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Sauces 101

One of the biggest mysteries to home cooks, it seems, is how to make sauces like the professionals. To this i have only three words to say. Stock, stock, and stock! It's not hard to make at home, keeps well frozen, and will make a world of difference. So why don't more people learn the ways of stock making? Well, the time involved might be one reason. Another might be the availability of pre-made substitutes, like "broth" and now even pre-made stock itself. However, broths have way too much sodium to use in a reduction sauce (or any sauce for that matter), even the "low sodium" varieties, and even the pre-made stocks have too much sodium and not enough gelatin to make a rich and unctuous demi-glace. The only resort left to the home cook is to make it ones self. But there are some things that need to be kept in mind when the decision has been made to undertake this noble art. stockFirst, to roast or not to roast (the bones). You'll get deeper, richer color and flavor if you roast the bones, but will that suit the dish being prepared? A lighter spring dish, possibly not. This is generally just a point of preference, but if you're making a veggie stock I would definitely roast them a little just to add some color (remember, color=flavor!) before putting them in the stock pot and adding any liquid. Escoffier (if you don't know who Escoffier is, check the links I included) makes a distinction between stocks made with roasted bones and those without. Calling those with roasted "brown stocks" and those without "white". This terminology has long been industry standard. Having made your decision on this, next we consider our aromatics, the vegetables used for background depth and aroma. Typically this is a mix of equal parts onion, celery and carrots, the classic French mirepoix. I have also seen recipes that call for 2 parts onion, 1part celery, and 1 part carrot. Leeks and other green onions also make a nice addition. Bay leaves, whole black peppercorns, whole garlic cloves and herb stems are pretty standard as well. Though with herb stems it's always best to err on the side of caution using only mild herbs such as parsley and thyme. Rosemary, tarragon, and the like are easy to over use and may not be suited to every application of the finished stock, such as a reduction sauce. The amount of water used is crucial, as well. It should be just enough to cover all the ingredients. Too much and you'll have to reduce it longer, too little and you won't get the proper flavor extraction from the bones and vegetables. How long and what temperature to simmer a stock at is also something I should cover, as this is of extreme importance to the clarity, gelatin content and flavor of the end product. You don't want to bring your stock to a full boil, in any case. This makes any proteins extracted from the bones tighten up and cause the stock to be cloudy and murky. Affecting flavor as well, it could cause some bitterness. A gentle simmer, where the surface of the water is just barely rolling and little if any bubbles are surfacing is ideal. Here is a simple table of guidelines to follow as far as simmering time goes: Vegetable stock = 20-30 minutes Fish stock (also known as fumet) = 40 minutes - 1 hour Poultry stock = 6-8+ hours Meat stock = 8-12 hours Now for a basic stock recipe. We'll go with chicken since it's the most versatile. 3-4 pounds of chicken carcasses, washed and (optional) browned in a moderate oven, 325ish 1/2-1 pound white or Spanish onion, roughly chopped (if using leeks as well only 1 pound) 1/2 pound celery, roughly chopped 1/2 pound carrots, roughly chopped 1/2 pound leeks, washed and roughly chopped or 1/4 pound of scallions 4 whole garlic cloves 3-5 bay leaves (depending on size) 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns 10 parsley stems 10 thyme stems Sweat the vegetables and garlic briefly in the bottom of a tall stockpot in a small amount of light oil. Add the rest of the ingredients, and just enough water to cover. Simmer for the amount of time specified above, and gently skim off any scum that rises to the surface with as little agitation as possible, another thing that contributes to cloudy stock. So by NO means stir it. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, lightly tapping the side of the strainer. Don't try mashing it through or otherwise scraping the inside of the strainer, it'll leave the stock murky. After it has cooled down place it in the refrigerator. When it has been chilled and the fat has risen to the surface and solidified, remove the fat and from here you can package the stock (which should resemble loose Jello at this point) in air tight 1 quart containers and freeze it for several months. Or, if you know you will use it soon and in small amounts, put it in an ice cube tray, or both. Don't be too hasty in throwing away that fat though! It makes a great fat component in the place of butter for roux, which will totally crank up the volume of flavor you can get out of a chicken sauce or gravy you might be thinkin to use the stock for! Keep it in a sealed container in the 'fridge if you plan on using it within the week, or freeze it for a couple months. The only real difference between this and other preparations I mentioned in the time table is the differing bones used. For fish you should sweat the washed bones as for the vegetables, and if using fish heads cut out the gills. Spines and heads are best, and choose a fish that's not too oily. Halibut spines are one of the best to use, as well as sturgeon. Salmon, mackerel, and sardines are a bit too strong and oily for stock. If you have salmon bones they can be used as long as the stock is going to be utilized in a heavy dish, like a fish stew. Beyond that, the ingredients are pretty much the same. Some tweeking may be required for different applications once a little more experience is gained, but that should be a good start. Consomme is any stock further clarified to get a glass clear product, but that is a post all unto it's self and a procedure that many professionals even have a hard time getting right. For meat stocks, like beef, veal, venison, and lamb, roasting the bones and vegetables is more common, but still optional. Again, keep in mind what you will most likely use the stock for. Soups? Don't roast. Stews? Up to you. For a demi-glace, the undisputed king of sauces, veal stock is used, but even here roasting is a matter of preference. If you do decide to roast the bones and vegetables, half way through the roasting of the bones brush them with tomato paste and allow it to brown slightly. This suits a demi-glace well since there will be tomatoes further in the process. So, that said, here's another recipe. For Demi-Glace: 2 gallons good veal stock 1/2 pound of shallots, sliced 4-5 garlic cloves, sliced 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns 1/4 cup tomato paste 1 bottle (750 ml) good medium bodied red wine, Shiraz is my personal favorite 4-5 whole thyme stems 1 inch sprig of rosemary 1 teaspoon Red Wine vinegar 2-3 Bay leaves
Demi-Glace

Demi-Glace

In a heavy bottomed pan lightly sweat the black pepper, Bay leaves, and shallots until very soft over medium low heat. We're not looking to get any color on the shallots, just cook until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and tomato paste and turn the heat up to medium. Once browned slightly, add the wine and herbs and reduce the wine by 2/3 to 3/4. Here is where the veal stock comes in, and there are 2 ways to go about this next step. One way is to reduce the stock ahead of time down to 1 quart and add it to the wine reduction here. The other is to start the wine reduction in a pot large enough to hold the 2 gallons of veal stock and wine reduction at the same time and reduce down to 1.25 quarts. Either way works fine, it's just easier and quicker to use the 2 pot method since you can have the wine reduction going when the veal stock is almost finished reducing. Whichever way you go about it, keep tasting the stock throughout the reduction process, if you got a good amount of gelatin out of the bones used for the stock you might not need to reduce it as far. Point being, there are always variables, and by constantly tasting and knowing the target consistency you will avoid over reducing. When reduced to about 1.25 quarts strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer and add the vinegar. Here it doesn't matter as much if you mash it through, though Keller swears not to, I think I'll side with him. You can store this in ice cube trays as well and add it to whatever you need to in the amounts you need it. Or just reheat in a pan over a very low flame (you don't want to reduce it further), pour over a grilled steak and dig in! Whipping in a small amount of butter gradually once the Demi is hot will smooth out the texture and give it a very clean finish. Another optional step best suited to veal and pork dishes. The ideas and recipes above are all French or French inspired. The Japanese, however, utilize stock as well, and have a very different approach. The most common stock used, and one of the key ingredients to Japanese cooking, is Dashi stock. This is made by steeping Katsuo Bushi (Skipjack Tuna, also known as Bonito) that's been dried and shaved paper thin along with Konbu (dried kelp) in water, much like making tea. There are readily available packets of shaved Katsuo at any Japanese grocer, and ready made Dashi No-Moto (Bonito stock base granules) as well. So it's really a matter of what level of dedication you have to reproducing this at home. I can tell you from experience the only real difference in any of these approaches is the salt content. The ready made Dashi No-Moto soup base has some salt content, where as you can regulate that yourself if you buy the shaved Bonito or whole dried variety and shave yourself. However, most restaurants, even in Japan, opt for the Dashi base. The salt content is minimal and you only ever use Dashi for lighter preparations, so you don't need to use much, and it's never used in heavy reduction sauces so you don't have to worry about concentrating the salt content. That said, I would highly recommend the Dashi base in this case. The flavor profile is pretty much the same, and can be altered, in any case. Since we're on the subject of stock/soup bases, let me tell you my personal opinion on them, as a chef. They are a good thing! Surprised? I'm not advocating them as the main flavor component, by any means. If your stock sucks, your sauce is gonna suck, bottom line. I am, however, advocating them as a flavor enhancement, to be added at the end of the sauce making process. What's the most prevalent flavor in a base? Salt. Be it powdered, cubed, paste, what have you, they're all mostly salt. So treat them as such. A flavored salt, to add your salt content to whatever you are cooking and an extra flavor boost at the same time. Keep in mind the components, though, and add the base that is appropriate. Chicken base to chicken stock sauces, mushroom base to sauces that have mushrooms in them, ect. This can be an amazing way to enhance your cooking of pretty much anything. The most important thing in great sauce making is tasting while you go. Every step of the process, taste it! After a couple tries at making the same sauce or soup you'll get to know what it tastes like at different stages of the preparation. This will help you guide the process to achieve the desired results. Indeed, this is an important concept in ANY cooking. Taste as you go, and taste often! In most professional kitchens there are huge boxes of disposable plastic spoons for this very reason. Tasting spoons are a cheap, one use, sanitary way to keep your cooking on the right track. I could speak volumes on the subject of sauces (there is a reason why the sauce maker, or "saucier", is the most highly respected position in a French kitchen), but I'm not tryin to write a damn book here. I'm trying to show that restaurant quality soups and sauces are very much achievable at home. All it takes is a little knowledge, and the desire to cook better and healthier. If there is anything I didn't cover that you are still curious about, please feel free to ask in the comments. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escoffier http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soup_stock http://www.cheftalk.com/cooking_articles/Making_Stock/112-How_To_Make_White_Stock.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consomm%C3%A9 Thanks for reading. Until next time, live well and eat better! Jack