There is no more elegant way to start a dinner party and prime the palate than with a bowl of consommé. A product of classic French cuisine, consommé is a clarified broth made from either chicken, beef, or veal stock. You can find consommé on the menus of traditional French restaurants. But it only takes moderate supervision to cook a stock and consommé at home. With patience and respect for the ingredients, this labor of love is well worth the effort, especially to give guests a dinner they won't soon forget.
What makes consommé unique is the clarification process that turns a cloudy stock into a crystal clear liquid. Ground meat is combined with mirepoix (a combination of chopped vegetables) and egg whites. The mixture is stirred into stock that is brought to the simmer. It forms a raft on the surface of the liquid, slowly picking up all the impurities present in the stock. The raft is discarded and the liquid is strained. What remains is a clear broth full of flavor. Typically consommé is served with garnishes of julienned vegetables. Here I serve it with carrots and chives. What an elegant start to dinner.
Stock, especially chicken stock, makes up the foundation of so many recipes. We often neglect the importance of it in adding flavor and body to soups and sauces. But we take stock for granted since we most often purchase it at the supermarket. But did you ever stop to read the nutrition labels? Almost all the brands contain MSG and artificial flavor and coloring. I admit that I often use these broths especially when I'm in a pinch and have no homemade stock stowed in the freezer. But when it comes to holidaytime, I don't like to cut corners. I make a big batch of stock to use for my gravy, stuffing, and soup. I wouldn't feel right if I didn't try to make everything from scratch. I know that this doesn't hold true for everyone, but with some preplanning you too can make homemade stock.
I love to take a day on the weekend and work on making a pot of stock. All you need are some chicken bones and vegetables to make a flavorful chicken stock. Scraps of vegetables, like carrot peels and leek tops, can also be utilized. Chicken backs leftover from other recipes make great additions to the pot. To collect these items, simply bag them over time and keep them in the freezer until you're ready for making stock. The secret to making stock is low and slow, that is simmer at a low temperature for a long time until all the flavor has been extracted from the chicken and vegetables. Once the stock cools, refrigerate it so that it's easy to remove any fat from the surface the next day. Now you are ready and armed with a great stock for any recipe that calls for it.
Recipe adapted from French Food at Home by Laura Calder.
6 cups homemade chicken stock, recipe follows
1 small carrot, coarsely chopped
1 small leek, white part only, coarsely chopped
8 ounces ground chicken
2 large egg whites
2 tablespoons water
fine sea salt
julienned carrots, for garnish
snipped chives for garnish
In the bowl of a food processor, combine carrot and leek; process until finely chopped. Add ground chicken, egg whites, and water; process until combined.
Combine stock and meat mixture in a large pot and stir until incorporated.
Bring stock to a boil. Keep stirring until stock comes to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Stop stirring and watch for the the mixture to coagulate and form a raft on top of the stock. A small hole will start to form in the center. Make it bigger with a spoon. Continue to simmer gently for 45 minutes.
Turn off the heat and let it stand for a few minutes. Using a slotted spoon, crack through the raft and lift out as much as possible and discard. Pour the stock through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Return to clean pot. Season to taste. Serve with garnishes. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
2 pounds chicken bones, backs, necks, and/or wings
10 cups water
2 carrots, cut into chunks
2 stalks celery, cut into chunks
1 leek, light-green and dark-green parts
1 yellow onion, quartered
1/2 bulb celeriac, trimmed and cut into chunks
6 sprigs parsley
6 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Combine chicken and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Skim scum from the surface of the liquid. Add vegetables, herbs, and spices. Reduce to a gentle simmer. Keep skimming surface of liquid while mixture simmers. Cook, uncovered, for 1 hour 15 minutes or until meat and vegetables are absolutely tender.
Once stock has cooled slightly, remove all the meat and vegetables and discard. Pour stock through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Use immediately or, if desired, refrigerate overnight and skim any fat from the surface. Yield: 6 to 7 cups stock.