How is consomme made?

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Consomme is a almost perfectly clear soup, often simply garnished with a few small vegetable cubes, croutons, or served plain.  This classic French dish is prized for its clarity of appearance and flavor.  You may have had consomme before and wondered how chefs make it.  The complexity of the classic technique may surprise you.

Consomme is essentially good stock, often chicken stock, that has been clarified.  This method of clarification can also be used for fish stockveal stock, vegetable stock or even some juices.  Despite the name, this technique is very different than clarifying butter

Parts of a Clarification Mixture for Consomme:

Clarifying liquid for consomme is made using a mixture called “clearmeat” or “clarification” and its primary ingredient is egg whites.  To these egg whites are added mirepoix (chopped carrot, celery and onion), herbs and spices, lean ground meat if a meat stock is being clarified, and sometimes an acidic element.

Egg Whites: cook in the stock while it is heated on the stove.  Being light, they will rise to the top and form what is called a “raft” floating on the surface.  The interweaving fibres of cooked egg white will form a natural filter, that will collect the impurities in the stock as they bubble up through small holes and then flow back down through the raft.

Mirepoix, Herbs/Spices & Meat: These ingredients fortify the flavor of the stock while it’s being clarified, so that the consomme has a stronger taste in addition to a more beautiful appearance.  The herbs and spices used are often the same as those used to make the original stock (parsley stems, black or Tellicherry peppercorns, thyme, cloves, and bay leaves), though different chefs have different opinions.

Acidic Element: Tomato paste, wine, or lemon juice can be added to the clearmeat mixture.  It is believed that this can help the egg white coagulation for a stronger, better filtering raft.  Not all chefs do this, particularly because it can effect the flavor of the finished consomme.

The stock is placed in a pot on the stove, the clearmeat mixture is whipped together and then added to the stock, which is then simmered.  Once the raft appears, the chef pokes a hole in it if one doesn’t form naturally, and allows the stock to simmer until it has become crystal clear. 

The clearmeat mixture is then discarded, and the consomme is usually filtered through a chinois or other similar fine mesh strainer.  If beads of fat are still floating on the surface (often the result of a stock made with bones/meat where the fat wasn’t completely trimmed) the chef may draw strips of absorbant material (like a clean paper towel or coffee filter) across the surface to try to grab them.

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