A Cook's Guide to Grains
by Jenni Muir
I love the frugality of this recipe. It follows the admirable tradition of many of the world's poorer countries of making effective use of every part of the plant, or animal. Mexicans certainly put all parts of the maize plant to work, though not in this particular way. Simmered long enough, leftover corn cobs produce an interesting, intensely flavoured alternative to shellfish stock. When cooked for a shorter time they make a good light vegetable stock, adding welcome diversity to the range of tastes available to vegetarians for soups, sauces and stews.
Makes 600ml (2 1/2 cups)
• 4-6 leftover corn cobs (kernels removed)
• 1.6 litres/7 cups water
• 1 small onion, halved
• 1 carrot, scraped
• 1/2 stalk celery
• 10 peppercorns
• 1-2 bay leaves
• 2 sprigs thyme
Using a cleaver or large cook's knife, chop each corn cob into 4 pieces. If you don't manage to cut right the way through the cob, don't worry; once a cut is made, the cob will easily snap into two.
Place the chopped cobs in a stockpot with the water. Add the onion, carrot, celery, peppercorns, bay, thyme and a little salt, and bring to the boil. Half-cover the pot, reduce the heat and simmer very gently for 2 hours.
Strain the stock, pressing down on the solids to extract as much flavour as possible. Use as is or place in a clean saucepan and boil rapidly over a high heat until the stock has reduced and its flavour has intensified to your liking.
• The recipe here might be called traditional in terms of its flavourings, but variations of it are in no way restricted to these aromatics, or indeed this method.
• Douglas Rodriguez includes leeks, saffron, jalapeno chillies and tomato paste in his version, sweating the vegetables and saffron in butter before adding the water and other herbs and spices.
• Joseph Sponzo uses some of the kernels from the corn cobs and includes only basil stems and tarragon sprigs as flavourings. He adds the herbs once the stock has been reduced and removed from the heat, and discards them before storing or further cooking. This infusion method of flavouring is favoured by some meticulous chefs who argue that boiling herbs over an extended period causes bitterness in the finished stock.