Soup and Sensibility

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Wasn’t it terribly fashionable once to be mad about ‘bone broth’? Why consommé, my preferred term for it, needed dressing down in such brutal terms escapes my wildest wit. I suppose it seemed outmoded and perhaps a little snooty. Yet a light and flavourful bowl of enriched stock is a recipe which every cook should be able to serve forth. Certainly a staple.

Despite any ridiculous turns of trend and style, a well-made clear soup is an accomplishment becoming of anybody with a streak for subtler pleasures and kitchen tendencies. It is also not an extravagant thing though it will take time, patience and is perhaps a good test of a cook’s ability to make things which actually have taste and flavour.  It is woefully easier to just make a bowl of greasy and yet somehow soapy dun coloured water with a faint whiff of the drains. It is also perhaps at this point in time a suitably restive activity and nourishment.

First off you need bones, good bones. Left over roast chicken or beef is fine. Better is to go to the butcher and ask for a chicken carcass or two, or perhaps a few beef bones.  They will give you these gladly, the demand for chicken breasts mean that there is always a ready supply.  Lamb is no good at all, it has a nasty tendency to produce sour tasting and greasy stocks, which leave a sensation in the mouth not unlike Nigel Farage’s smug sound bites. If you can get a boiling fowl that would be good too.

Take these, and the more the merrier, and put in a large sauce pan, ideally tall and narrow to minimise evaporation.  Onto these put in that holy trinity of cookery carrots, onions and sticks of celery chopped rather roughly, again the more the merrier, perhaps two of each. The onions can have the skins left on and they will colour the stock nicely. If you have a bay leaf, or some parsley or suchlike then feel free to put them in as well. Then pour over the whole cold water to just cover the contents. Slowly bring the mass to just under boiling point, that point when the water shivers a little, and it gives off steam, turn the heat down very low indeed. I think would be possible to use the oven for this.

It is important to not boil the stock, if you do you will drive the fats from the meat into the broth and it will become a greasy mess. Anyway the stock will start producing a nasty coloured froth, the scum, which is the fat and other impurities which you do not want in the end product and which you should regularly and thoroughly skim off. Let the stock infuse slowly, steadily and constantly for as long as you can, an hour, two hours more is possible, then have a final skim and strain the stock. A sheet of kitchen paper can be used to strip any fat off the top.

This should be perfectly passable as a stock, but perhaps a little thin in itself. To boost the flavour mix a little lean minced chicken or beef, a hefty amount of pepper and an egg white and then add this to broth whisking all the while. The egg whites will capture the impurities and form a crust which will leave the liquid sparklingly clear. This will give a more meaty depth but if there is no reason that you can’t go more rogue. On the side of the national highway 6 in Siem Reap I had delicious soup flavoured with roasted onion and chilli. Ginger too would not go amiss, perhaps even some choice spices. Why not a little rounded cumin, some zesty coriander, for that matter why not some citrus zest? Why indeed not a few roasted nuts to give a real depth.

Think about what would infuse well, and what you want to taste, some flavours will rise and sit prominently, others will fade into the background, some will linger, some will be effervescent. Whatever you choose this then needs bringing to a swift boil, and then leaving for five minutes . Carefully strain the consommé, leaving behind that crust of egg whites, and you will be left with a beautifully clear and rather deeply flavoured soup.

This is a point to use your sense of taste. It will need salt, but how much depends on you. It will also want a little acidity to lift it, and how much lemon juice you should add again depends on you.  What I do advise is a slug of booze. A little vodka, though gin would do fashionably, adds a certain quality and which is a great improvement. Dry sherry, vermouth or perhaps even port are good additions as well.

A good consommé is a test for a good cook, a better test is staying away from ridiculous fads.

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