Taking Stock, Revisited

May 23, 2011

White Beef Stock

I have a short list of classic cooking techniques that I feel obligated to attempt, if for no other reason than to be able to say “I know how to do that.” Until a few weeks ago the technique at the top of the list was making consommé, a process that requires floating a “raft” of beaten egg whites, ground meat, and an acidifier (lemon juice or chopped tomato) on top of a pot of stock. When the raft coagulates at the surface you make a hole in the center, which creates a convection path for the liquid. As the stock passes through the raft, impurities are trapped in the protein matrix, resulting in a very clear broth. It’s a lot of work with many potential failure modes, the most common of which is having the raft disintegrate.

When I saw that I would need at least three liters of white beef stock to reduce for the sweet/sour/savory short rib glaze, I was prepared to go through the two-day procedure I was used to for making high-quality stock. I had read that Modernist Cuisine had a foolproof method for making crystal-clear, flavorful stock in a pressure cooker, and, sure enough, volume 2 has a two page spread laying out the “parametric recipe” and method. But before I dove into the deep end with the beef stock, I decided a test of the method was in order, so I made a batch of chicken stock.

What I love about the recipe is how the quantities of ingredients are expressed as percentages of the amount of water you use, which is roughly equivalent to the final volume of stock. To make my test liter of chicken stock, I weighed out 750 grams of ground chicken, 400 grams of chopped chicken wings, 60 grams of onions, 50 grams each of carrots and leeks (all vegetables thin-sliced on a mandoline), 5 grams of parsley, a gram of sliced garlic, and 0.1 grams of black peppercorns.

I blanched the chicken bones by covering them with water, bringing it to a boil, straining off the water, and rinsing in cold water.

After sweating all of the ingredients in 80 grams of vegetable oil in my pressure cooker pot, I added the liter of water.

I cooked the mixture at 15 psi for an hour and a half, then let the cooker depressurize. The contents had taken on a golden color and a concentrated chicken aroma.

I ladled out the stock, passing it through a fine mesh sieve as I transferred it to a container. The straining was hardly necessary, there were no particulates to speak of in the stock.

Satisfied with the results, and surprised at the simplicity of the technique – the most difficult step is weighing out the ingredients – I pushed on and scaled out the ingredients for the beef stock: 80% ground beef, 20% split calf’s foot (a gelatin source), 10% each of carrot and onion, 2% celery, 0.8% thyme, 0.15% rosemary, 1% garlic, and 0.05% star anise (a Heston Blumenthal discovery, which boosts the “meatiness” of the stock). I sweated the ingredients in 5% by weight of beef suet, and once again added everything to the pressure cooker.

After two and a half hours, the stock was ready.

As I ladled out the clear stock, I noticed that the contents had formed into a solid mass, bound together by the ground beef. The pressure had created a raft, which I’m sure contributed to the stock’s clarity. The final yield was what you see in the photo at the top.

The pressure cooker is now my new best friend, relieving me of hours of fussing with a stockpot full of bones and aromatics, and delivering perfectly clear stock in a few short hours. If I want darker brown stock, all I have to do is roast the meat and bones before applying pressure.

I labeled the chicken container MC Chicken Stock, it will be a long wait to meet its partner, DJ Consommé.

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