(All the puns I could have used to title a post on stock, consommé, and au jus are terrible, so I refuse to pain you with them. Besides, you’re hearing them all in your head right now, anyway.)
Egg whites and I have a long, antagonistic history. I don’t “get” them, and they don’t do much for me. It all goes back to my attempt, at the age of about twelve, of making an angel food cake, from scratch, while my family was out for the day. “Whip the egg whites until they form peaks,” the recipe said. So, bowl in arm and whisk in hand, I beat them until my wrist was ready to crumble. What’s a “peak” anyway? How does one judge”peakiness”? I poured the resulting froth into the cake pan, presuming it would rise during cooking (don’t all cakes rise during cooking?) I took it out of the oven just as my family arrived home. The resulting half-inch high hard-pan custard…jerky…would forever be known as my Angel Food Flop. Egg whites and I have never gotten along, since.
One of the things I’ve always wanted to be able to make is a nice, flavorful, crystal clear beef stock. A consommé, to be precise. Years ago, I went to my copy of La Varenne Pratique to find out how to do it. Great. Egg whites. I tried again and again, and all I got was cloudy stock and a couple of wasted eggs. Or worse. Enter Julia Child.
I don’t know why it took me so long to purchase a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, or why I failed to turn to her immediately for advice on consommé, but yesterday it all came together as I tried to re-construct Philipe’s famous, original French Dip sandwich.
Making stock has always seemed overly expensive and wasteful to me. You start with this huge pot and end up with a couple of quarts. For those who have bones lying about their kitchen, it’s great, but having to go out and buy bones sort of defeats the intention. But I started anyway, putting a bunch of bones and vegetables into a stock pot and letting it simmer all day. Yes. All day. One thing I have learned about making stock is this: there are no short cuts.
The next day came the trial: clarification. If you’re making Philipe’s famous French Dip sandwiches, you can’t have a cloudy jus. It must be clear. And to make a cloudy stock clear, you need egg-whites. There is no other way. It’s like low-tech magic, and for years I never got it to work, until yesterday.
- Take 5 cups of cold/cool fully degreased stock; put four cups into a pot and put one cup into a large bowl.
- Take 2 egg whites (3 if the stock is super cloudy). Put them in with the 1 cup of stock and whisk together (no worrying about peaks, here)
- Heat the 4 cups to boiling. Then pour it into the bowl in a thin stream, whisking the whole time (I found a gravy separator very helpful for this task)
- Return the mixture to the pot and put back on the heat.
- Stir constantly with the whisk while you bring it up to a simmer.
- At this point, you’re going to be sure you screwed it up. You’re going to look at this and think “miso soup.” It looks more cloudy than it began and you will despair.
- Fear not. All will be well.
- Once it achieves a simmer, drop the heat to keep it there, and move the pot to the side of the burner so the simmering liquid comes up on one side and not the other.
- Watch and be amazed, as the egg whites that cloud the stock now soak up all the cloudy bits and rise to the top, forming a raft.
- Let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes, turning it every 5 minutes or so, to make sure all areas of the pot have their chance at forming the raft.
- Ladle it all through a cheesecloth-lined colander into a bowl. The egg-white raft and all the cloudiness remain behind, and in the bowl is sparkly, clear consommé.
- Add 1/3 cup Madeira, port, or even white wine, if you wish.
Then it’s just a matter of roasting a bottom round roast to perfection, adding some of the consommé to the drippings, and serving.
Egg whites are still on a provisional basis with me, but this went a long way to repair our relationship.