The manuscript for my newest cookbook, The French Cook: Soups & Stews (Gibbs Smith, June, 2014) has been filed. Though not yet finished (photo shoots, edits, and design await), my months of soup recipe testing and writing have come to a close. I would by lying if I didn’t say it was a relief to have this book done, but I am also a little bit sad that the creation steps are behind me. I’m elated with the cover which I just discovered this morning. Here it is:
I hope you like it, too. I am eager to see the new book when she’s done. Gibbs Smith and my editor and her design team always do such a wonderful job.
I want to share with you another little advance peek into the book’s content with the following (adapted) chapter front on consommes, the very last chapter I wrote. A recipe for a simple and beautiful Beef Consomme with Mushrooms and Chives follows.
The inviting and elegant clarity of this soup makes it an excellent candidate for a special occasion or holiday, such as Easter.
Consomme (prounced con-some-may) is the consummate soup. A darling of The Belle Epoque in 19th-century France (and elsewhere), it is a dainty soup that deserves to be served in pretty, petite bowls and demands polite sipping. Made from stocks that are clarified with egg whites and enriched with meat (or seafood) and vegetables, they become as clear as the Azur sea and can be “finished” with anything from fresh herbs, to pasta, to truffles and even savory cream puffs. Escoffier catalogued hundreds of consommés in his legendary Le Guide Culinaire. There are consommés named after sunrises (Consomme a l’Aurore), actresses (Consomme Sarah Bernhardt), and Kings (Consomme George V).
It’s a shame that consommés have slipped somewhat out of fashion, because they are truly a pleasure to see and eat, can be made ahead, and are so versatile. The process of making a consommé is not complicated, but it does take a little time. Because the soup is purely “stock” (beef, veal, seafood/fumet, or chicken can be used), you really must use a well-prepared homemade stock or a top-quality commercial stock. Make it several days ahead and/or freeze it to break up the work. Once the stock is at room temperature, the stock is combined with a mixture of egg whites, (sometimes) ground meat, and finely minced vegetables. These ingredients do two things: they add a second, corresponding level of flavor to the soup and most importantly, the egg whites “clarify” the stock, literally pulling out impurities as the strange looking mixture simmers along. For the first several minutes (about 15), the egg/meat/vegetable mixture needs to be stirred, basically non-stop, with a wooden spoon, to make sure none of the crucial egg whites stick to the bottom or sides. After that it’s left alone, uncovered, and the most miraculous thing happens. The mixture starts cooking and thickening at the top and becomes what is known in consommé circles as a “draft.” After 30 minutes, it’s done its work and what lurks below the rather ugly draft is a beautiful, clear as a brilliant, sunny day, consommé. Next, a ladle is nudged into the draft to form an opening, and the consomme is ladled into a waiting bowl, through a fine sieve lined with three paper towels. The draft is then discarded, having done its work.
After that, the list is virtually endless on ways to finish the seasoning and garnishes for the consommé, but they should pair with the flavor of the stock, be petite, and be pretty. Nothing clunky will do. This chapter gives you an opportunity to pull out your food processor, which does an excellent job of mincing the vegetables finely for the clarifying mixture. All consommés can be prepared ahead and frozen or refrigerated, but add the garnishes just before serving the steaming soup, preferably served in your prettiest China.
Beef Consomme with Mushrooms and Chives
(Makes 4 to 6 servings)
Whisper thin slices of button mushrooms are added to the hot consommé to cook in just five minutes and are garnished with a sprinkling of fresh, green onion flavor chives. The “feet” of the mushrooms are added to the vegetable mixture to add another layer of mushroom flavor using an otherwise discarded part of the mushroom. This is an excellent consommé for beginners as it relatively simple and simply beautiful to behold.
2 stalks celery, chopped into 2”-lengths
1 leek, trimmed, cut to 1” above the white root, halved vertically and well-rinsed. Cut into 2”-lengths
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
Cleaned “feet” from 14 cleaned button mushrooms. Reserve the mushroom heads separately.
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves and stems
4 eggs whites
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1 teaspoon salt
10 black peppercorns, lightly cracked with a chef’s knife
6 cups best quality beef stock
To finish the soup:
1 tablespoon Cognac
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cups very thinly sliced reserved mushrooms
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
Place the celery, leek, mushroom feet, onion and parsley in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until very fine, about 30 seconds. Set aside. Place the egg whites in a very large bowl and whisk energetically with a whisk until frothy, about 1 minute. Whisk the reserved vegetable mixture into the egg whites and combine. Fold in the beef, salt, and peppercorns with a wooden spoon and stir to combine.
Place the room temperature stock in a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven or similarly sized pot. Stir in the vegetable/beef/egg white mixture with a wooden spoon. Turn on heat to medium, and continue cooking (uncovered), stirring constantly, until the stock comes to a simmer, about 15 minutes total. The draft will form now. Stop stirring and leave it alone for 30 minutes, making sure to keep it at a low simmer as to not break up the draft.
Remove from the heat. Break a hole in the draft, gently with the bottom of a ladle, and start scooping it out into a sieve lined with three paper towels into a large bowl. Keep working until all that is left in the pot is the draft. Discard this. The consommé can be refrigerated or frozen at this point. To finish, heat the consommé over medium high heat in a medium saucepan until simmering. Add the Cognac and mushrooms. Taste and adjust seasoning. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until the mushrooms are just wilted. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh chives, being sure to get mushrooms in every bowl.
Variations: Another way to use a good beef stock consommé such as this is to serve it with a julienne of a combination of vegetables, such as carrots, turnips, leek, celery, onion, and cabbage. Cut the vegetables into a julienne and simmer them in the warm, finished consommé to cook just before serving. They give extra flavor to the consommé at the last minute and are both beautiful and delicious.