Week Two, Part I: Voulez Veloute Avec Moi?

Ok, ok, so it doesn’t quite work, but you can’t blame me for trying to compare a sauce made with clarified butter to sex, can you?

So, I made it through the week two culinary class, and you guessed it, I learned how to make that liquid gold called clarified butter. I think I am going to need to buy bigger pants or take a few extra yoga classes …

Clarified butter aside, this week’s class focused on mise en place and the foundation of all good soups and sauces, stock. We made white stock, brown stock, veggie stock–even a court bouillon! Now, you may be (and probably are) more informed than I was on the subject of stocks, but I learned a lot. My only prior stock experience, aside from the occasional turkey carcass experiment, was popping the cap on a container of purchased stock from the local grocery store.

Don’t misunderstand: I have READ about stocks before, and even convinced myself that I would make a few on the weekend “just because.” But I never really had six to eight extra hours with nothing to do where I thought, Gee, I need to go make some veal stock!

So here is the down and dirty of things I learned about stocks:

1. The difference between white and brown stock isn’t chicken or beef. It has to do with whether you brown up (i.e., caramelize) the veggies and bones first. Caramelizing results in a darker, richer stock. It especially tasty with veal bones.

2. You have to start with cold water. You must skim off the foam. You must simmer, not boil. And you must not just pour the stock into the container and put it in the fridge when you are done. Your goal is clear, not cloudy, so if don’t follow the guidelines just mentioned, you’re screwed. You must carefully ladle the stock into a mesh strainer, being careful not to disturb the sediment. You can even strain it twice before putting it in a ice bath to cool before storage.

3. Another interesting tidbit: the fat that congeals at the top of the stock in the fridge helps to keep it from spoiling, but you should freeze it if you don’t plan to use it in about a week or two.

4. Don’t salt your stock! You don’t want to limit its use later, so to keep it versatile for all recipes, minimize the sodium. Add it in later. Also, pepper isn’t your friend. It can go bitter if you let it cook too long and flavor your entire dish with bitter pepper flavor.

5. Protein (i.e., bones) are the basis of any non-veggie stock, but two other things besides water are imperative: the mirepoix and the sachet. A classic mirepoix is 50% onion, 25% carrots and 25% celery. The size of the dice gets smaller the shorter the time the stock cooks. The sachet is a cheesecloth filled with herbs and other flavoring components, like peppercorns or a clove of garlic.

6. Brown stocks have to cook forever. If you are short on time or just aren’t that ambitious, try a veggie or fish stock. Eight hours becomes less than one. Or try a court bouillon. It isn’t actually a stock, but it is often used in place of water to poach seafood. It also has an acid element, usually citrus and vinegar.

7. Stockpots in a professional kitchen are gi-normous.

8. I need to learn more math. Taking a recipe for 2 gallons of stock and reducing it by a fifth isn’t as easy as I thought. Proportion is everything.

9. My ulimate goal is to be able to make a glaze. That is where you reduce a stock down to a thick syrup and refrigerate it. Then you can freeze it and it keeps for a long. Since this is concentrated uber-stock, you just cut a square of the glaze jelly to add to recipes. What a space saver!

10. If you are a great sauce-maker, you are gold to any good restaurant.

Most of all: Stocks are much more complicated than I thought!

Stay tuned for part II where I write my confessional about how much I suck at mise en place.

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