Consomme

Let me tell you first that making consomme is a huge pain in the ass and parts of the process are kind of gross.  If that doesn’t turn you away, let’s go.

A friend of mine and I entered a Jell-o competition.

I swear this is going somewhere.

Anyway, a friend of mine and I entered a Jell-o competition. Thinking outside of the box, we decided to enter meat jello.  I figured we could add gelatin to stock, firm it up, and mold it to our liking.  That would have worked, but I thought that aesthetically, the clearer the better.  That meant making a consomme.

A consomme, according to Larousse Gastronomique, is “Meat, poultry or fish broth served hot or cold as a soup course…”, and “True consomme is clarified both by careful preparation, without stirring or boiling rapidly, and by boiling with egg whites before straining.”

The short of it is that stock or broth needs to be filtered to create consomme.  The classic way to do this is to combine egg whites and ground meat to form a raft.  As the stock and raft mixture is brought up to a simmer, the proteins coagulate forming a very tight net that traps all of the particulates within.  The consomme is simmered very gently so as to not break apart the raft and knock all the trapped cloudiness back into the liquid.

I had already made the beef stock (4 qt) so I was ready to add the raft ingredients: ground beef (1.5 lb), egg whites (6), mirepoix (8 oz), bay leave (2), parsley stem (4-6), peppercorn (10-15), chopped tomatoes (8 oz), and white wine vinegar (2 tbl).  The last two aren’t your typical soup base ingredients.  Their purpose is to add acid to help solidify the raft.

Here’s the trick with consomme: everything needs to be combined cold.  Put it in the fridge the night before if you have time.  At the least, an hour or two rest in the chiller is called for.

Once all of the raft mix is together add 1 qt of the stock.

Combine everything and add to the rest of the stock in a stock pot.  Here’s a little tip – I did this twice the other day, once in a tall stock pot, and once in a Le Creuset dutch oven.  The Le Creuset worked better.  It was easier to ladle out the consomme out of a wider pot than a taller one.

Bring everything to a simmer over low heat while stirring.  If you don’t stir, the meat will stick to the bottom of the pot and burn, leaving you with scorched soup.  The raft will start to form at around 165 degrees.  Once it starts getting thick, stop stirring and turn the heat down slightly.

Watch the raft.  You need to poke a hole in the top to let steam escape.  Do it too soon and nothing will happen.  Do it too late, and, well you really can’t because the raft may rupture on its own.  This happened to me once – it was like a soup earthquake.

Simmer for 1 – 1 1/2 hours.  Check back periodically to make sure that it’s still at a simmer.  If the heat’s too high the bubbles will break the raft apart.  Too low and the bubbles won’t push up on the raft, forcing particulates to get trapped in the raft.

The last step is to ladle and strain.  Move the pot off heat and ladle quickly into a strainer lined with damp cheese cloth.  I’m not saying it’s a race, just don’t take a smoke break.  If you have a chinois, this is the perfect time to break it out.  I don’t have a pic here because it was a two handed operation and I didn’t want to stop.

I wasn’t able to get all of the consomme out of the pot without risking breaking the raft apart, so you’re probably going to leave some behind.  Not that big of a deal because you will be left with a brilliantly clear, amber colored liquid that has excellent mouth feel.

I suggest you make quite a bit and freeze it.  This is not a weekly activity.

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