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by Prof. Steve Holzinger
You really can't call yourself a cook unless you can make a first class consomme. It is the perfect soup, light and free of any fat, rich in flavor, infinitely adaptable, and you can serve it boiling hot. Good consomme is crystal clear, and rich in its base meat flavor. You can serve it ungarnished, as my classes often did when we served a dinner to a chef's society such as Chefs de Cuisine. There it is, in the bowl, with nothing to hide behind. It is either perfect, or a disgrace, and to most chefs, a fair test of skill. Not that it is so hard to make well, but most chefs have had to master it as part of their early training, and it does require some care and attention to make properly.
Well made stock is reasonably clear, though it does contain some suspended matter. When it is clarified for consomme, two ingredients play major roles. Egg whites, which are almost pure albumen are dissolved in the stock, as albumen is a water soluble protein. When the stock is heated, the albumen begins to precipitate out. You can see the strands forming as it happens, and these sticky strands reach out and trap suspended particles, both small and large. The heat causes them to rise and they form a cap, with all the solid particles that rises to the top. If the liquid is drawn off without disturbing this cap, it will be seen to be water clear. I use one large egg white per quart, plus one extra per gallon (not really needed, just insurance).
The meat used, which should be lean and from an older animal, (beef shin by preference) also adds to the clarification, as the blood in it contains serum protein .... albumen. For chicken consomme, I grind legs and thighs of chicken, bones and all. Of course, the best thing to use would be an old rooster, but you can't get them any more. The meat is so tough as to be useless, but it has great flavor. Flavor is why the meat is used. In the cooking it gives up the deep rich meaty flavor that makes consomme so grand. When I want to make a really strong consomme, I cook oxtails in the stock to extract their flavor. (No waste, I make oxtail stew from them later ... the help has to eat, and eat well they do.) As a matter of fact, this is what I call my change the flavor technique.
How would I make a duck stock, or a lamb stock for a duck or lamb consomme that the menu calls for? First make a good rich white stock of beef and veal, and then add roasted duck or lamb bones, and cook for an hour or so, which is enough to pick up a pleasant flavor of the strong flavored duck or lamb. When I say it is infinitely adaptable, I mean that there are a large number of garnishes that can change the name of the soup.
Got a lot of money and want to impress? Shave some fresh white truffles into the consomme just at the table side when you serve it. What an aroma is released! Feel like a little dramatic flair is in order? Flame the soup with a good brandy or calvados. Do you want to show off your hard won knife skills? Then a brunoise (fine dice) or julienne (match stick cut) of spring vegetables is just perfect. Remember to check out the size of the soup spoon you will be using, as I think that the julienne vegetables should fit into the bowl of the spoon. Nothing upsets me more than seeing diners at a formal dinner playing catch with long juliennes of carrot!
While many consommes are garnished with neatly cut vegetables, other garnishes are also of great importance. They are Royales and Quenelles. Royales are savory custards, poached and finely cut. The recipe for royale custards is simple. By volume, half egg and half liquid. I might better say two quarters egg and two quarters liquid. For example, for a perfectly white royale, 1/2 egg white, 1/2 milk, seasoned and strained into a buttered custard cup set in water and baked at 350 F till a silver knife comes out clean. (Very important not to boil royales, we want NO bubbles in them.) When cooled the royale is unmolded, it is carefully sliced or diced, and the cuts are held in cold water. For a very yellow royale, 1/2 egg yolks and 1/2 heavy cream that has had cooked carrots puréed in it when hot, and strained. Some consommes may have a number of different color royales (I stop at 3) each in a different shape. I have also used tofu as a royale. Royales should be well seasoned, and well strained, and it is important for their texture to be smooth as silk.
Quenelles are meat balls, nothing more or less, but what silky, light, airy morsels they are! There are many different ways of making quenelles, but I prefer the Mousseline technique described by Escoffier. He says, "In a word, it may be said of mouselline forcemeat that, where it can replace all other kinds, none of these can replace it." I have adapted his recipe for the Cuisinart, which makes what was once a big job, a task taking only minutes. I have also cut the salt in half, and added shallots and an extra egg white.
This method works equally well with chicken or fish, and a mixture of fish and some shrimp is incomparable. Place three medium to small shallots in the Cuisinart, and purée them by pulsing. Add one pound of chicken breast (free of all sinew and fat) in dice, and begin to process. Add 3 large egg whites, one at a time, and process, scraping the bowl after each, to make there will be no lumps. Add 1/2 oz salt and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, and a pinch of white pepper. Resume processing, and add in a slow steady stream, 1 pint (16 floz) of chilled heavy cream. You can check to see that it is perfectly uniform, with no lumps, by scraping down with a rubber bowl scraper. When it is done and completely smooth, transfer it to a stainless steel bowl, cover with saran, and sit over ice in the refrigerator. You can add less cream for a firmer product, as in making seafood sausage. I butter and chill a deep pan, and bag out the quenelles, like little Hershey's kisses, and add hot salted water, very gently, over a low flame. The quenelles will rise to the top, and when they are uniform in color throughout, they are done, and can be held in cold water.
You can also poach them in a buttered loaf pan, set in a pan of water in a 350 F oven. When done, you can chill, unmold and dice or cut them with parisienne or grooved cutters. The most difficult way, which I hesitate to describe, but could show you in a minute, is to form them with two spoons, shaped like an olive, and finish in simmering water. This is the method most used by chefs. When I have too much (You can divide this recipe by 3 for small quantities) poach it all and add a hot thin Mornay sauce to the quenelles, which I then sprinkle with grated cheese and finish under the broiler.
The preceding description is a fair example of how consomme was made in hotels and restaurants during my working life, with the exception that quantities made were generally 5-10 gallons or more at a time. At the same time, a far better consomme was made at home. This is the classic French Petit Marmite. While it was made in a special clay pot, it can be made in any pot. What it underlines is the idea that what gives life to the consomme is meat. There was a time when every week I used to blanch about 150 chickens in a stockpot, prior to roasting them. I would add 15 split chickens or so to the stock pot, and when the pot came to the boil, I would remove them and add the next batch, and so on till all were blanched. I would leave this pot of about 10 gallons on the back of the range overnight, at the slowest possible simmer. When I came in the morning, the consomme would have set its own cap, from the albumen extracted from the chickens, and the broth would have become a golden crystal clear consomme.
So the Petite Marmite, or Pot au Feu, or Poule au Pot, is the richest of consommes due to its high proportion of meat. For the beef, I use brisket, or short ribs of beef, well trimmed. There is an interesting note in Ma Cuisine, that in Provence mutton is used, as beef was scarce. The top of the beef rib, well trimmed, is also an excellent choice. I like to cover the beef and chicken. I will use in cold, lightly salted water, and bring slowly to the boil, and rinse in cold water. This blanching is to remove the blood which could cloud the soup. So I cover about 4 lbs of blanched beef with cold water and bring it to the simmer (never boil) for about an hour, and then I add the chicken, in quarters. I am fond of using an OvenStuffer or poullet of five or six pounds, as it is tender and rich in flavor.
After about a second hour, I add the vegetables to the simmering broth, and cook them until they are tender. If they are very long, I cut them in half for ease of service. I peel California carrots (Maggio, by preference, whole parsnips, the white parts of leeks with a little green, split and rinsed as well as some peeled white boiling onions. I also add some tops from the parsnips and a bunch of dill, as well as some parsley stems, all tied together. What I leave out that belongs is turnips, cabbage and marrow bones, just as a matter of personal taste.
Everything cooks at the simmer, never boiling, and when the beef or chicken is done, I remove it, and slice it for service. I separately make a batch of matzoh balls or some sort of bread dumpling. I discard the herb bunches and make some fresh chopped parsley. The sliced meats, dumplings, and whole vegetables are put into a tureen, and the well seasoned, defatted consomme, boiling hot, is poured over. I like to serve fresh grated horseradish and sour pickles with this. I have never been able to duplicate the incredible savor of this broth by any other process. Some people like to donate a splash of whatever good wine they are drinking from their glass to their soup plate as an additional seasoning. Small hard crusted rolls, (gallete) are very good with this.
Recipes: Adapted from Consomme, The Escoffier Cookbook, A. Escoffier, Crown Publishers, 1941.
© 1997, Steve K. Holzinger. All rights reserved.
(This article originally appeared on Steve's "eGGsalad" blog on the electronic Gourmet Guide in 1997.)
The electronic Gourmet Guide launched in 1994 and later merged into the Global Gourmet website in 1998.Copyright © 1997—the electronic Gourmet Guide, Inc. All rights reserved.
Modified August 2007
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