Now, on to the issue of the consommé. A consommé is nothing more than a soup made from clarified stock. It sounds fancy and daunting, but it is really quite a simple process if you remember some basics about stock making.
For our duck stock we will need: (The first four items are the byproducts of the quartering process)
2 duck carcasses
2 duck necks
2 duck wings
2 duck spines
5 fresh sprigs, thyme
handful, black pepercorns
Heat your oven to 425 degrees and roast the pieces of the duck until golden brown. Once cooled, use a cleaver or your kitchen shears and break up the bones into small but manageable pieces. By roasting the bones, we are enhancing their flavor. Breaking the bones allows for more marrow to leach out into the stock, enriching the flavor.
Place the ingredients in your stock pot (at least 12-quarts). Add enough water to just cover the ingredients. It is important not to add too much water, as this will lead to a thin and watery stock that doesn’t carry much of the duck flavor – and we’re going to need lots of flavor in our stock to ensure that our consommé is flavorful and full bodied.
Bring the stock to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. This next part is critically important: For the first 30 minutes of the simmer, you should hover over your stock and skim anything that surfaces! Why is this important? First of all, the proteins and other impurities that rise to the surface simply don’t taste good and we want to get rid of them as soon as they present themselves. Secondly, if we neglect the skim and the oogly-boogly gunk that rises off the bones simmers back down the pot, the proteins can work their way back into the liquid which not only affects the flavor, but it will affect the clarity as well. The goal when making any stock is to end the process with as-clear-as possible a final product. Prudent skimming now will save straining later.
Once you’ve gotten past the first 30 minutes to an hour you can relax a little. The rule in our kitchen is that if there is stock on the stove and you get up out of your seat for any reason, you skim the stock. This works pretty well in keeping the top of the stock pot clear of gunk. If you are making the stock solo, you should do a flyby every 15-30 minutes or so and skim anything that has surfaced. How long is this going to take? Well, how long do you have? I’d go with a minimum simmer time of 6 hours, but the longer you can let the pot simmer, the better the end results will be. For the duck stock that I turned in to consommé, the stock simmered for 10 hours. The one important thing to watch is your water level. I had plenty of water for that amount of simmer time. If you see that your initial liquid has reduced by half or so, it’s probably time to come off.
Once you’ve removed the stock from the stove, I usually go after any big pieces of veg or bone with a pair of tongs and discard – they’ve given you everything they’ve got. Next, set up your strainer rig and strain the smaller pieces out of the liquid. At this point a mesh colander will work just fine – there’s no reason to break-out the cheesecloth…yet.
Once the stock is strained, park it in your refrigerator overnight. This will allow some of the dissolved fat to rise to the surface and congeal. The next morning, skim the fat layer off and leave the stock out while we prepare our ingredients for turning our stock into a rich, delicious consommé. You will need:
1 large egg white per quart of stock, in this case 6
2 leeks, cleaned and diced
2 large carrots, diced
1 sweet onion, diced
5 sprigs, fresh thyme, whole
One thing that I’m excluding from this list that you will see in almost every published recipe for consommé is the addition of finely diced or ground meat, called a mousselin. Traditionally in a duck consommé, you would add ground thigh meat to this mixture to add flavor. I have two problems with this. First, I don’t need it. I’ve tasted my stock and it is perfectly ducky. Second, all of the ingredients I’m adding above are going to be strained and discarded. I like to eat my ducks, not throw them away. If you were making a consommé out of something with a little less flavor, I could see this addition being important. If you made your duck stock with care, you should have plenty of flavor to make a consommé without wasting the wonderful thigh meat.
Beat the egg whites until the are good and frothy and have roughly tripled in volume. Add the chopped veg to the egg white mixture and add to the bottom of your (clean) stockpot. Next, pour the cold stock over the egg white and veg mixture and stir so that the egg whites dissolve. Place the stockpot on medium heat and carefully bring to a simmer, once the stock begins to simmer reduce the heat to low. As the stock starts to simmer, the egg whites will rise to the top and form what’s called a “raft” on top of the stock. It is this formation of the raft that transforms our stock into a consommé. As the egg whites coagulate and rise, they trap many of the impurities present in the stock, thereby clarifying it. Once the raft has formed, take a ladle and poke a hole in the center to allow steam out. (Using the ladle is important, as we’re soon going to see.)
Carefully simmer the stock over low heat for at least two hours, and if you have the stock to spare, simmer and reduce as long as you’d like as this will only further concentrate the flavor. Once the consommé has simmered appropriately, we must contemplate our strainer rig. For straining any stock, I use a large fine mesh colander lined with cheesecloth. I also have a restaurant-grade large plastic container for storing stocks and consommés that fits both in my fridge and freezer. Place the cheesecloth lined colander over the container and (using your ladle) ladle the consommé through the vent hole in the raft until you have nearly all of the consommé out. This is an important step. You could simply pour the egg whites and consommé through the cheesecloth all at once, but using the ladle and taking the consommé out through the vent hole ensures that all of the impurities now trapped in the egg whites don’t have a chance to contact the still warm consommé and reattach themselves to our now perfectly clear liquid. Using this method you will probably sacrifice a cup or so of liquid, and that’s quite OK.
Once the consommé is in your container you could serve immediately, or stash in your refrigerator for later use. From 8 quarts of duck stock, I got a yield of 3 quarts of consommé, as I chose to simmer the stock and egg-white mixture for 4 hours which reduced the stock significantly.
This wonderful substance can be served as-is, with a little salt and white pepper, or you can do what I did with it. I took some sauteed chanterelle and porcini mushrooms and added them to the consommé. Topped with a bit of mild chervil and you have quite the impressive and tasty appetizer. The great thing about consommé is that if you close your mouth, it almost feels like you are eating a cream of duck soup. The mouthfeel is so rich and creamy and wonderful, yet the dish itself is not overly filling. The perfect start to a delectable meal.
Worth the effort? Absolutely