Saturday, October 28, 2006

New Experiences in the Kitchen

No outrage today. No torture-crazed Vice Presidents or rants about Tesco's Peekaboo Pole Dancing kit for the four to sex year old set although that is really foul. Nope, I've finally started something I've been meaning to do for quite a while. I'm making sauces.

Back when Raymond Sokolov was food critic for the New York Times and had his wonderful monthly column in Natural History magazine he wrote books. There were excellent history books like Fading Feast which chronicled the disappearance of regional American food and Why We Eat What We Eat: How Columbus Changed The Way the World Eats. He also wrote a number of cookbooks such as The Cook's Canon: 101 Recipes Everyone Should Know and How to Cook. I picked up Saucier's Apprentice, a guide to the classic French sauces and let it sit on the shelf for a long time. The idea of spending two days watching glace reduce down from twenty quarts to five was a little daunting.

A while back I figured it was now or never. Between Gartner's Meats, the last of the old style butchers and Pastaworks which lives in symbiotic bliss with Powell's Books for Cooks I was able to get all the ingredients, twenty six pounds of cut up veal and beef bones and so on. All of the professional cooks I talked to and all the butchers liked Saucier's Apprentice. Most had copies of their own. All of them thought I was a little mad to be doing this in a small home kitchen.

Mr. Sokolov was right. It's painstaking and requires a lot of time and energy, but it's not that difficult if you devote a weekend to the task and are willing to do an unchristly amount of skimming and straining. By the end of Sunday there were five quarts of classic demi-glace in one cup containers. The dogs were happy to help get rid of the strainings and a few of the boiled bones. I did change a couple things. He recommended leaving the stock to cool on a counter overnight. Couldn't do it. The County Extension Agent would probably have descended on our house and confiscated the Master Food Preserver's badges. We'd have to leave town in shame. Bad all round. The stock went straight into the fridge in open containers. In the morning removing the fat was trivial.

Tonight we tried it out. Was he blowing smoke when he said you could make really good meals quickly with the mother sauce? As it turns out, no. A few minutes, one sautéed onion and a quick reduction produced Sauce Robert which was nothing like the stuff you can buy in the store. The wine expert at Wild Oats who used to be a chef gave some very good advice about modifying the Robert for use with beef instead of pork (a tablespoon of sun dried tomato paste). Hollandaise turned out to be just about as quick and easy. Maybe it was beginner's luck, but the emulsion took and didn't separate or get too thick.

Next week it's on to other mother sauces: chicken and veal Veloutés, Glace Viande Blanc and Sauce Allemande. It doesn't take any longer to make a gallon than a cup, so it's good that the stock pots didn't get buried again.

We'll probably go through the classic sauces at least once. It's a fascinating look at one of the most important parts of canonical cooking and opens up some wonderful possibilities. If you're interested give it a try. It's straightforward, and the results are well worth the time invested. Be warned that this is industrial cooking. A regular kitchen is going to be cramped, especially with all the tools and cookware that need to be cleaned. Now I lust after deep sinks, a stock cooking gas burner and a deep refrigerator.

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