Creating the perfect consommé is a rite of passage for every culinary student, The simple broth, fortified with flavor but still clear enough to read a dime at the bottom of the pot, is the pinnacle of classic French cuisine. This process is seen as a sign of purity and extravagance, taking a lot of labor and ingredients to produce a small amount of final product. Now, more efficient techniques are bringing clarification out of the textbooks and classroom and into the contemporary kitchen.
To make a traditional consommé, meat trimmings are combined with finely chopped vegetables, normally including tomato that is then bound with egg whites and added to a pot of chilled stock and heated. With the rising temperature, the acid from the tomatoes releases and proteins in the egg white stiffen into a web, forming a “raft” that floats to the surface, pulling out and trapping impurities, leaving behind a richly flavored broth with stunning clarity.
Recently, a simpler method for making consommé has been derived. Gelatin, naturally present in meat-based stocks, functions in the same way as egg whites if it’s frozen: It forms a web, trapping impurities. Freezing a rich meat stock and thawing it over a fine strainer holds back the gelatin web, leaving a crystal-clear consommé, with much less time spent skimming. Deconstructing this culinary process reveals that a small amount of gelatin can be dissolved in almost any liquid, not just animal stocks, and the same thawing clarification process can be applied.
Agar agar, a seaweed derivative, also has potential to create a simplified consommé. Agar powder is dissolved into the base liquid, forming a loose gel that is strained and squeezed through fine cheesecloth. By removing the long freezing and thawing processes, clarifying with agar reduces the time to clarify and can be applied to almost any liquid ingredient, providing a vegetarian option.
Though efficient, these techniques still rely on added ingredients, skill and time. A new addition to the modernist kitchen uses physics, not chemistry, to clarify. Laboratory centrifuges are being used to spin flavorful broths into perfect consommés. Rotating the liquid forcefully ensures that solids and liquids completely separate, based on their uniformly different weights. This technique produces the potential to create simple label declaration consommé with the utmost level of translucence.
The age-old kitchen quest for pure flavor has unlocked new techniques for capturing an ingredient’s essence and presenting it in a new way. This perfectly suits the modern diner, who is looking for more fun, surprising and novel eating experiences. Unlike the strict lessons and rigorous testing of culinary school, your kitchen can be a laboratory to experiment with these updates on traditional methods.
Here are a few of our ideas for 21st-century consommé that can help you push the limits with isolated flavors and dramatic plating.
- Deconstruct a traditional braised meat dish into a single slurp. Try clarifying a rabbit stock, and add vinegar and other seasonings to recreate the impression of German hasenpfeffer.
- You can steep dry ingredients like tea and clarify them for unexpected flavor-texture combinations. Try a rye or pumpernickel broth for a new take on “soup and a sandwich.”
- Once clarified, you can enrich these liquids with gelatin, xanthan gum or even a white roux. Try presenting clear pearls of basil and tomato on mozzarella for a striking caprese salad.
- Beverage programs can incorporate these clear bases as well: Clarify tomato water seasoned with celery salt for a perfectly clear bloody mary; or watermelon in a tangy-sweet margarita.
- Clarified broths can be frozen and shaved for novel dessert garnishes. Try steeping and clarifying black licorice to present an intense ingredient as a light “snow.”