I’ve been cheffing in restaurants for the past few days trying to get my knife skills back up to speed before I head off on my cooking trip to California.
Although I’ve agreed not to write anything about the place itself (other than it’s a vastly overpriced restaurant in the Chilterns) I thought I’d share some of the techniques I’ve been (relearning) with you.
Some of you will already know all of this already, especially as there are some far more skilled chefs than me who read this blog, but I thought I’d post my thoughts anyway. Besides, isn’t that what blogs are for – to point out the bleeding obvious? And it’s always good to get other people’s slant on a cooking technique.
One of my main duties has been making the beef, chicken, fish and vegetable stocks, and reducing them for the demi-glace sauces, so I thought I’d start with these…
In my opinion, making stocks (not just because I’ve been doing it) is one of the most important jobs in the kitchen (obviously depending on what type of cuisine you’re cooking – in my case English and French).
Once you’ve got some good quality beef, chicken, vegetable or fish stocks you can make all manner of sauces, meat glazes, and jellies very easily. Popping in a few tablespoons of demi-glace to the cooking juices after pan-frying a steak or chop will completely transform the dish, and take your cooking from the perfectly acceptable to the sublime.
Indeed, the success of many famous dishes depends very much on the quality and richness of the stock. But don’t use cubes – they give an unpleasant taste, despite what Marco Pierre White is paid to say. And never buy the pre-made stocks you find on supermarket shelves – they cost a fortune and are as bland as Adrian Chiles.
Oh, and while we are on the subject of naffness, don’t use the words ‘jus’ or ‘nage’ when describing your offerings – they just sound pretentious, and belong solely in the domain of wanky gastropubs.
Every chef has a different method for making stocks, and the complexity varies enormously. Some Michelin-starred restaurants spend days making them, continually skimming, freezing and separating the fat so only an intense, perfectly clear liquid remains (the turbot stock at the Fat Duck takes a week to make for instance, which is why I was so fearful of dropping it when running to and from the prep room). Whereas other restaurants pad out the stock with cubes, gravy mixes, and other poisonous compounds and thicken it with corn flour.
Here is the best method for making a basic veal stock as far as I’m concerned. It will make a couple of litres of well-flavoured stock, or if reduced further, a small tub of rich demi-glace.
4kg of veal bones
1kg stewing or braising beef or veal
3 large or 6 small onions
1 large carrot
4 celery stalks
1 garlic head
2 bay leaves
10 black peppercorns
2 tbsps tomato puree
1 star anise
1 bunch of thyme
4 juniper berries
1 bottle red wine
Place the bones in a tray and roast them for about an hour until well-browned. Slice the onions in half and blacken the cut-side over a gas flame until brown – this will release a lovely caramel flavour. Chop the rest of the mirepoix (leek, carrot and celery) into a rough dice and fry gently in a little vegetable oil in a stockpot or large pan.
When the vegetables are soft add the bones. Pour some boiling water into the tray the bones were roasted in to release the sticky brown bits of intensely-flavoured meat and juices stuck to the bottom. Pour into the stockpot, with about four litres of water.
Bring to the boil and skim a couple of times to clear the stock. Cut the garlic head in half horizontally so that all the cloves are exposed. Add this with the rest of the ingredients to the pot and simmer slowly for a few hours, skimming when necessary.
You can add trimmings to the pot – and in kitchens this is a good way of using left-overs, but be very careful what you put in. Never put in vegetables that will make the liquid cloudy – like potatoes, greens or broccoli stalks. But tomato trimmings, mushroom stalks, herbs and the like are all good additions.
Some chefs I’ve worked for never used fish heads when making fish stock, claiming it made it cloudy, but I’ve never found this, and most chefs use the heads, but cut out the gills with scissors because they have a bitter taste. Also never add the liver when adding giblets to chicken or turkey stock as this has the same result.
Other stocks can be made in the same way, by substituting pork bones, chicken carcasses, lamb bones, pheasant and venison bones for game stock etc. depending on the type you’re making. If you want a white chicken stock use uncooked chicken, if you want a brown chicken stock, roast the bones before you put them in, throwing in some onion skins for extra colour.
Then strain the liquid through a fine-meshed sieve, and return to the pan and reduce by a third. Either store in the fridge or freezer as stock to be used in casseroles and soups etc or reduce it by half again to make a demi-glace or meat glaze. This will set to a firm jelly when cool.
For a good meat glaze, you need to get the liquid boiled down so that it becomes syrupy and will coat the back of a spoon. You can then add it to the cooking juices and flavour it with say rosemary if you’re making a sauce for lamb, thyme for chicken, sage for pork, medlar jelly for venison, whisky for grouse and so on. And the glaze freezes well so you can make batches at a time. It’s a good idea to freeze it in an ice-cube tray so you can just pop a couple out when you need them.
That’s it. Easy. So come on! Tell me your method…