A recipe for a soy-based Chinese stock that can be utilised in a number of ways.
2 litres water
1 cup light soy sauce
1 cup shao xing wine
150g yellow rock sugar, crushed
1/3 cup ginger, sliced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
6 green (spring) onions, washed and trimmed
½ tsp sesame oil
2 cassia bark or 1 cinnamon stick
3 pieces dried mandarin peel or orange peel*
* The peel should be without any bitter pith and dried slowly in an oven on very low heat.
Combine all the ingredients in a large pot and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.
Use in recipes (such as Soy-braised shiitake mushrooms with silken tofu or Soy-braised chicken) or simply strain, cool and freeze. The flavours will deepen and improve with each use. Every so often, add some more of the same ingredients to replenish the stock.
Brigitte Hafner's notes on master stock
Various meats are slowly braised in a master stock with soy, shao xing wine, ginger, dried mandarin, star-anise, cassia bark and yellow rock sugar; flavours that intermingle and permeate the meat during the long cooking time. This dish can be simple or quite elaborate: some restaurants boast their broth has no fewer than 20 "secret" ingredients.
And because the flavours complement most meats, the variations are endless - try duck or chicken, beef brisket, lamb neck, oxtail or even pork shoulder. Vegetables such as Chinese greens, cabbage and mushrooms can also be added to the broth.
In northern China, this dish would generally be eaten with either wheat noodles or steamed buns, but it is also delicious with steamed rice, silky rice noodles or even fresh egg noodles.
Yellow rock sugar - a light-brown sugar in crystal form, which imparts a wonderful, honey-like flavour and luscious sheen to the sauce - is well worth seeking out in your local Asian supermarket.
Cassia bark has a distinctive savoury and earthy flavour and is also worth discovering, but can be substituted with its close relative, cinnamon, if necessary.
Eating the softly braised meat with its delicate yet earthy broth is both satisfying and nourishing. But the most beautiful thing about this dish is that it requires barely no work once everything is put together in the pot - and afterwards the stock can be re-used; in fact, it improves with age. Each time, the meat imparts its own flavours and the stock becomes richer and more complex.
After using it the first time, the stock should be strained and then kept frozen before bringing it to the boil for another use, adding a little water and some more of the original ingredients to refresh the flavours.
I once had a beloved, aged stock that I kept in the freezer and used regularly. One morning after a dinner party, it was mistaken for dirty water and poured down the sink, much to my horror and dismay. Oh, well, time to start again - and yes, I still love him!