Wee Scotch and I are finally back in Dubai, after 8 weeks away, and slowly settling back into desert life with Scotch and into the incredibly hot 100-degree (38°C) weather.
Upon arriving at the Dubai airport, I changed from winter wear to a short sleeve shirt but by the time I had reached our car in the airport parking lot, I was already dripping with sweat from head to toe. And this was at midnight!
It’s wonderful to be back in my own kitchen although it took me a couple of days to remember where I had put everything. My cupboards are so jam packed with ingredients that I’m constantly organizing them to the point where I forget how I organized them.
My husband Scotch had one of his wisdom teeth pulled out last week (ouch!) and since his gums were quite sore, he was lucky that I just happened to be making my first ever consommé that day as part of the September Daring Cooks challenge.
I remember the first time I ever made chicken soup from scratch instead of using stock cubes. I had this fanciful notion of homemade chicken soup and had practically placed the thought of it on a pedestal, as if it was the holy grail of fabulous cooking.
After what seemed like an extraordinary amount of work (this was back in the day, just after I graduated university, when “cooking” for me meant boiling instant ramen noodles in the microwave) – slicing, chopping, dicing, sauteeing, simmering, straining, more simmering…
…just to end up with soup that tasted like a generic can of chicken soup. It could have come out of a tin labeled Campbell’s or Progresso. It was so utterly disappointing – I thought what I could churn out of my kitchen would be so much better than a measly can of soup.
That experience put me off making my own chicken stock for a very long time. Like years. Maybe even a decade. God, I sound old when I say that.
* * * * *
I made a visit to Carrefour hypermarket to pick up the ingredients for my consommé and instantly fell back into the habit of buying ingredients that I didn’t immediately need but felt the need to horde in the case that I may need it one future cooking day. Like what? Oh, like a tin of bamboo shoots. This was a special tin of bamboo because it’s not the flat rectangular ones but the ones that are shaped like cones.
(And as I was passing by the lemongrass section, I was happy to see that there was Asian/Thai basil and Holy basil available for once. I would have grabbed a bag of each (because who knows when I’ll see them at Carrefour again!) but I already had my meals planned out for the week and the basil would just spoil in my fridge.)
Making a consommé seemed a bit daunting at first with all the steps but I was determined to complete the task. I always thought consomme was just French for “broth” and never realized that there was actually a technique involved in the clarifying/filtration process.
I used Peta’s consommé recipe and the first step was to make a chicken stock with carrots, onions, celery, and broccoli stalks. Oh, and dried mushrooms. I had dried Chinese mushrooms in the cupboard so I used those. The stock was simmered for 2 hours and then all the solids were strained and removed.
Now that the chicken stock was ready, it was time to make the soup as the second step. What drew me to Peta’s soup recipe was that the ingredients she used were Asian in nature. Just up my alley. After all, I didn’t want to end up with another tin of Campbell’s soup.
So into the chicken stock went ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, red bell pepper, red chillis, star anise, cinnamon, scallions and cilantro. The soup was mega-fragrant from the start:
After simmering the broth with the flavorings for 40 minutes, I again strained and removed all the solids. Then it was on to the third step of making a consomme – clarifying the soup.
Peta described two methods of clarifying: (1) egg white and meat binding process and (2) gelatin filtration process. I chose method (1) because it was more traditional and I wanted to try it first before attempting the gelatin method in the near future.
In the traditional method, cooked ground meat (I used chicken) and whipped egg whites are mixed together and then whisked vigorously into the simmering soup so that the proteins coagulate and form a “raft” on the surface which traps impurities and thereby clarifying the soup.
When I added the chicken and egg white mixture to my soup, I could see the raft of chicken and foam forming immediately.
To extract the clarified soup, or consommé, I had to make a hole in the center of the pot by pushing the raft aside and then by carefully ladling out the liquid.
I got a little impatient after ladling one bowl of soup. So I took the remaining liquid plus raft and dumped it through a strainer hoping to quicken the extraction process. Uh yeah, that was a Really. Bad. Idea.
As you can see in the bowl on the left (below), the raft broke apart and the unstrained particles mixed back into my soup. The bowl on the right was the carefully ladled consommé.
Despite the mishap, I still felt extreme pride over my first ever consommé!
And it tasted GRRREAT! No canned soup flavor here. It was full of citrus elements – hints of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves with the lime juice giving it a nice balance. There wasn’t any one flavor that was overpowering and the consommé wasn’t watery nor bland like many a room service order.
To accompany the chicken consommé, I made chicken cilantro gyoza using wheat cake wrappers that I found at Waitrose.
I don’t think I would go through all this work for an average dinner night but I would certainly make it for a dinner party. And I’m looking forward to trying the gelatin filtration process next time.
* * * * *
- 1 kg chicken bones
- 1 boiling chicken or 2 kg (2¼ lb) wings
- 400 gm (14 oz) onions, about 4 medium
- 400 gm (14 oz) carrots, about 6 medium
- 200 gm (7 oz) celery, about 4 large ribs
- 50 gm (1¾ oz) dried mushrooms, about 12
- 200 gm (7 oz) broccoli stalk, two large stalks
- 2 litres (8 cups/2 quarts) chicken stock
- 500 gm (1 lb) chicken mince
- 2 whole star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 cm (1½ inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced
- 1 stalk lemongrass, bruised
- 4 cm (1½ inch) piece fresh ginger, extra, peeled, chopped
- red capsicum (red bell pepper), chopped
- 2 spring (green) onions, chopped
- 4 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
- 2 red bird's eye chillies, seeded (optional), thinly sliced
- cup (120 ml) (30 gm) (1 oz) Vietnamese mint leaves
- 1 cup (240 ml) (60 gm) (2 oz) coriander (cilantro) (Reserve 18 of the smallest leaves and 6 of the tips for service) wash the rest of the bunch including the roots.
- ¼ cup (60ml) lime juice
- 1 - 2 tablespoons (30 ml) fish sauce
- 1 egg white per 4 cups of stock
- 1 cup crushed ice per 4 cups of stock
- Cook your bones and chicken until brown.
- Sweat the vegetables in the oil or butter until soft.
- Put ingredients in a stockpot and cover with cold water.
- Cover with a lid, then bring to a boil on medium-high heat.
- Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered, skimming foam from surface, for 2 hours or until meat falls from bone. Lift out the chicken and keep for another use.
- Strain stock through a muslin-lined sieve. Discard solids.
- Fry the mince until brown and cooked. Allow any juices to cook off. You don’t want any burnt bits as it will make your stock bitter.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 30 – 40 minutes.
- Skim off any fat.
- Strain the soup to remove any solids. Allow 1 cup/240ml per serve
- Place egg whites in a bowl. This is the time to taste your stock and decide if it needs more flavourings or salt and pepper. Add seasoning to the egg whites.
- Whisk the whites to a bubbly froth and add the crushed ice.
- Add to the cooked meat. Mix together.
- Add this mixture to the simmering stock. Whisk for a slow count of three.
- Let it heat slowly back to a simmer. Don’t stir it again.
- The raft is a delicate thing. It is vital it doesn’t break apart (if it breaks apart it will all mix back into the soup and you’ll have to start again with the egg whites.), you want to bring it up to a simmer very slowly. Keep a close eye on it. I try to push the middle back so I get a good hole. Once the raft is substantial, break a little hole in it if there isn’t already one.
- As the consommé simmers, you will see bubbles and foam, come up through your hole. Skim it off and throw it away. When the bubbles stop coming and the consommé looks clear underneath, then you’re ready to take it out. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for ten minutes.
- Removing the consommé from underneath the raft is another nerve racking procedure. You want to break as little of the raft as possible, but you have to get underneath it to remove the liquid.
- Enlarge your hole with a ladle and spoon it all out as gently as you can. You can strain it if you want too but hopefully the liquid is clear. Once you’ve removed all of the consommé from the pot discard the raft. If you have never made a consommé before Victory dances and loud cheering are totally appropriate.
- Now you are ready to serve with your choice of accompaniment(s).