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.

consomméconsommé
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Cooking Through Ratio: Stocks and the Amazing Things They Allow You to Do – Stocks – Chicken Stock

I recently made chicken stock and followed the same process and ratio of  3 parts water and 2 parts bones that I used for making beef stock.

Chickent Stock: Bones
Chickent Stock: Bones
Chicken Stock: 3 parts water
Chicken Stock: 3 parts water
Chicken Stock: Simmering
Chicken Stock: Simmering
Chicken Stock: Requires Skimming
Chicken Stock: Requires Skimming
Chicken Stock: Mirepoix
Chicken Stock: Mirepoix
Chicken Stock: Tomato Paste
Chicken Stock: Tomato Paste
Chicken Stock: Done Cooking
Chicken Stock: Done Cooking
Chicken Stock: Requires Straining
Chicken Stock: Requires Straining
Chicken Stock: Straining
Chicken Stock: Straining
Chicken Stock: Cooled & Requiring Another Skim
Chicken Stock: Cooled & Requiring Another Skim

Interestingly enough, even though I did not roast the chicken bones and had more meat on them than the beef bones, the end result including consistency and color were about the same as the beef stock. The tomato paste overwhelmingly changed the body and color of the final product. Of course the taste was much different, but labeling is definitely required for storage.

I now have 2 basic stocks under my belt and now look forward to using them to enhance the flavor of my food. This is one of those challenging food lessons that is tough to gauge. While I do in fact have stock in my freezer ready to use, having not made stock before and no good final product to compare it to, it is hard to say if I made a truly good stock. This is another example of being able to learn method in the absence of a teacher while still missing the guidance and evaluation that in class and/or in person training can provide.

Stay tuned for more challenges ahead!

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

“…the single preparation that might elevate a home cook’s food from decent to spectacular  ” (p. 89) is how Ruhlman describes the importance of making a good stock.  In fact when the idea for the book Ratio was conceived, stock making was its beginning, often considered the foundation of cooking knowledge. Stocks are a key difference between home and restaurant cooking and often are the one thing that makes replicating your favorite dish at home difficult. I have never made stock before, was eager to try and recently had the pleasure of doing just that. That may sound funny but making a stock was actually a fun process combining a simple ratio, quality ingredients, a little method and time.

Prior to my last CSA pickup I made a request of them for bones as part of my share. They generously came through for me with four large beef bones included in my cooler.  Stock, despite it’s overall simplicity is a hotly (sorry about that one) debated topic in the culinary world when it comes to method. A key point of contention is the difference between making a light or dark stock which is primarily affected by the decision to roast the bones or not.

The ratio for stock is 3 parts water and 2 parts bones. It is a forgiving ratio that can be judged by sight with experience, but I weight everything out to be sure I got it right. I also opted to roast the bones with the hope of adding more flavor and body to my stock. They were placed on an oiled  sheet pan while I cranked up the oven heat to 425 degrees F.

Beef Stock: Raw Bones
Beef Stock: Raw Bones

As the bones roasted for the required 45 minutes with rotation half way through, smoke started coming through the stove top. The high heat was cooking the fat and filling my apartment with smoke. It didn’t take long for the smoke detectors to start going off. I was glad that I chose to do this on a weekend afternoon.

Beef Stock: Roasted Bones
Beef Stock: Roasted Bones

I put the bones into my stock pot, trying to get them in there efficiently so that the did not require any more water than the ratio required.

Beef Stock: Bones in Water
Beef Stock: Bones in Water

The measured water was  added which was the perfect amount to just cover the bones. With the water in the stock pot, the stove heat was turned on. Using my thermometer I let the temperature of the water rise to just below simmering at 180 degrees F which turned out to be just below medium on my small stove top coil.

Beef Stock: Simmered Bones
Beef Stock: Simmered Bones

At that temperature, the good stuff started happening. The flavor was extracted from the bones while the gelatin, the key component that adds body to a stock, was released as well.

Once everything was to temperature, I skimmed the the top to get rid of the fat and impurities. The water and bones simmered for 5 hours. With an hour left to go I created mirepoix, carefully dicing carrots, onions and celery. I chose not to sweat them prior to cooking and threw into the pot.

Beef Stock: Mirepoix
Beef Stock: Mirepoix

I also added pepper and tomato paste to add additional taste and color.

Beef Stock: With Tomatoes and Pepper
Beef Stock: With Tomatoes and Pepper

After an hour had passed I removed the pot from the heat to cool briefly.

Beef Stock: Cooked Mirepoix
Beef Stock: Cooked Mirepoix

After removing the aromatics, the stock was poured through a cheesecloth lined strainer to take out the impurities.

Beef Stock: Straining
Beef Stock: Straining

Everything was strained into a glass bowl to be chilled overnight. This would allow the stock to cool down and the fat to coagulate for easy removal.

Beef Stock: Strained
Beef Stock: Strained

The next day a light film of fat had developed on the top which I skimmed before dividing into plastic bags for freezing.

Beef Stock: Coagulated Fat
Beef Stock: Coagulated Fat

While having a ratio for making stock was not entirely needed, following a simple guide through the process made the first time around fool proof and easy. Having one batch under my belt will make future ones a lot easier and hopefully as time goes on the process will become second nature. Hopefully as I get comfortable and stock making becomes more routine I won’t have to use the wretched pre-made “broth” found in the grocery store. My stock alone may not elevate me to a great home cook right now, but it’s a step in the right direction and a satisfying one at that.

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Cooking 101: Back to Basics – Stocks, Soups, and Salads

Tonight’s focus for class at Cambridge Culinary was on stocks, soups, and salads. I was especially excited about this class because learning about stocks is key to sauce making, the focus for the final class in the series.

Last week were given the recipes on our way out so we would have time to study them. It didn’t take me long before I knew what I wanted, and I came to class with the intent of making French Onion Soup and Salad Niçoise. I arrived at school to find that we would be learning in a different, smaller kitchen. A large private class was using “ours” and as chance would have it, a few classmates did not show up for this class so we had plenty of room. We opened with a brief lecture about stocks. Given the time required to make a proper beef, chicken or veal stock we would not be making any, although we would be using some that were created by a professional program class. Once we decided on what we would be making we went to work.

I started with the French Onion Soup as it required heat and extensive cooking time, hoping that I could move onto the Salad Niçoise as I had time.  I melted my butter in a pot on the stove and then moved onto slicing the onions. They were placed into the pot with the melted butter and I covered the pot to let them wilt down. Once sufficiently wilted, sugar was added to begin the caramelization process.

French Onion Soup, Onions Caramelizing
French Onion Soup, Onions Caramelizing

Once the onions were caramalized, beef stock was placed into the pot. It was reduced down so that the liquid was just barely covering the onions. Salt, pepper and burgundy wine were added along with more stock and reduced down again at a slow simmer.

French Onion Soup, Simmering
French Onion Soup, Simmering

Unfortunately there weren’t any small ceramic ramekins for the soup, so we improvised with a large one.   Enough French bread was cut to cover the bottom of the rameking and then the soup was poured over the bread. We also couldn’t find the gruyère cheese, the kitchen was a mess at this point, so we improvised with a gruyère smelling cheese. It had a very sharp flavor and after coating the top of the soup I questioned if it was a good choice.

French Onion Soup, Ready For The Oven
French Onion Soup, Ready For The Oven

The next step was to put the soup into an pre-heated oven at 350 degrees F until the cheese browned and there was some bubbling. I took it out and set it on the table next to the other soups and then the real fun began.

French Onion Soup, Ready To Eat
French Onion Soup, Ready To Eat

With all of the soups on the table we were able to try each one. They were fantastic! Everyone did a really good job. I felt like my soup was a bit too sweet, but overall it had a well balanced flavor and texture and the cheese was good too. At this point the class was near over and I had no time to make the salad I had hoped to make.

This week I hope I can re-make the French Onion Soup using store bough beef broth to compare the results. I have no doubt it will not be the same, but given the time and effort required to make a proper stock, store-bought is going to be my likely alternative.

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