Cooking Through Ratio: Stocks and the Amazing Things They Allow You to Do – Clear Soups and the Consommé – Beef Consommé

Consommé. One word evokes thoughts of an impossible culinary challenge. I first read about it in Michael Ruhlman’s book The Making of a Chef. Subsequent books also made mention of it and proper technique. I recently saw it made on an episode of Iron Chef on the Food Network and here it was as the next food item to make. Was Ruhlman serious? He expected the average home cook to attempt consommé, something so delicate and refined that it is a frequent cause of a bad practicum grade in culinary school? I haven’t shied away from a challenge yet. It was time to get moving.

The chapter starts with “Clear soups are among the easiest, most satisfying, and nutritious dishes you can make. If you have good stock. Good stock is critical. If you don’t have a flavorful stock, you have to spend all your effort hiding bad flavor of canned or boxed stock by adding all kinds of good ingredients. Any why would you want to put good ingredients into a bad one?” (pg. 105). I wasn’t using boxed or canned stock, but my own that I had made previously. Still the question remained…did I make a good stock? Would the effort result in a good dish?

The ratio for consommé is 12 parts stock, 3 parts meat, 1 part mirepoix and 1 part egg white. As it turned out, I would be using the entire batch of stock that I had made previously. Not only that, but 12 ounces of ground lean meat. Given the delicate process and expense, it’s no wonder why restaurants don’t feature it on menus very often.

I established my mise en place not only to ensure that I did not find myself scrambling for a missing ingredient during a critical stage, but in actuality because it has become part of my cooking process now.

Consommé: Ingredients
Consommé: Ingredients

I filled my stock pot with all of the ingredients save for the stock as it was frozen.

Consommé: Meat, Mirepoix, Egg Whites
Consommé: Meat, Mirepoix, Egg Whites

I turned up the heat at placed the stock on top to melt over the ingredients.

Consommé: Added Frozen Beef Stock
Consommé: Added Frozen Beef Stock

Once the stock had melted, I used a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom and move the egg white away from the sides. I could see that what is known as the “raft” was starting to form.

Consommé: Raft forming
Consommé: Raft forming

When the mixture was at a simmer, I lowered the heat to keep it there. I didn’t want to boil which would cause the raft to break.

Consommé: Raft growing
Consommé: Raft growing

The raft is made up of the meat and vegetables along with the egg whites that collect any impurities as they rise to the surface through the cooking process.

Consommé: Raft formed
Consommé: Raft formed

After about an hour the cooking was done. The raft had really come together, but perhaps most shocking was how much of the liquid had actually evaporated over time.

Consommé: Ready
Consommé: Ready

Using a ladle, I carefully moved the liquid from the stock pot to a large glass bowl being extra careful so as not to break the raft or capture any impurities. The liquid was poured through a coffee filter and metal strainer.

Consommé: First Try
Consommé: First Try

It was amazing how much the liquid had transformed. It was perfectly clear. I opted to refrigerate it over night and save it for tonight’s dinner. When I pulled it out tonight I was also surprised by how much gelatin there was in the consommé as was evidenced by the gelatinous globs that had formed in the bowl.

Consommé: After A Night In The Fridge
Consommé: After A Night In The Fridge

As suggested, I blanched some carrots as garnished, a process I had never performed before and heated up a portion.

It definitely was a light start to dinner and I could clearly see (sorry for the pun) why it is often served as a first course. This was no hearty stew. The subtle flavor was very enjoyable.

Consommé: With Blanched Carrots
Consommé: With Blanched Carrots

With another challenge under my belt I definitely feel like I am learning a lot. Consommé is not likely to be something that I’ll make on a regular basis. Truth be told it was actually fairly easy although expensive when you consider what goes into it with respect to time and ingredients. It’s another great example of culinary lore being more than culinary reality. Stay tuned for the challenges ahead.

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