Irish Stew

The defining element of Irish stew is the use of lamb neck, or scrag.

Traditionally it is made more like a casserole than a stew.  Actually it bares an uncanny resemblance to boulangère potatoes.  Lamb, potato rounds, and other vegetables are layered in a casserole, then covered with stock or water and baked in an oven.

Lamb neck is a very tough cut of meat.  I sear and braise the necks to tenderize, then use the shredded meat and cooking liquid to make the stew.

Once the necks are very tender to the tip of a paring knife, I remove them from the liquid and let cool briefly.  While the necks are still warm I fold back the meat and remove the neck bones in one piece.  There is also a large band of yellowish elastin that should be removed.  You can see it running down the centre of the neck meat below:

Removing the bones and elastin from the braised lamb neck.

 

Irish Stew

Ingredients

  • 2 lamb necks
  • 75 g bacon fat
  • 240 g yellow onion, 3/4″ dice (roughly 1 large onion)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 200 g carrot, 3/4″ dice (about 3 medium carrots)
  • 200 g celery, 3/4″ dice (about 2 large ribs celery)
  • 1/2 tbsp dried herbs (I use a mix of thyme, rosemary, and savoury)
  • 75 g all-purpose flour
  • 1 x 341 mL bottle ale
  • 375 g turnip, 1″ dice (rutabaga for all you moderns…. about 1 medium rutabaga)
  • 425 g yellow potato, 1″ dice (about 2 smallish potatoes)
  • spinach or kale

Procedure

Part One: Cooking the Necks to obtain super tender meat and flavourful broth

  1. Season the lamb necks with salt and pepper.  Sear, either in a pan or a very hot oven, until amber in colour.
  2. Transfer the seared scrags to a pot.  Cover with cold water and put over medium-high heat.  Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer.  Regularly skim the surface of the water with a ladle to remove foam and fat.
  3. Gently simmer the scrags until very tender when poked with a knife.  This will take at least a few hours.
  4. Remove the necks from the liquid.  Let cool, then remove the meat from the necks.  Vertebrae and a very hard bit of yellowish connective tissue.
  5. Reserve 1 L of the cooking liquid for the stew.  The remainder of the liquid can be reserved for another purpose.

Part Two: Making the Stew

  1. Melt bacon fat in a separate pot.  Add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, and dried herbs.  Sweat the vegetables until the onions are starting to turn translucent.
  2. Add the flour and cook briefly.
  3. Slowly add the ale while stirring.  A thick sauce should form.
  4. Slowly add the 1 L of lamb stock.  Return mix to a gentle simmer.
  5. Add turnips and potatoes.  Return mix to a gentle simmer.  Simmer until turnips and potatoes are tender.

A bowl of Irish stew with buttered bread.

Introduction to Soup

Split-pea soup with ham hock and crème fraîcheThere is something medieval about soup.  It is often made from bones.  It takes time to prepare, and to eat.  Soup is slow and simple and primordial and the opposite of modern.

I consider the promulgation of soup a personal mission.  Most of the formal meals that I prepare for friends or at work include a soup course.  Burns supper, for instance, begins with Scotch broth, Thanksgiving with squash soup, Viennese dinners with pancake soup.

Types of Soup

This is the kind of rant I usually relegate to the footnotes of a post, but I want to talk about soup classification.  In culinary school our standard text was called Professional Cooking for Canadian Chefs (PCCC).  I learned a lot from this book, but some parts of it are seriously whack.  One of the most annoying things in PCCC is its classification of soups. There are, it says, four types of soup: clear, thick, international, and specialty.  Isn’t that ridiculous? Gumbo (a thick soup) was classified as an “international” soup, because it had a specific regional origin (Louisiana).  Gazpacho (a thick soup with a specific regional origin) was classified as a specialty soup, because it is served cold.  Ridiculous.  It’s like saying there are four types of cars: red, blue, fast, and Italian.

So, let me correct the matter and say that there are two types of soup: clear and thick.  Many of those soups have specific regional origins.  A few of them are served cold.  But they are all either clear or thick.

 

Clear Soups

Chicken noodle soup!Clear soups are made with transparent stock or broth, through which is distributed various garnishes such as vegetables, meat, and starches.  Chicken noodle soup is a clear soup.

The principle aesthetic consideration when preparing clear soups is the colour and clarity of the stock.  Adherence to these basic stock-making principles will result in a clear, flavourful stock with an appetizing colour.

Converting good stock into a soup can be as simple as adding some chopped vegetables and leftover meat.  I typically lightly sauté my vegetables in butter before adding the stock.  This is strictly for flavour.  Be sure to use a scant amount of fat to sauté your vegetables.  It’s nice to have a few spots of fat floating on top of a clear soup (the French call these spots “eyes”), but you don’t want so much that it forms a mat of grease.

If the clear soup will contain a starch such as pasta or rice, cook the starch in a separate pot of water.  These garnishes leach starch into the liquid as they cook, so they would cloud your soup.  Think about what water looks like after you’ve boiled pasta in it.

 

Thick Soups

When the liquid body of the soup is opaque and viscous enough to coat the diner’s spoon we describe the soup as thick.  Thick soups can get their viscosity in a number of ways.

Purée Soups.  Purée soups experienced a minor renaissance about ten years ago when a marketing genius started selling ready-made butternut squash soup.  Before that, most people in our part of the world only knew of stodgy “cream soups” like cream of mushroom and cream of potato.  I know that’s a pretty sweeping generalization, but this is a blog not an encyclopedia and I get to write things like that.

The most important thing to know about purée soups is that they must contain some sort of starch.  Broccoli, for instance, contains little starch, and will not make a cohesive, voluptuous purée without the help of a starchy companion like potato.

I would like to discourage three common practices when it comes to purée soups.

The first is the idea that you need stock to make soup.  This is a lie invented by classical French cuisine.  Stock is helpful (but not essential) in clear soups, but more or less useless for purée soups.  For starters, the full body of a rich stock is completely lost in the starchy mass of the purée.  Also I think the goal of a purée soup should be to taste perfectly like the ingredient it is made from.  If I make a potato soup, I don’t really want it to taste like chicken and mirepoix.  You can make very, very flavourful purée soups using only water.

The second is born from the idea that a soup or sauce has to simmer for several hours to develop flavour.  This isn’t true.  In fact, vegetables have the most flavour when they are just, just cooked.  After this the flavour wanes.  Vegetables should only be cooked to the point of complete tenderness before being puréed.

Finally is the idea that you must finish a purée soup with cream.  There is a time and a place for cream in soups, but it has a tendency to mute other flavours.  In some cases it also kills the colour.  I like to use cream with potato soups and mushroom soups.  I would never add cream to a squash soup, as it would turn the vibrant orange to a muted yellow, and muddle the natural, sweet flavour of the vegetable.

The way to really distinguish a purée soup is to make it as smooth and velvety as possible.  Nothing will get vegetable mash as smooth as an upright blender like a Vitamix.  Food processors, even powerful commercial varieties like the Robot Coup, and immersion blenders just don’t circulate like an upright blender.  Start blending the soup and forget about it for maybe five minutes, then run the soup through a chinois.

Purée soups should not be stodgy; a spoon dragged along the surface shouldn’t leave a trace.

 

Purée Soup Case Study: Squash and Apple Soup

Pumpkin soup with cream and Styrian pumpkinseed oil

This is a magic soup of subtle architecture that perfectly bridges savoury, sweet, and tart.

Sautée sliced onions and garlic in butter until the onions are becoming translucent.  Add cubed squash and apple and sauté briefly.  Cover with cold water.  Bring to a simmer.  As soon as the squash is tender, transfer the soup to a blender.

Season.  Don’t feel shy about adding a bit of sugar to reinforce the natural sweetness of the squash.

Finish with pumpkinseed oil.  Not to knock North American producers, but nothing compares to the Styrian variety.  I’ve written about it before, but it has a deep forest green colour and a knockout aroma of roasted nuts.  The best that I have had in North America was imported by a company from Montreal called Green Gold.  Not sure if it will be available in stores in Edmonton.

Other appropriate garnishes: heavy cream, roasted pumpkin seeds.

Roux-Thickened Soups.  Roux is the traditional way to thicken several classic soups, including chowder and gumbo, but it has fallen from favour in recent decades.  In fact, some of the chefs I have worked for have explicitly banned roux from their kitchens.  There are a few reasons for this.  First is the ever increasing phenomenon of gluten sensitivity.  More generally, roux is seen as stodgy.

I love roux.  I always have butter and flour in my kitchen.  It tastes good.  I use it in mac and cheese and corn chowder and even tourtière.

If for some reason you can’t use a roux in a chowder, you can make the soup as if it were a clear soup, then separate a portion, puré it, and mix it back with the rest of the soup.

A Quick Note on Cold Soups before we go

I think the two most common cold soups are tomato (“gazpacho”) and cucumber.  Many have tried these and decided they’re gross and then sworn off cold soup for the rest of their lives.  A better gateway into cold soups is the starchy varieties like potato and leek (“Vichysoisse”) and those containing fruit (the squash and apple soup described above).

My favourite cold soup is parsnip and pear:Bowl of parsnip and pear soup, garnished with toasted hazelnuts and chervil

 

In conclusion, I’ll reiterate that soup is the very essence of frugality and comfort.  Let it be a part of your life.

Chicken Stock and Chicken Noodle Soup

As I mentioned in the Cutting Poultry post, one of the chief pleasures of buying whole birds from the market is that you get a bunch of bones with which to make stock.

You can make a small amount of light stock with one chicken carcass, or you can freeze the bones and collect a few carcasses so that you can make a whole pot.  You can cut up your chicken, raw, into largely boneless pieces, and save the raw bones for stock.  Or, if you roast the whole bird and pull the meat off at the table, you can save the cooked carcass for stock.

All the bones of the bird can go in the stock.  The neck and back are particularly good.  I like to set aside the wishbone. While this particular collarbone does not have the same Delphic power as that of a Thanksgiving turkey, it’s still fun to break.

If I have raw, uncooked chicken bones, I roast them very aggressively before making stock. Roasting produces richer flavours and colour, and makes a clearer stock.  The slender bones of the chicken require very high heat, at least 450°F, to brown thoroughly.  I deglaze the roasting pan with a small amount of cider, white wine, or even diluted vinegar if I’m hard-pressed.  The fond that forms on the roasting pan is tasty, and the touch of acidity from the deglazing liquid will help dissolve collagen into gelatin and give the stock a richer mouthfeel.

As discussed in my post on making stock:

  • start with cold bones, and very cold water
  • bring to a simmer very slowly
  • skim away foam and sludge
  • simmer extremely gently, so it is steaming, and there are almost no bubbles
  • simmer the bones overnight, then add the roasted vegetables for the last hour, and the fresh herbs for the last fifteen minutes.

Notes on Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken noodle soup is perhaps the ultimate New World comfort food. (It’s main contenders would be macaroni and cheese, Thanksgiving stuffing, and pumpkin pie.)  While a flavourful broth is the essential foundation of good chicken noodle soup, there are still many other factors to consider.  First of all, it is important to leave a small amount of fat in the stock.  Most cultures that make chicken broth recognize the importance of a few spots of gleaming fat floating on the surface.  The most refined even have names for these spots.  The French call them  les yeux, “the eyes.”

The following are matters of personal taste.

A small amount of moist, tender chicken.  When I was a kid I didn’t even like having chicken in my chicken noodle soup; I was perfectly content with broth and noodles.  As a grown-up, I put a bit of meat into the soup, but not much; typically just some meat pulled from the carcass.

Lots of noodles.  Obviously you can use whatever kind of noodle you want, but I prefer delicate noodles as opposed to chunkier, say, penne or bowtie.  Sometimes stars align and I have made both chicken stock and fresh egg noodles.  When you roll and cut fresh pasta into, say, tagliatelle, you always have a bit of misshapen pasta scraps left.  They are occasionally sold to customers in fancy Italian restaurants as “rag pasta” or malfatti, which I think means “malformed,” roughly.  Anyways, they’re great in soup.  If you want a very clear broth, boil the pasta in a separate pot of water, or it will leach starch and cloud the soup.

Lots of herbs added shortly before serving.  This is important.  Herbs give up their strongest aromas and flavours after only a few minutes of simmering.

Lots of black pepper.  Also important, especially if you have a runny nose.

Soda crackers soaked in broth cure most ailments, physical and spiritual.

Chicken noodle soup!

Making Stock

StockpotIt’s a cliché, but it’s true: Stock is the soul of the kitchen.

When I’m cooking a meal for a large group, I always start by making stock a few days beforehand.  Our dinner on Thanksgiving Monday, for instance, starts with a turkey stock made on the preceding Saturday.  Last year’s New Year’s Eve dinner started a couple days before when I made a ham hock broth.  Stock is the flavour-foundation of the meal.  The showpiece of Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey, and besides enjoying the meat, turkey-flavour finds its way into the soup, the stuffing, the gravy, and often the vegetables.  The turkey stock unites the dishes.

The ideal stock has three characteristics: above all it is flavourful, with a full mouthfeel, and it should be (relatively) clear.

The old adage is that the flavour of a stock comes from meat, while the body comes from bones.  This is mostly true.  The bulk of the meaty flavour comes from the meat, while the body is formed by the conversion of a connective tissue called collagen into gelatin, which occurs in hot, moist environments like the stock pot.  The best sources of collagen are the cartilaginous joints of young animals (veal “knuckles,” for instance, which are the knee joints, as well as necks and feet), but tough muscles are also high in useful connective tissue (lamb and beef shank, for instance).

Restaurants have the luxury of ordering in the optimal bones by the case.  At home I use any and all bones and clean meat trim that I collect when cutting animals.

Roast the bones.  The bones used to make stock are cooked before they are simmered.  Classically they are either roasted to make a brown stock or poached to make a white stock.  At home, I always roast the bones: it’s simpler and quicker than poaching, plus I like the colour and flavour of the stock that it produces.  If you’re interest in making classical white stocks, read The French Laundry Cookbook.

Whether the bones are roasted or poached, it’s important that they are cooked before they are simmered.  The two main reasons that stocks end up cloudy are these: one, that proteins on the surface of the meat are leached into solution; two, that fat from the meat is emulsified into the stock.  Cooking the bones coagulates the surface proteins and renders excess fat in the meat, both of which will result in a clearer stock.

Roasting the bones will form a fond in the pan.  This is a rich repository of flavour and should be collected and included in the stock.  You can deglaze the hot pan with water, but I like to use a bit of dry cider or wine, depending on the type of stock, as the acidity will help extract the gelatin from the bones during simmering.  Make sure to pour off and reserve any fat in the pan before deglazing; we don’t want any fat in our stock.

The Vegetables.  You can use vegetable trim, but don’t use vegetable garbage.  Carrot peelings are for the compost pile, not the stock pot.

I also roast the vegetables.  Preferably this is done in the fat that is rendered from the bones and trim during the roasting process.

Ratio of Bones to Water.  In culinary school we were taught that the ideal ratio was 4:2:1 water, bones, vegetables, by weight.  Ruhlman suggests 3:2 water to bones in his book Ratio.  I guess this is helpful, but really you’re just going to fill a pot with all of the bones that you have, then add enough water so that they’re covered.  If a portion of bone isn’t covered in water, you won’t extract any of its flavour or gelatin.  I’ve been measuring the amount of water it takes to cover a certain weight of bones, and I’ve found that it varies from animal to animal.  Chicken bones are light and small, and it takes more water per pound of bones to cover them then, say, large dense beef knuckles.

Start cold.  It’s important to chill the bones thoroughly after roasting.  We want to start with cold bones in cold water, then very slowly raise the temperature of the liquid, over the course of at least an hour, to a gentle simmer.  We want the the surface proteins to coagulate very slowly, so that they can form clumps that will either rise to the surface or fall to the bottom of the pot.  If heated quickly the proteins will not conglomerate, and will stay suspended in the stock.  Water from the cold tap is also said to taste better than that from the hot tap, which has sat in the water heater for some time.

Skim like a mother.  As the temperature of the water increases, the aforementioned surface proteins will coagulate and throw foam or scum onto the surface.  This happens throughout the stock-making process, but especially as the water is coming up to temperature.  These impurities should be skimmed away.

Simmer very, very gently.  A stock pot should never boil.  The ideal temperature to hold a stock at is at a faint, faint simmer.  The pot should be barely bubbling.  I like to see it steaming, but not bubbling.  Boiling jostles the contents and clouds the stock.  Sometimes little pockets of air get trapped between bones, and as the water heats up, the air expands, escapes, and bubbles to the surface, so that the pot appears to be gently boiling when it’s really not.

Simmering time.  In culinary school they made us memorize recommended simmering times for different types of stock.  If I remember correctly, they were:

  • vegetable broth: 45 to 60 minutes
  • fish and seafood: 45 to 60 minutes
  • poultry: 2 to 3 hours
  • veal and beef: 6 to 8 hours

I only follow these recommendations for vegetable broth.  Every other type of stock – fish and seafood, poultry, pork, lamb, veal, and beef – I leave for 24 hours.  While you can make a fairly flavourful stock in only a few hours, simmering for 24 hours will maximize gelatin extraction.

Adding Vegetables and Herbs at the End.  So let me ask, rhetorically: if a vegetable stock has its best flavour after only an hour of simmering, why would I add vegetables at the start of a poultry stock and let it simmer for a few hours?  Why not add them only for the last hour?  Even better examples of this principle are black pepper and herbs, which release their purest flavour after only fifteen minutes of simmering.  If you add herbs at the beginning of a stock, by the time you’ve extracted the flavour of the meat and the gelatin of the joints, what little herb flavour remains will be muddy and muted.

I tailor the vegetable and herb content to each type of stock.  For instance, with poultry stocks I like lots of celery, and a variety of herbs.  For turkey stock I like sage.  For beef stock I use a small amount of tomato.  For lamb stock the only herb I use is thyme.

Freezing.  When I make chicken stock from a couple of carcasses, there isn’t usually any need to freeze the stock, as we can easily consume it as soup over a few days.  However, when making pork and beef stock using all the bones from an entire side, there is way too much stock to consume at once, so some of it has to be frozen.

Whether you’re freezing the stock or not, it’s good to chill it thoroughly before consuming, as any fat will rise and solidify on the surface, where it is easily removed.  (Culinary school considered even a drop of fat in stock a terrible crime.  Realistically it depends on what the stock will be used for.  It’s good to have a few drops of fat shimmering on the surface of chicken noodle soup.  You just don’t want it to be greasy.)

One good way to freeze the stock is in ice cube trays.  Once frozen, you can pop the cubes out and store them in a Ziploc bag.  This is handy because you can easily remove any amount of stock at a given time.  The downside to this method is that it takes up a lot of room in the freezer.  I’ll typically freeze part of a batch of stock by filling up large bags, and part in ice cube trays.  When I plan on making soup and I know I’ll need a couple litres of stock, I can pull out the large bags.  When I only need a couple ounces to fortify a sauce, I can pull out a few cubes.

A General Procedure for Making Stock

Ingredients

  • bones
  • vegetables, usually onion, celery, carrots, and garlic
  • dry cider or wine
  • cold water, enough to cover the bones, usually 1.5 to 3 times the weight of the bones (depending on the type of bones being used…)
  • herbs and peppercorns, tailored to the type of stock

Procedure

  1. Roast the bones in a heavy tray until thoroughly browned. Remove the bones and chill.
  2. Roast the vegetables in the fat that rendered from the bones until lightly browned.  Remove and chill.
  3. Pour any excess fat from the roasting pan.  Deglaze the pan with the dry cider or wine and reduce until au sec.
  4. Put the roasted bones and the cider or wine reduction in a stock pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer very slowly, then hold at a gentle simmer for 24 hours.
  5. Add the roasted vegetables to the pot.  Return the liquid to a simmer and hold for 45 minutes.
  6. Add the herbs and peppercorns.  Bring the stock to a simmer and hold for 15 minutes.
  7. Strain the stock to remove the bones and vegetables.  Chill thoroughly, then remove the solidified fat from the surface.

Split-Pea Soup – Soupe au Pois

Yellow split-peasLast year I wrote that ham hocks are only consumed in one of two ways in my house: either slowly roasted so that they have glassy crackling, or simmered so that their intense, smoky, porky essence can be collected in a broth.

This ham-hock broth is the distilled essence of eastern Canada, and the foundation of split-pea soup.

Once you have simmered the ham hock and collected the broth, here are some thoughts on making split-pea soup.

After extensive cooking the ham hock itself has very little flavour and seasoning, but it still makes for a good garnish.

I use yellow split-peas, because the green ones look like baby poo once they’re cooked.
Split-peas have very intense thickening power.  In culinary school a classmate made split-pea soup for a project.  Everyone had made a soup, and they were all lined up in front of the instructor for him to taste and evaluate.  The teacher took a look at the split-pea soup, lifted it from the table and in one quick motion turned the bowl upside down and held it over his head.  Nothing, not one drop, fell from the bowl, because the student had used way, way too many split-peas (and the soup had started to cool, which thickens it even further.)  Just remember you’re making soup, not hummus.  I use one cup of split-peas for every four cups of broth, and I still have to thin the soup with milk or cream just before serving.

Once the peas are well-cooked, purée the soup in an upright blender for at least a few minutes for a smooth texture.  I think that a slightly silty mouthfeel is part of the character of split-pea soup, so I don’t usually strain or chinois after blending.

Split-peas have a great roasted nut flavour, especially when cooked in ham hock broth, to the extent that sometimes split-pea soup reminds me of peanut butter.  In a good way.  Crème fraîche does a good job of cutting through the nutty, tongue-smacking intensity of the peas.

Split-pea soup with ham hock and crème fraîche

Beef Liver Dumplings

Liver!For me, the most shocking part of buying a side of beef was how much liver we got.

A lot.  I like liver more than most, and I thought it was too much.

If you have to get through a lot of liver, there’s no better way than to just sear it in a pan and tuck in.  When the distinct, glandular texture of liver wearies the palate, there are liver dumplings.

This was a staple when I was in Austria.  Lunch always consisted of soup, meat, and dessert, and the soup often contained some manner of offal.  Most notable were the soft, bready liver dumplings the size of a toddler’s fist, floating in beef broth.

The biggest problem with liver dumplings is their grey colour.  Since the dumplings are simmered, they don’t develop any appetizing golden-brown shades.  This can be alleviated somewhat by quickly and aggressively searing the liver before using it in the following recipe.

 

Beef Liver Dumplings

Ingredients

  • 10 oz beef liver (actually calf’s liver would be preferable…)
  • 4 oz unsalted butter
  • 2 oz onions, finely chopped
  • 10 oz worth of day-old rolls, cubed
  • 3 oz whole milk
  • 4 oz bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • parsley to taste

Procedure

  1. Soak the rolls in the milk.
  2. Sear the beef liver over high heat so that it develops a brown crust, but the interior is still rare.
  3. Let the pan cool slightly.  Add the butter.  Once the butter is foaming, sauté the onions.
  4. Combine the soak rolls and the beef liver.  Grind the mixture through a 1/4″ plate.
  5. Combine the ground mixture, the onions, and all remaining ingredients.
  6. Shape into round dumplings about 2 1/2″ across.
  7. Poach until the centre is cooked, about 25 minutes.
Serve in flavourful beef stock, garnished with chives:

Liver dumpling in beef broth

Corn Chowder

We’ve been getting some great corn from Tipi Creek over the past few weeks. Then the ever-resourceful Judy came across a farmer who was about to till under an entire field of corn. Needless to say, many an ear has been husked and devoured in the past while.

Corn on the cob is one of my favourite things to eat in late summer – especially grilled so that some of the kernels are black, and of course slathered with butter – but with this much corn around, I’ve been trying some other classic preparations.

 

Flavourful Broth from Leftover Corn Cobs

With all due reverence to corn on the cob, I often find myself cutting off the kernels: it’s a quick way to turn an overwhelming pile of ears into a single bowl of food.  But before relegating the empty cobs to the compost heap, there is more flavour to be extracted from them.

The base of my favourite corn chowder isn’t water or chicken stock, but corn broth.  If you make a simple vegetable stock with onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and herbs, with the addition of empty corn cobs, you’ll be left with a liquor redolent of sweet corn.

Corn and bell peppers go well together because of their mutual sweetness.  I always include red and yellow bell peppers as garnishes in my chowder, and any trim from these can also be added to the corn broth.

The Chowder

Fry bacon until there is a satisfying layer of grease in the pan.  Remove the meat, then add chopped onion, carrot, celery, bell pepper, and garlic.  Sauté until the onions start to turn translucent.

There are many ways to thicken a corn chowder.  I use roux, mostly because I like the flavour, but also because I was forced to make a roux every day for the first two months of culinary school, and I want to believe that it’s a useful preparation.

So I add flour to the bacon fat and cook it out.  Then I whisk in my corn broth and bring it to a simmer so that the soup thickens.

Add corn kernels and cooked, chopped yellow-fleshed potatoes.  Return the bacon to the pot.  Season aggressively with salt and coarsely ground black pepper.  Ladle into soup plates and garnish with green onions.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate late summer vegetables.

Bountiful bowl of corn chowder

Pickle Soup

Pickles!This is exactly the kind of delicious, hearty, ingenious, frugal dish I love.
While finely chopped condiments like relish, piccalilli, and jam can be canned on their own, larger slices of vegetables like cucumbers, beets, and carrots require an acidic liquid in which to be preserved.  The liquid prevents the growth of aerobic pathogens by keeping air away from the vegetables and filling the space with acid, salt, and sugar.  Once the vegetables are gone, this delicious liquid can be used in a number of applications.

If this sounds at all gross to you, think about what is in dill pickle juice: water, garlic, black pepper, mustard seed, coriander, bay, cider vinegar, salt, and sugar.  The liquid has been cooked out and over the course of a few weeks or months has had time to mellow and balance.  It really is fantastic stuff.

My day to day use of pickling liquid is in dressings.  Thinning out mayonnaise with a bit of dill pickle juice makes a great dressing for slaw.  Thinning crème fraîche with pickled beet and horseradish liquid makes an elegant accompaniment for smoked fish.

I recently came across a traditional Ukrainian dish called kvasivka selians’ka that uses the brine from the sauerkraut crock to make soup:

[The soup] makes a thrify use of the sauerkraut juice that would otherwise be left in the barrel.  It seems appropraite for Pentecost celebrations, since by late spring the supply of last year’s sauerkraut would probably have run low.[1]

It may only be November, but I’ve already gone through a few jars of preserves.  Today I had some dill pickles out, so I decided to make pickle soup.

For this particular version, I browned carrots, onions, and the garlic cloves from the pickle jar in butter.  Then I added all-purpose flour and cooked the roux until aromatic and starting to brown.  Then I poured in some of the pickling liquid and whole milk, which I cooked gently until the mixture thickened.  At this point I added some boiled, chopped, russet potatoes, and some of the pickles themselves.

Some notes:

  • Consume very hot, with a healthy dose of black pepper, and a drizzle of cold-pressed canola.  I don’t know why, but the flavour of cold-pressed canola goes extremely well with this soup.
  • The exact amount of pickling liquid you use will depend on how acidic the liquid is.
  • The starches (the roux and the potatoes) temper the acidity of the pickles.
  • Browning the onions and roux brings out their sweetness, which compliments the sweetness of the pickles.

Dill pickle soup finished with cold-pressed canola

1.  Pisetska Farley, Marta.  Festive Ukrainian Cooking.  ©1991 University of Toronto Press.  A very good read.

Ice Clarification of Stock

This time last year I started thinking about preparations that take advantage of the frigid outdoor temperatures.  I made candy in the fresh snow and tried the “apple jack” method of concentrating alcohol by freezing.  I’ve just tried another sub-zero preparation, gleaned from the pages of The Fat Duck Cook Book.  It’s a fascinating technique called gelatin-clarification of stock.

In culinary school one of the cool-but-antiquated dishes you learn to make is consommé.  Consommé is flavourful stock that is strikingly, brilliantly clear.

The classical method for clarifying stock uses something called clear meat.  Clear meat contains albumen-rich ingredients like egg whites and certain cuts of meat like shank.  When albumen coagulates, it forms a delicate network that traps the tiny particles that cloud stock.  Unfortunately, in doing this it also removes a lot of the flavour of the stock, so we need to add taste-fortifying ingredients to the clear meat.  The shank-meat will accomplish this to a certain extent, but we also add vegetables.

Once the clear meat is assembled it is added to the cold stock.  The pot is placed over low heat, gently stirred and very gradually brought to a simmer.  As the stock heats up, the eggs and meat start to cook, and the albumen network moves through the stock collecting impurities.  Once the eggs and meat are completely cooked, they form a thick mat on the surface of the stock, called the raft.  To release the pressure created by the simmering stock below, the raft should have a hole poked into it.  The stock-and-raft is simmered gently for about an hour, to extract the flavour of the meat and vegetables

Heston Blumenthal’s technique for clarifying stock is completely different and absolutely foolproof, though it takes a while longer than the classical method.

Here’s the theory behind the ice clarification of stock.  A properly made stock will be rich in gelatin.  When chilled, gelatin forms a network similar to that of the coagulated albumen in cooked meat and eggs.

For a stock with a typical gelatin concentration, the network forms at any temperature below roughly 10°C.  If the stock is heated above this, the network melts.

Imagine freezing a stock to -18°C.  The gelatin sets up its network, and the water freezes.  Now imagine putting that frozen stock in a 4°C fridge.  The water content will melt, but the gelatin network will stay in tact.  As the water melts it will run through the gelatin network, which acts like a filter and catches the particles that cloud the stock.  Once all the water has melted you are left with a cloudy clump of gelatin, and a pool of crystal-clear stock.

To really test the clarifying-power of this technique, I made the an extra-cloudy pheasant stock by cooking bones and mirepoix at a rolling boil instead of a simmer.  Then I put the stock in a stainless steel bowl, covered it with plastic wrap, and set it outside overnight.  It froze into a solid hemisphere.

To remove the ice, I inverted the bowl and heated the underside with a blowtorch.  Once the curved surface of the hemisphere had melted slightly, the ice slid out of the bowl.  I rested that ice in a colander lined with a clean dish towel, then set the whole contraption in a large glass bowl in the fridge.

It takes quite a while for ice to melt in the fridge.  Mine took about 2 days.  Freezing the stock in a large, thin sheet would accelerate melting.

The results are surreal.  This is far and away the most dazzling stock I’ve ever seen.  In the photo below you can see how murky the original stock was.

There are two problems with this method, both stemming from the fact that you have removed all the gelatin from the stock.  First, the consommé has a very watery mouthfeel.  To restore the rich texture the diner expects from clarified stock, Blumenthal typically back-adds pure gelatin.

Second, the process has a very low yield.  The classical method also results in waste, but not to this extent.  I think that my yield was particularly low because of the muddiness of my original stock.  I started with 545 g of pheasant stock, and ended with 305 g of crystal consommé, a yield of only 56%.

Obviously this is not a process I will do very often.  Like, possibly never again.  If you take the time to make a stock properly, it will be clear enough to serve as a soup to all but the most pretentious guests.

Still.  An interesting experiment.

The Thanksgiving Turkey

Turkey is certainly one of the finest gifts made by the New World to the Old.

-Brillat-Savarin in The Physiology of Taste

 

A Thanksgiving turkey, fresh from the ovenThe Saturday morning of Thanksgiving weekend we pick up a turkey from the Four Whistle truck at Old Strathcona, then take it home and cut it up, usually into two suprêmes (breasts with the drumette still attached) and two leg-thighs.  I know: bringing the whole roasted bird to the table, and carving that bird in front of the guests, is an indispensable part of Thanksgiving.  I appreciate the pageantry of tableside carving, but there are some huge advantages to separating the bird.

With the bird broken up into smaller pieces I can sear them to jump-start the browning.  Each piece can then be removed from the oven at the proper temperature (165°F for legs, 155°F for breasts).  Also, the turkey cooks in under an hour, which makes our Thanksgiving timeline less stressful and more flexible.

Finally, with the remaining carcass I can make a stock to be used at the same dinner as the meat.  We have essence of turkey to add to the soup, the stuffing, and many of the vegetable accompaniments.

I think the above gastronomic benefits trump Thanksgiving ritual.

For a few years I was riding the brine bandwagon, and I’d submerge the turkey bits in a simple solution of salt, brown sugar, and sage.  More recently I’ve simply been laying to two breasts and the two legs on a wire rack, seasoning them generously with salt, black pepper, and herbs, then leaving the turkey uncovered in the fridge until Monday.  The skin dries out so that it will brown well in the oven.

Once the bird is cut and resting in the fridge, it’s time to make turkey stock.

Making Turkey Stock

My general stock-making procedure is outlined here.  Really the only difference between my turkey stock and chicken stock is that the turkey stock is very herbaceous, especially with sage.

Here’s my complete turkey stock method.

Turkey Stock

Ingredients

  • carcass of one 10-15 lb turkey, including neck, gizzard, and wingtips
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 ribs celery
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 small head of garlic
  • 3 bay leaves
  • roughly 2 cups dry cider
  • roughly 6 L very cold water
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 1 bunch sage
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 5 black peppercorns, crushed

Procedure

  1. Roast bones in a heavy pan at 350°F until thoroughly browned. Remove and set aside.
  2. Roast the vegetables in rendered turkey fat until browned. Remove a reserve for later use.
  3. Pour any excess fat from the pan.  Deglaze the pan with the dry cider and reduce au sec.
  4. Put the roasted bones and the cider reduction in a stock pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil then simmer very gently for 24 hours.
  5. Add the roasted vegetables to the pot. Return the liquid to a boil and simmer gently for 2 hours.
  6. Add the herbs and peppercorns.  Simmer gently for 15 minutes.
  7. Strain the mixture and chill thoroughly.  Once chilled, remove any fat from the surface of the stock.

Please, please save the abovementioned fat and fry something in it.  Here’s an idea:

Turkey Gravy

I know gravy is supposed to be made from pan juices, but if there’s loads of juice in your roasting pan, doesn’t that mean your meat is dry?  I prefer to make gravy from stock, fortified with the minimal drippings in the roasting pan.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup turkey fat, either from the roasting pan, or reserved from the chilled stock
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dry cider
  • 1 L turkey stock

Procedure

  1. Deglaze the roasting pan with the dry cider.  Reduce the cider to 1/4 its original volume.
  2. In a separate pot, combine the fat and flour.  Cook out the flour for about 5 minutes.
  3. Stir the cider and stock into the roux.  Adjust seasoning and consistency.
The Thanksgiving table