The Case for Reviving a Classic French Specialty: Broth

Once you have your stock you must chill it in the fridge, preferably overnight or up to several days.

Now you must make a raft. A wha? A raft. You'll see why it's called that in a minute. Remember I said how hard it is to achieve clarity? This is where the raft comes in. Nowadays I hear there are high-tech hydrocolloids you can use in modernist cuisine to clarify broths, but for centuries the answer has been egg whites.

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Holly A. Heyser

Egg whites are primarily protein and water, but it's the proteins we're looking for. Put egg whites into a liquid and heat it and the proteins will form a molecular mesh that will act like a magnet, attracting the suspended solids that cloud your broth. The egg whites will rise to the surface of the liquid, drawing all the solids with them. Once strained, the liquid will be clear.

But it will also have less flavor, because a lot of those suspended solids taste good. This is why a raft is made from not just egg whites, but also finely chopped vegetables, tomato for acid, herbs, and some spices, plus an additional hit of meat.

This is another reason I suspect restaurants don't make consommé: It is undeniably expensive. You not only need meat and bones to make the stock, but you also need lean meat to grind with the raft to finish the consommé. If your customers don't appreciate the work that goes into consommé, then charging them $13 for a bowl—for what looks like clear, unadorned soup—might cause a ruckus.

Fortunately, we have no shortage of meat. Holly and I have been lucky enough to have had a banner duck hunting year, and so we had enough ducks to use for the raft. Even still, it kinda pained me to grind up 2 1/2 pounds of duck breasts for a soup. But they were sea ducks we'd shot in San Francisco Bay, so it was a good use for them.

To finish a consommé, you pour your cold stock into a stockpot—the pot needs to be taller than it is wide—stir in the cold raft and turn the heat to medium. It is vital that the stock heat up gradually, and it is important to stir everything frequently until you see the raft start collecting on the surface of the stock.

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Holly A. Heyser

Once the raft forms, simmer very gently for at least one hour, and no more than 90 minutes. If you are making fish consommé, no more than 45 minutes.

Finally, you can either ladle your consommé through the raft into a clean container, or you can skim off the raft and pour the consommé into the container—either way the soup needs to be poured through a paper towel set in a sieve.

Unless I am making consommé as a base for pasta, like I did at Grange, I don't garnish it. I want those who drink it (yes, you drink consommé, without a spoon) to experience the full glory of the soup. But you can garnish if you want. A traditional garnish for wild game consommé is julienned mushrooms.

I urge you to try making consommé, whether you use duck or chicken or beef or fish—you can even make a vegetarian consommé with mushrooms. Serve it to people you love, and take a little pride in explaining to them what you went through to achieve clarity. It can be a religious experience.

Click through to Hank's blog to view his complete recipe for duck consommé.

Presented by

Hank Shaw runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in 2009 and 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. More

A former line cook, veteran political reporter, and fisherman, Hank Shaw is a freelance food writer who runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, which chronicles Shaw's search for what he calls the Forgotten Feast: The seasonal foods--mostly wild--we once delighted in, but are now curiosities at best. Game, wild mushrooms, seafood, and wild plants all have a place in modern cooking, and Shaw spends his days exploring their possibilities on the plate.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook was nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in both 2009 and 2010 and by the International Association of Culinary Professionals in 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. His work has appeared in magazines such as The Art of Eating, Field & Stream, and Gastronomica. He hunts, fishes, forages, and gardens in Northern California with his girlfriend--and photographer--Holly A. Heyser.

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