Welcome to week 3 of my cooking techniques course. We’ve already covered knife skills and eggs– now it’s time for stocks and soups. I like soups so much that my friends and I are thinking about having a soupotluck.
We made six soups in class on Sunday. Six. Whew. That’s a lot of soup.
Luckily, I am now well armed for any soupotluck coming my way.
This is a really long post with a lot of information. So for those of you who just glance at the pictures and go straight for the recipe, there are a few main takeaways.
1) Don’t boil stock
2) Don’t stir stock
3) Stock is a great dumping ground
4) Season, season, season: salt and acid are your friends
And for those of you who want to use my blog instead of dragging yourselves out of bed at 8 am on six Sundays in a row, here’s the summary of what we learned.
First we started off with a discussion of stocks. Fond de volaille (chicken stock), fond brun (brown veal or beef stock), fish fumet (fish stock), and vegetable stock. Chef reminded us that stock is a great dumping ground for things you might normally throw out: chicken carcass, limp carrots and celery, dark green leek tops. When you find yourself with some of these extra, less than perfect ingredients, chop them up and throw them in the freezer. And then when you have a few hours when you’re doing other stuff around the house, throw them in a soup pot with water and let them simmer away.
Stock adds gelatin and taste to sauces. The gelatin comes from the collagen in bones and joints. Due to the gelatin, when the stock has cooled, it will be a bit jiggly. Vegetable stock has no gelatin and no jiggly.
Chef shared with us a whole bunch of tips.
First off: defrosting ingredients for your stock. Vegetables – you can just throw them right into the stock. Meats you want to thaw as slowly as possible. The best method is to put the frozen meat in the fridge for about 2 days (especially for a big roast … not that you’d put a roast in a stock, but you get the idea). Next best is “slacking” – run the meat under a steady stream of cold water until the meat thaws. Finally, the quickest way you can safely thaw is to a “warm slacking’ – place the meat in warm water and then replace the water when it becomes cold. Keep doing this until the meat thaws – this can take as little as 20-30 minutes. It’s a no-go on countertop thawing or microwaving.
When you add water to bones, make sure the water is cold (helps dissolve albumin protein which keeps the stock clear). The water level should just barely cover the bones (and aromatics) so that the stock is richer (too much water – too dilute). Simmer the bones for about 10 minutes and some scum should rise to the top – skim it off.
Don’t stir the stock because this will move the scum around and will be harder to skim. Don’t boil the stock because it’ll also move the scum around. If you don’t get most of the scum, the broth will be cloudy. Got that? Don’t stir and don’t boil. Because, really, who likes scum?
After your first scum skimming, add the aromatics vegetables and bouquet garni. Mirepoix is the classic aromatics mix: 50% onion, 25% carrot, 25% celery. But who needs to be classic? You can use leeks. Or zucchini. Or whatever you like. The smaller the bones you’re using, the quicker the stock will finish, and the smaller you’ll have to chop the veggies (more surface area means they cook more quickly). So for fish fumet, you’ll need a small brunoise.
Tie together thyme, bay leaves, and parsley stems into a bouquet garni. Want to be fancy? Wrap the boquet in a dark green leek leaf, and then tie it up. You can also use cheesecloth to make the bouquet easier to remove.
Don’t add salt when you’re making stock. You’ll be adding it to whatever you make with the stock.
You know that the stock is ready the bones start falling apart — it means that all of the collagen has broken down. This takes about 30 minutes for fish. About 3-5 hours for chicken. And a brown stock? A whopping 8 – 24 hours — just let it simmer (not boil!) overnight. Vegetable stock typically takes about an hour to make.
When the stock is done, strain it. First strain out the big stuff through a colander. Do a second strain through a fine mesh anything – an expensive chinoise if you have one (please ignore the racist French name) or cheese cloth.
Cool the stock down and then skim off the fat. Don’t put a bit pot right into the fridge – it’ll warm up everything else in the fridge. To cool it off, put it covered outside in the snow if it’s winter, or distribute across several smaller containers and bring it down to room temperature before putting it in the fridge.
Remember – once it has cooled, a good stock will be gelatinous.
We didn’t make our own stock due to time constraints, but we did use them as a basis for all of our soups.
Before we served our soups, we did a seasoning exercise with salt and acid. Except for a few situations, we didn’t add a drop of salt until we finished cooking the soups. We tasted the soups without any seasoning at all and then slowly added salt until the full flavors developed. A good rule of thumb is about 2-3 teaspoons per 2-4 quarts of soup. But the better rule of thumb is add salt until it tastes good. We then added acid – either lemon juice, vinegar, or wine. The acid brings a bit of freshness to whatever you’re making, and also reduced the effects of salt. So, you may need to a bit more salt after the acid. Or, if you have added too much salt, acid can make your dish taste less salty.
Cream of potato soup with hazelnut pesto
This is a very rich soup. Very rich. I, who never like cream of anything soup, loved it. Just a little goes a long way. After cooking the potatoes, you’ll drain and puree them – make sure to reserve the liquid or you’ll be left with mashed potatoes – amazing mashed potatoes, but they won’t be soup. That pinch of nutmeg - Chef reminded us last week that nutmeg makes cream creamier and cheese cheesier.
We made hazelnut pesto since one of my classmates is allergic to pine nuts – I think this version is even better than the classic. And any leftovers can be thrown on pasta.
For the soup:
- 3 T unsalted butter
- 2 leeks
- 2 lbs potatoes (we used russet potatoes in class)
- 2 quarts cold vegetable (or chicken) stock
- 1 – 1 1/2 C heavy cream (for a less rich soup, you can try half-and-half or light cream)
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste
For the pesto:
- a handful of skinned hazelnuts
- 1/2 – 2/3 C olive oil
- 2-3 cloves of garlic
- 2 C packed basil leaves, washed and dried
- ~1/2 t salt
- 1/3 C grated romano cheese
- 1/3 C grated parmesan cheese
Prep soup. Finely chop whites and light green leaves of the leeks. Soak them in cold water and agitate a bit — the dirt will fall to the bottom. Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes..
Cook soup. Melt butter in a big saucepot over medium heat. Add leeks and cook until very soft (the light green leaves will turn translucent). Add potatoes and stock and cook covered until the potatoes are very soft (taste them to check texture).
Puree soup. Drain the potatoes and leeks but reserve the liquid. Don’t forget – reserve the liquid. Push the potatoes through a sieve, food mill, or potato ricer. (Unfortunately, an immersion blender will just make the potatoes gummy.) This is a little bit of a pain.
Mix soup. Mix the potatoes with enough cream and reserved liquid to make a creamy soup.
Season and taste soup. Add a pinch of nutmeg and pepper (white pepper if you really want the soup to be perfectly white). Add salt about a teaspoon at a time, tasting with each addition. When it tastes good, add some lemon juice, a few drops at a time. Taste again for salt.
Prep pesto. While the potatoes are cooking, toast the hazelnuts. Hopefully they’re peeled, but if they’re not, put them in a paper bag when they’re still hot, close the top, and let them steam. A quick rub in a towel should do the trick for removing the skins.
Puree pesto. In a food processor, puree the hazelnut with 2 T olive oil until you get a smooth paste. Add the garlic and process again until smooth. Add basil and salt and keep processing. Then, very slowly alternate cheeses and olive oil a little at a time until you get a very smooth puree. Add salt to taste.
Eat. Top soup with a nice spoonful of pesto.