I recently came into possession of a large piece of meat. (Full disclosure, it was a cow head.) I braised it, removed all the tender bits, then made a fantastically beefy stock. This got me thinking about stock and consommé, and I have been on a broth bender ever since.
I have always been a proponent of homemade stock. It seems stupid to buy a can of something that I can make for free. Of course such production takes planning. I am a saver (NOT a hoarder!). I keep scraps of meat and vegetables in an empty milk carton in the freezer until I have enough to make a good stock. Then I peel off the paper carton, plunk it in a stock pot and add water.
But consommé takes a bit more effort.
Consommé is a magical recipe. It uses the basic principles of protein coagulation to turn a basic broth into crystal-clear, rich, delicious nectar of the gods. A protein rich mixture of meat, egg whites, and mirepoix are combined with cold stock. As the mixture gently warms, the proteins rise to the surface (in a monster of a thing lovingly referred to as The Raft) bringing with them the cloudy impurities, and trapping them.
Once you have consommé, there are a zillion things to be done with it, including aspic (for my head cheese) and an array of different classical soups (see garniture below). But my favorite way to enjoy a hot bowl of consommé is with something elegant floating in it, like one large perfect ravioli, or a dainty shave of truffle.
1 Onion Brûlé (see bottom of “Techniques”)
1 cup carrots, chopped fine
1 cup celery, chopped fine
1 leek, chopped fine
1 parsnip, chopped fine
2 pounds lean ground meat (chose a meat to corresponds with your stock)
8 egg whites (about 1 cup)
2 large tomatoes, chopped fine
2 gallons stock
1 bunch parsley stems
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
3-4 pepper corns
1. In a large stock pot combine onion brûlé, carrot, celery, leek, parsnip, ground meat, egg whites and tomatoes, and mix well. Stir in stock then set over heat and bring to a simmer (NOT a boil!). Drop in parsley, thyme, bay and peppercorns.
2. Stir occasionally until the raft begins to form. Simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Carve a hole into the raft to expose some liquid, and taste. Simmer longer if more flavor is desired. Add salt as necessary.
3. Carefully ladle out consommé through the raft and pour through a fine mesh strainer. Discard raft. Serve consommé immediately, or chill and store for later use.
** A Vegetarian consommé can be made by omitting the meat, increasing the egg whites and vegetables, and starting with a vegetable stock. I like strong flavors in my vegetable consommé, and will usually include fennel and dried mushrooms in my initial stock.
Here are some of my favorite classic floating garnish to add to your consommé:
Consommé Cèlestine: julienne of crepes (roll crepes up like a cigar and slice into thin strips)
Consommé Julienne: blanche julienne-cuts of carrot, celery, leek, potato, and sometimes meat (i.e. chicken breast) before floating in consommé.
Consommé Paysanne: blanched paysanne–cuts (thin squares, like a scrabble tile) of leek, carrot, turnip, celery, and potato.
Consommé Olga: blanched julienne of celery root, pickled cucumber, and diced Vesiga (Vesiga is marrow from the spinal cord of a sturgeon. It looks like a white, gelatinous ribbon. Supposedly this soup was served during the Titanic’s last meal!)
Consommé Tyrolienne: Julienne of pheasant breast and thin flat noodles.
Consommé Vendôm: Poached diced bone marrow, thin gratinéed baguette crouton.
Consommé Washington: diced calves cheese, julienne of white celery and truffle, simmered in Madeira.
Or … why not create your own consommé? (Consommé Spam, anyone?)
Stock is a basic ingredient to most soup recipes. And while it is readily available in your supermarket, it is an easy thing to make yourself. It just requires time. The main ingredients are aromatic vegetables and bones. The typical vegetables are what the chefs call mirepoix, which includes carrot, onion and celery. You can definitely add other vegetables if you’d like. The more you add, the more nutritious your stock will be. Be wary of excessively strong flavors (fennel, for instance, can overpower a soup if too much is added) and strong colors (beets will make your soup red). As far as bones go, you can buy them cheap from a butcher, or do what I do and save them after serving a large roast.
The bones of young animals and joints are the best choice for stock because the cartilage and connective tendons release collagen into the stock, making it rich, flavorful, and thick.
One trick of mine is to save scraps of meat, bones and vegetables in the freezer. I keep an empty paper milk carton in my freezer, adding scraps to it throughout the week. When it’s full, I peel the paper off the frozen block of stock scraps, toss the block into the stock pot and cover it with water. Voila! Instant stock ingredients.
4 lb. meat parts: poultry carcass, especially wings and joints; or beef, veal, or lamb bones, especially joints and meat scraps.
2 carrots, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. black peppercorn
1 sprig fresh (or 1 tsp. dried) parsley
1 sprig fresh (or 1 tsp. dried) thyme
About 4 quarts cold water
Dark Brown Stock: Toward the end of roasting add the mirepoix and a small can of tomato paste to the bones, and roast just until the veg start to brown. Be careful not to burn the mirepoix, or the stock will be bitter.
Vegetable Stock: Omit the meat, and replace with a variety of vegetables. Choose an even assortment, as too much of one vegetable will overpower the stock.
Light Stock: Instead of browning the bones in the oven, put them directly in the pot with the vegetables. The stock will be slightly less rich in flavor, and lighter in color. It’s a good choice when you want the other soup and sauce ingredients to shine.
Fish Stock: Fish meat and bones have strong flavors, and do not need browning or prolonged cooking. Combine fish bones, heads, tails, skins, shells and meat scraps with vegetables, herbs the juice of 1 lemon. Cover with water and simmer for only 30 minutes.
Onion Brulé: Some chefs like to deepen the color of their stock with a charred onion. Simply cut in in half and cook on a grill, griddle or skillet until deeply carbonized. It’s weird, but wonderful!