of doneness approaches. Add
wine and stock, reduce by half. Salt and pepper to taste. Add cream and reduce
again. Serve in bowls with toast points.
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