Soup Stock

Soup Stock

The stock

Even though the title is “Soup Stock”, stock is used for more than just soup base- sauces, gravies, and stews, and probably something else I can’t think of right now. We use stock in a lot of the recipes you’ll see here, so I thought I’d do a post on making stock now so I can link to it when I refer to recipes using stock. When we make stock we freeze it in portions to use later. You can use canned broth instead, and we do when we’re out of the homemade stuff. But if you really want your recipe to be special, using homemade stock is the way to go. By the way, you may wonder “what’s the difference between stock and broth”? Not much really, but stock is generally made just from bones while broth has meat added. Depending on how much meat is left on the bones you use, this recipe is somewhere between the two. We’ll use the terms “stock” and “broth” interchangeably on this site.

Stock can be made with either bones that are raw or bones from already cooked meat. Using the leftover bones from a whole cooked turkey  or a rotisserie chicken or two is a great way to make the most of your food budget. We like to take the turkey bones on the Friday after Thanksgiving and make stock and then a big pot of turkey soup– turkey bones make a great stock. The picture above is chicken stock, but the principle is the same whether you want to make turkey, beef, or even a seafood stock using shells from shrimp, lobster, and/or crab.  You can also use just vegetables and seasonings for a veggie stock. The ingredients below are what I used for this particular stock, but it’s really just a guideline– you can throw just about any veggies or seasonings in there for the stock.

Ingredients:

  • Bones, skin, whatever’s left when the meat is mostly gone
  • 1-2 Onions
  • Around 6 celery stalks (with leaves if available)
  • 4-6 garlic cloves
  • Handful of whole black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp. Dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. Whole celery seed
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 2-4 quarts of water

First, remove meat from the bones and save it for the soup if that’s what you’re going to make. You don’t need to clean the meat off the bones too thoroughly- meat left on will add flavor, and make it more of a broth, as mentioned. Put the bones, skin, etc- whatever’s left over after the meat is removed- in a large pot.

Chop the vegetables coarsely. You don’t have to do much cutting, and you don’t even have to remove the skins on the onion and garlic if you don’t want to- it’s all flavor. Throw the chopped vegetables and the rest of the ingredients in with the bones. Notice there’s no salt added- I keep the stock low-sodium until I decide what I want to use it for. If you add salt now it will be too salty if you want to reduce the stock later. Fill the pot with water until it covers everything by an inch or two. You want to end up with a lot of stock, but not so much water it dilutes the flavor. Put the pot on the stove and turn the heat on high until it just starts to boil– then turn the heat on low, cover the pot and simmer. The water should just barely be bubbling. Let it simmer for at least 4 hours to make sure to get all the flavor. You can’t really cook it too long, but more than 5-6 hours is probably overkill.

Once the stock is done simmering, pour it through a mesh sieve into another pot to remove the solids. If you want really clear stock, you can use cheesecloth in the sieve to strain out all solids. Now it’s time to remove the excess fat from the stock. There are two ways to do this:

  1. if you’re not going to use the stock right away, you can let it cool to room temperature and then refrigerate it. Once it reaches refrigerator temp, the fat will be the solid waxy stuff on top, and it will be easy to remove. A tip for rapidly cooling the stock: put the pot of stock in the kitchen sink and fill the sink with cold water, up to the level of the stock inside, or until the pot is almost (but not) floating. Make sure the pot has a lid on it so sink water doesn’t accidentally splash in.
  2. if you do want to use the stock right away, let it sit for a minute so the fat comes to the top. If you have a large glass container to hold the stock it will be easier to see the “oil slick” of fat on top. Use a large serving spoon or ladle and carefully skim the fat off the top.

If you do refrigerate your stock, you may notice it solidifies and turns “jiggly” like jello. This is a good thing- it’s collagen from the bones. This makes for a better consistency to the stock-, and it’s one thing (along with the superior flavor) that distinguishes home-made stock from canned broth.

Put any stock you don’t use right away in the freezer. I use quart-size plastic freezer bags with the date written on them. You should use frozen stock within around 6 months.

Pan-Seared Scallops with Bacon Risotto

Pan-Seared Scallops with Bacon Risotto
Pan-Seared Scallops with Bacon Risotto

Pan-Seared Scallops with Bacon Risotto

I love scallops and all manner of shellfish, but this post is going to be as much about the risotto as the scallops. We both love risotto, and it works as a side with a lot of different meals. Or you can make it the main dish, add seafood to the risotto, or just serve risotto with a side veggie, vegetarian style. The type of short-grained rice used for risotto (Italian for “rice”) is called Arborio rice, which is also used in paella, another favorite of ours. I’ll post my version of paella next time I get around to making it.

Ingredients:

  • Sea scallops, 6-8 per person
  • 1 1/2 cups Risotto-style Arborio rice
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • 1 Medium to large onion
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2-1 cup Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
  • White wine (optional)
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Coarse ground black pepper to taste

Special Utensils:

  • Cast-iron skillet

Dice up onions, garlic and bacon for the risotto, and saute up on medium heat in a large pot with butter and olive oil. I mentioned using a butter substitute like Smart Balance in the last Steak Au Poivre post. Using a mix of butter and olive oil instead of 100% butter is another way to make a meal a little bit lower in saturated fat and still taste great. Olive oil can only be used when what you’re cooking is not at a very high heat, though- it has a low smoke point.

Scallops

Blotting extra moisture with "wet" scallops

While the onion, garlic and bacon is cooking, get the scallops ready. The ideal scallops for getting a proper golden-brown sear are dry-packed, or untreated. Unfortunately, most scallops you find at grocery stores, or even higher end seafood stores are “wet” versions- treated with sodium tripolyphosphate (STP), which causes the scallops to absorb water and turns them snowy white. Why do scallop sellers do this? According to them, just to make the scallops more attractive. I tried getting dry-packed scallops at the seafood section of a nearby upscale grocery, and the guy told me he doesn’t sell dry-pack scallops because they have a dried-out, unattractive appearance and nobody wants them. Of course I’m sure the fact that treated scallops absorb water and therefore they can make more money per pound has nothing to do with it… in any case, if you can find dry-packed scallops, you have done well. There are online sources for dry-packed scallops. The problem with wet scallops, other than paying extra for the added water, is that when cooking, the scallops will release their water and prevent a good sear. You’ll be boiling, not searing them. But if you can only find the treated kind, all is not lost. The scallops I used here are the wet kind, and as you can see from the final pic I did indeed achieve a proper golden-brown sear. Use paper towels to blot the extra water. I put paper towels above and below the scallops and put a plate on top to squeeze out the water. Then all you need to do is season with fresh-ground pepper and kosher salt on each side.

Risotto, onions, garlic, bacon

Adding risotto to the onions, garlic, and bacon

Get the chicken stock in a separate pan and heat it up– it needs to be hot when you add it to the risotto. When the bacon is cooked well and the garlic and onions are translucent, add the Arborio rice and mix it around in the oil for a few minutes, let it get well coated and heated up in the oil. I’m not exactly sure of the chemistry involved, but the hot oil “activates” the starchy shell of those rice grains.

Risotto

Adding the stock to the risotto mix

Add a little wine to the pan now if you want, and stir it around until the wine reduces somewhat. Now ladle the hot stock into the risotto a little at a time, all the while stirring, stirring. The stirring will break down the starchy shell of those little rice grains and give the risotto the creamy consistency that makes risotto so good. You don’t have to stir constantly- you can do other stuff, but keep going back and stirring, don’t forget about it!  As the risotto absorbs the stock keep adding more in. You’ll be able to see when it’s getting done by how the rice grains swell up from absorbing the stock, and by tasting it- it should be “al dente”. What does that mean? it’s a fancy Italian phrase meaning “to the tooth”. What does that mean? Mostly soft but with a little bit of bite to it. When the risotto is almost al dente, put the grated Parmesan or Romano in, mix it around, turn off the heat and cover the pot. it will finish cooking to al dente while you sear up the scallops.

Scallops

Searin' them scallops

Now get out your trusty cast-iron skillet. Like I said in the Steak Au Poivre post, if you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, you really should get one. Nothing gives a good sear on a stove top like a good cast-iron skillet. Get the skillet good and hot first, add butter, and put the scallops on. Leave ‘em alone and let them cook, for 3-4 minutes before flipping them- don’t move them around. At the 3  minute mark try flipping one in the center (usually the hottest spot) and see if it has a good golden brown sear. If so, go ahead and flip the others. 2-3 minutes more on the other side and they’re done. They should be golden brown on top, opaque white on the side, and just a bare hint of translucency in the center when you cut in half. Careful not to overcook or they’ll be tough and rubbery.

Serve with a couple lemon wedges and your favorite side veggie, and enjoy!

 

Steak Au Poivre

Steak Au Poivre

Steak Au Poivre

First post! Please forgive the pics, I took them on my iphone and they’re not the greatest. From here on I promise to use a better camera.

Steak Au Poivre is one of my favorite recipes to make because it’s pretty simple to cook; and it’s one of our favorite recipes to eat because the results are outstanding.

Ingredients:

  • 4 thick-cut tenderloin steaks
  • 5-6 small red potatoes
  • Butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 oz. Brandy or whiskey
  • 1/2-1 cup beef stock
  • Kosher salt
  • Coarse ground black pepper

Special Utensils:

  • Cast-iron skillet
  • Meat thermometer
  • Long-handled lighter
Steak Au Poivre

Salted and peppered

Take the steaks out of the refrigerator about 1/2 hour before you cook them- I like them to get closer to room temp before they go on the heat. Put coarse ground pepper and kosher salt on both sides…how much pepper is up to you, but the “Au Poivre” part of the name is French for “with pepper”… so  if you don’t like pepper it will still taste great, you’ll just have to call it something else.

 

Potato Wedges

Potato Wedges

A nice side for this meal is some twice-baked potato wedges.  Start heating up the oven at 350 degrees. Wash and scrub the potatoes, then put them on a plate and microwave them for about 5 minutes. Turn them over once, and microwave for a few minutes more. Give them a little squeeze at this point to see if they’re cooked through. If so, cut them up into quarters and put them on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Put whatever seasonings you like on them– salt, pepper, thyme, and a little granulated garlic powder are what I put on mine.

Steaks Searing

Searin' up good

Now get out your trusty cast-iron skillet and heat it up. Don’t have one? A cast-iron skillet is a great tool in your cooking arsenal, and they don’t cost too much new. You might even luck out and find one at a garage sale. In any case, you shouldn’t use a teflon pan. So once the pan is heated up, put a nice big spoonful of butter in there and let it melt. Now, you probably noticed this isn’t the most low-fat meal. I actually used a more heart-healthy butter substitute called Smart Balance. This would probably be heresy to a pro chef, but I think it tastes a lot like butter and cutting out every little bit of saturated fat helps, I figure. If I was making this for company I’d go with the real butter. Go ahead and use either. Now throw the steaks in and let them sear for about 4 minutes on each side. If they’re thick enough you might want to sear the steaks on 4 sides.

When the steaks have a nice dark brown sear, put them on a foil-lined cookie sheet and insert the meat thermometer, another essential tool to have in your arsenal. That way you can make sure they’re perfectly to your liking (which of course should be rare to medium rare). Put the steaks in the oven along with the potato wedges.

Steak Au Poivre Sauce

Stirrin' the sauce

Now the sauce. Turn the heat down on the pan and pour in the brandy. If you don’t have Brandy or you don’t want to buy a bottle just for this recipe, you can substitute whiskey. Here’s the completely optional fun part- take a long-handled lighter and set the alcohol on fire! Be very careful not to burn yourself. I don’t know if fire really makes the sauce better or not, so don’t worry about it if you want to skip this step. I’m a pyro so I choose to ignite. Shake the pan around a bit until the fire goes out (unfortunately my fire went out before I could get a good pic). Now do what is called deglazing: take a stirring spoon to scrape with, and use the cognac to dissolve the delicious browned bits of steak sticking to the bottom and make it part of the sauce. Add the beef stock now, and you can use the stock to help deglaze if the cognac has evaporated too much. A restaurant chef would use a special evaporated beef stock called demiglace, but good luck finding that at the grocery store. I’ll often take a can of low-sodium beef stock and simmer it down by half on the stove. Or I use my own beef stock if I have any- I’ll do a post on making your own stock soon. So as you’re stirring the cognac/beef stock mix on low heat, slowly mix in the heavy cream. You won’t need too much cream, just enough to give it that coffee with cream look like the pic above. Keep stirring on low heat until the sauce thickens enough to stick to the back of a spoon.

Keep an eye on the temp and take the steaks out when it’s 125 for rare to medium rare (or 140-160 if you want to commit a crime against your steaks and cook them medium-medium well). Let them rest for 5 or 10 minutes before serving. Take out the potato wedges when they’re a nice golden brown. Put the steak and wedges on a plate and add the sauce on and around the steak. You don’t need much sauce- a little goes a long way. I added some steamed broccoli for a side veggie because that’s what we had, but asparagus is a good choice for this meal.

Enjoy!

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