Mark Hix recipes: From prawn and okra to cuttlefish and chilli, our chef gets creative with the humble broth

These light and versatile stock-based soups are just the thing for springtime, says our man in the kitchen

I love making broths at home. They are so very clean-flavoured and healthy, doubly so if you give them an Asian accent by using lots of lemongrass, lime leaves and ginger. And although they may look a lot of work, they actually aren't, especially if you make extra amounts of the broth in advance and freeze it for use at a later date.

Here, I'm going to focus on using stock cubes as a base. I often hear home cooks condemning cubes, but used in the right way as a background flavouring, they are exceptionally useful things to have around. In fact, I always keep some Vietnamese Pho cubes in my larder, which are a fantastic quick-fix when you want a hearty single-course broth.

Prawn, okra and coriander broth

Serves 4

Okra is such an under-appreciated vegetable. Personally, I love it and always make a point of ordering it if I go for an Indian. It is very versatile: as crucial an ingredient in the Louisiana dish gumbo – where its gelatinous qualities help to thicken it – as it is in some curries.

The heads and shells from the raw prawns, below
1 fish stock cube dissolved in 1.2ltrs of hot water
1 small leek, halved, roughly chopped and washed
½tsp fennel seeds
10 black peppercorns
2 cloves of garlic, halved
½tsp tomato purée

To serve

12 raw, whole seawater prawns with the heads and shells on
16-20 pieces of okra, washed and thinly sliced on the angle
1-2tbsp chopped coriander

Remove the heads and shells from the prawns. Slit the flesh down the back, about a third of a centimetre into the body, then give them a good wash in cold water; now put to one side or refrigerate.

To make the broth, put all of the ingredients into a saucepan, bring to the boil, season and simmer very gently for 40 minutes, skimming occasionally if necessary. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean saucepan.

To serve, put the prawns into the broth and simmer for a minute, then add the okra and simmer for a further minute; remove from the heat, stir in the coriander and serve.

Cuttlefish, green tomato and chilli broth

Serves 4

I'm going to continue writing cuttlefish recipes until I am blue in the face because, frankly, we aren't eating enough of it – and the majority of ours gets shipped abroad, which is a shame. Fishmongers should be promoting it, but they seem to only want to stock squid, erroneously thinking that's all we want.

Cuttlefish, green tomato and chilli broth Cuttlefish, green tomato and chilli broth (Jason Lowe)
A good fish stock cube dissolved in a litre of boiling water
1 small leek, halved, roughly chopped and washed
10 black peppercorns
4 lime leaves
The trimmings from the cuttlefish (not the back bone)

To serve

A small piece of root ginger (about 30g) scraped and finely grated
1 small cuttlefish, weighing about 400-500g, cleaned (keep trimmings for stock)
2 large or 4 small green tomatoes, cut into rough chunks
1 green chilli, thinly sliced
4 spring onions, trimmed, thinly sliced
15-20 leaves of Thai basil, torn if large

First, make the broth. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan, bring to the boil, season and simmer gently for 30 minutes; then strain through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean pan; season if necessary.

Cut the cuttlefish into rough 2cm squares and then score a criss-cross into them with a sharp knife. Cut the tentacles down into four pieces. To serve, put all the ingredients into the broth, except for the basil. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, season if necessary, stir in the basil and serve immediately.

Quail's egg and asparagus broth

Serves 4

You often see cheap bunches of asparagus on sale at markets, and frequently there is nothing wrong with them at all – better some asparagus than none at all, I think.

One more thing: although poaching quail's eggs may seem like a culinary task that you don't even want to consider tackling – the fact is that, despite what you might think, it's actually pretty straightforward, so give it a go.

Straightforward: Quail's egg and asparagus broth Straightforward: Quail's egg and asparagus broth (Jason Lowe)
1 vegetable stock cube, dissolved in a litre of boiling water
The woody ends from the asparagus, chopped, plus and any sub-standard spears
1 small leek, halved, roughly chopped and washed
1 stick of celery, roughly chopped
10 black peppercorns
A handful of parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve

12 quail's eggs
150ml white wine or cider vinegar
4-6 asparagus spears with the woody ends trimmed
½tbsp finely chopped chives
½tbsp chopped chervil

To make the stock, put all of the ingredients into a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer very gently for 30 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave to infuse.

Bring a pan with about half a litre of water to simmering point; meanwhile, put the vinegar into a bowl and carefully crack the quail's eggs with a small, sharp kitchen knife: use the point of the knife to initially crack open the shells. Have a bowl of cold water ready to transfer the eggs into once they are poached.

Pour the eggs and vinegar into the pan of simmering water and continue to simmer very gently for about 30 seconds, or until you can see the whites of the eggs have set. Take the eggs out using a slotted spoon and place into the bowl of cold water. After a minute, remove the eggs and put them on a plate, trim the white if necessary, and put them in a container of clean water.

When you are ready to serve, strain the stock through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean pan, season to taste, and bring to a simmer. Thinly slice the asparagus on the angle and add to the broth, simmer for about 30 seconds, then add the herbs and remove from the heat. Place 3 quail's eggs into warmed soup bowls and carefully ladle the hot soup over the top and serve.

Chicken, mushroom and wild garlic broth

Serves 4

I've used seasonal St George's mushrooms here, but, if you can't get those, you could use cultivated oyster mushrooms, or similar.

Seasonal: Chicken, mushroom and wild garlic broth Seasonal: Chicken, mushroom and wild garlic broth (Jason Lowe)
4 free-range chicken thighs, skinned
1 chicken stock cube dissolved in 1.5ltrs boiling water
10 black peppercorns
1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 stick of celery, roughly chopped
10g dried sliced porcini mushrooms, soaked in warm water for 1 hour
100g button mushrooms, sliced
A couple of sprigs of thyme
Salt and ground black pepper

To serve

150g wild mushrooms, such as St George's or oyster mushrooms
10-12 wild garlic leaves, washed and torn in half
The cooked chicken thighs

Remove the bones from the chicken thighs and put them in a saucepan with the chicken meat and all of the other ingredients for the broth.

Bring to the boil, skim, season and then simmer very gently for a further 1 hour, skimming every so often. Strain the broth through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean pan.

Once cool enough to handle, dice up the chicken thighs and put to one side (cut them lengthways if they are thick).

Cut the mushrooms into similar-sized pieces as the chicken, or leave whole if they are small, and add to the broth with the cooked chicken. Simmer for another 3-4 minutes, add the wild garlic and season to taste. Serve immediately.

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