How to make consomme

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A good consomm depends on a very rich stock. Winoy, watery stocks won't work. Make your stock trong enough by using extra amounts of fresh meaty bones or aromatic vegetables. You can also reduce a finished stock by boiling gently to concentrate flavor. But don't cook it down too much or it will taste flat and dull. Starting out extra-strong is crucial because the very things that give stock flavor all those tiny particles thatalso make it murky will be removed during the clarification. Skimming a stock regularly while it simmers will also produce a clearer, better-flavored stock.

The transformation from cloudy stock to clear soup is carried out by the proteins in a mixture called a clearmeat egg whites, some ground or chopped meat (except when making vegetarian consomm), and some aromatic vegetables and seasonings for flavor. When the stock and the clearmeat are heated, the particles in the stock coagulate with the egg white and meat protein. In effect, the stock is filtered. You can also add tomatoes to the clearmeat; their acid will help the coagulation, but they'll darken the consomm slighlty.

Make clearmeat by first chopping up onions, celery, carrots, and the principal flavoring ingredient (seafood, chicken, beef, or mushrooms depending on what kind of consomm you're making). Mix this with egg whites, salt and pepper and process it in a food processor until very fine. You can use egg whites alone, but the other ingredients boost and fine-tune the flavor of the finished consomm. Seasonings such as salt and pepper are added to the clearmeat because you don't want to add them to a finished, perfectly clear consomm. The stock itself should also be well seasoned.

The clarification process begins byu whisking about two cups of cool or warm stock into the clearmeat and then adding this mixture to the rest of the stock. If you've just made your stock and it's still hot, take extra care to whisk the stock, a little a time, thoroughly with the clearmeat so the heat doesn't coagulate the eggs too soon.

The next step is to bring the whole thong to a gentle simmer over high heat, stirring constantly and gently to prevent the clearmeat from settling at the bottom of the pot and burning which will ruin everything. A good tool to use is a long-handled spatula or flat-ended spoon that will scrape the bottom of the pot. Don't rush this stage if the clearmeat cooks too quickly, it won't take in all of the suspended particles and thoroughly clarify the stock.

When the stock reaches a boil, immediately turn down the heat as low as possible while still maintaining a gentle simmer. Stop stirring.

The clearmeat will gradually coagulate and rise to the top as a crust called the "raft". The raft acts as a filter, trapping all the tiny suspended particles as they bubble up through it. Use a ladle or a large spoon to poke a hole in the raft, called a chimney, if a hole doesn't form naturally. The raft will set up better if you baste it occasionally by ccarefully ladling some stock over it. Don't let the stock boil, which will break up the raft and ruin the clarification of the consomm.

After the raft forms, let the stock simmer gently, undisturbed, for about 20 minutes, or until perfectly clear and richly flavored. If the consomm isn't clear after 30 minutes of simmering, most likely the raft has broken up or has stuck to the bottom of the pot. In this case, strain the stock, discard the raft, and begin by making a fresh clearmeat mixture using the same stock.

Now the trick is to retrieve the crystal-clear consomm without mixing up the raft. Just work slowly so you can control the liquids and solids separately. Line a sieve with a clean, damp, lint-free cloth.

Ladle the consomm through the lined sieve. Don't try to force the liquid through the sieve, which will only cloud the consomm. When you get down to the bottom of the pot, tilt it over the sieve to pour out all of the free-running consomm; use the ladle to keep the raft from falling out of the pot. Throw away the raft and set the consomm aside to cool, preferably using an ice-bath.

Remove any traces of fat from the consomm by blotting the surface with paper towels. A well-made consomm will be fat-free. It will keep for three days in the refrigerator and up to three months in the freezer.

by Irving Shelby Smith Fine Cooking June-July 1995 Submitted By DIANE LAZARUS On 06-17-95

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