A simple way to add a natural umami boost to your cooking is to make your own stock. So much of basic, good cooking is about the extraction, distillation and concentration of ingredients’ flavours. As such, I have never understood the allure of cooked, frozen prawns or deshelled prawns as all the flavour is in their heads and shells. Most prawns found in Singapore’s wet markets are farmed and farmed prawns aren’t as tasty as wild caught ones. However, they’re still far superior in flavour compared to cooked , frozen prawns. Fresh prawns have naturally occurring glutamate and insinuate levels, flavour components of umami, of about 120 and 90 but frozen prawns only have naturally occurring glutamate levels of 15-30 (Source: Umami Information Center) . For this reason alone, I buy whole, fresh prawns at the wet market so that I can save their heads and shells in the freezer. I accumulate the shells from at least 1 kilogram of prawns for making stock in freezer-save bags. Shellfish, seaweed, bonito etc. can also be added to the stock but I usually just make the basic stock with prawn shells first and then add on other umami boosters when needed.
Once your stock is made, you could either freeze them in freezer-safe glass jars or pour into ice cube trays. I do both. If I’m making a stock for a batch of Hae Mee Noodle Soup, then I prefer freezing/ refrigerating them in jars. However, if I’m just making stock once I’ve accumulated enough prawn shells, then I make the stock, cool them and pour them into ice cube trays that I keep specifically for freezing stock. Then, once frozen, I unmould the cubes and store in freezer safe bags in my freezer/ squirrel chamber. These stock cubes come in handy when I want to boost the flavour of simple vegetable stir fries – I just throw a frozen stock cube into the pan with the vegetables. The flavour from this Umami Prawn Stock is really fantastic. You can throw out your premade stock granules once and for all. It has a greater depth of flavour than any store-bought stock – guaranteed! The end result is a sweet, mildly salted and spiced, aromatic and full-flavoured stock.
I like to keep the stock base simple so that the umami and naturally sweet flavour from the prawns shine and also so that it can be used for many dishes. You can omit the spices I use here and replace with garlic instead. I like to use curry leaves in my stock as they have an all-round mild ‘curry flavour’ – somewhat like allspice berries. Also, I buy yellow onions just for stock making as leaving their skins intact gives the stock an attractive golden colour and they aren’t as assertive in flavour as red onions. What you add to your stock is completely up to you. Try adding just 3 ingredients first, taste and modify your own stock recipe as you go. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to make your personalised stock and customise dishes to your own taste. I adapted Micheal Ruhlman’s(Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking) basic ratio of 3:2 / water : main ingredients for stock making. Then, to create a rich prawn stock, I blend all the softened shells and heads with the liquid and strain the ‘pure’ stock. Many southeast asian seafood based noodle soups use this method to extract all the flavour from the prawns. The extra effort pays off immensely as the stock is full of flavour. I often dilute this ‘concentrate’ stock with a little water when adding to flavour rice, quinoa, couscous or other grains. I use the simple prawn stock in vegetable dishes so it does not overpower the natural vegetable flavours. It’s really up to you which stock you’d like to make.
Rich or Simple Prawn Stock
Recipe by : Vasun, http://www.cupcakesncurries.com
- 1 tbsp neutral oil ( I use rice bran oil)
- 1/4 – 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 springs curry leaves, washed and dried
- 3 parts, by weight : water
- 2 parts by weight : rinsed prawns heads and shells
- 1- 2 large yellow onions rinsed, halved and skins on
- pinch of fine sea salt – about 1/4 teaspoon
- In a medium / large stockpot, warm pot over medium flame. Add neutral oil.
- Once oil has warmed up, add mustard seeds. Once the start to crackle, add cumin seeds and curry leaves. Sauté for a few seconds.
- Add all prawn shells and heads and saute everything on medium high head until prawn shells turn a light brown around the edges. This adds depth of flavour and colour but you can skip this and proceed to the next step.
- Add onions and water. Water level should be slightly below prawn shells.
- Bring water to a boil and then reduce flame to the lowest. Simmer stock for about 45 minutes, partially uncovered. Skim the frothy scum off with a mesh strainer or spoon as soon as it forms on the surface.
- Once stock has cooled enough, remove onions. Proceed to step 7 if you prefer a clear, thin stock.
- Blend prawns heads, shells and all liquid in a blender.
- Place a wire mesh strainer over a bowl or large jug. Place some muslin cloth over the strainer. Slowly pour blended stock and let the liquid drain slowly.
- Gather muslin cloth and squeeze to extract all the stock.
- Strain liquid again using steps 6 & 7 if the stock has food bits.
- Store stock and use as desired. (read tips above)