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A master stock is a reusable type of stock that relies on a mixture of meatless ingredients, such as soy sauce, Chinese rice wine, and different kinds of spices. The only time meat is added is when it is braised or poached in a master stock for added flavor. The term “master stock” is often preceded with the word “Chinese,” because it is believed to have originated from Cantonese or Chinese cuisine. According to legend, there are master stocks that are already more than a century old, and they have been passed from one family’s generation to another. Whether this is true or not, it is technically possible for master stocks to last that long as long as proper precautions are observed.
Sugar is added to a master stock for extra sweetness. Other ingredients, such as Chinese rice wine and spices, are added for a more unique flavor. The use of master stocks is associated with red cooking because of the addition of soy sauce, which is responsible for the resulting reddish color of the meat.
The importance of master stocks may be appreciated with an understanding of how culinary processes such as braising and poaching work. Braising requires the application of dry and moist heat to add flavor to food and also to make certain types of meat softer or more chewable. Also known as pot roasting, the process starts off with searing. Afterward, the meat or ingredients are placed inside a heated pot, which contains a certain type of liquid, such as a master stock, for added flavor.
Poaching is the opposite of braising. Whereas braising is used for meats or “tough” foods, poaching is more suitable for cooking delicate or already tender ingredients, such as eggs, vegetables, and certain kinds of meat. In poaching, meat is allowed to simmer in water, wine, or a master stock. Meat that has been either poached or braised in master stocks should be given time to cool once they are taken out.
Master stocks can be used repeatedly, and the more they are used, the richer their flavor tends to be. A master stock must be used for only one type of meat to avoid bacterial contamination. If another meat requires braising or poaching, then another master stock should be utilized. After each use, master stocks must also be strained and refrigerated properly. For the next use, they must be boiled once again with spices added to maintain their rich flavor.