Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Potages, Potagères, & Consommés

I was on an adrenaline rush from cooking last night – couldn’t get to sleep to almost 1:30 am. Last night we tackled four soups including Potage Saint-Germain aux Croûtons, Consommé Printanier, Gratinée à l’Oignon, and Potagère Parisien.

There are two basic categories of soups in classic French cuisine – les potages clair (clear soups) and les potages lié (bound soups). We began with a demo of how to prepare a beef consommé. I never knew it was so involved! Using our marmite stock (white beef broth) we proceeded to enrich and clarify the stock.

A consommé is a stock from which all the impurities are removed and what you have left is a clear sparking broth. How do we to this? I was surprised…there are three ingredients to the clarification process – ground lean beef, egg whites, and aromatic vegetables. By combining these three ingredients you have your base to clarify the stock. It looked like very wet meatloaf not at all appetizing – this mixture is added to the stock and simmered and stirred until all the bits rise to the top and form a raft. The proteins in the meat and the egg whites attract the impurities in the stock and you basically end up with a clear gorgeous broth underneath a soggy, coagulated meat raft. Ah the French, gotta love ‘em.

The Potage Saint-Germain aux Croûtons is basically a split pea soup with croutons. This soup is considered a bound soup because the dried split peas thicken the soup. I’ll cut to the chase – we lightly sautéed bacon, added carrots, onions, leeks and let them sweat (you can sweat the veggies in butter on low or high heat what’s important here is that you don’t want the veggies to obtain any brown color). We then added a bouquet garni, a clove of garlic and 1½ liters of water. Bring that up to a simmer, stirring occasionally and cook for 45 minutes.

The soup is then ladled and pureed in a powerful blender. I adjusted the salt and added some pepper. The color reminded me of spring days and fresh budding leaves. We plated the soup, garnished with buttery croutons (Insider’s info: we took a slice of frozen white bread, cut the crusts and saved them for making breadcrumbs – then we cubed the bread, some clarified butter in a sauté pan and browned the croutons), a dribble of cream that was reduced by half, a drizzle of olive oil and a few delicate sprigs of chervil. Chef comes around to try everyone’s soup – he came to our station, looked at the soup and really took a moment to study it, he tasted it, and continued to look at the soup and said - this is beautiful. He then called all the students to look at how I composed the final garniture (garnishes) and said the color, taste and texture were perfect and the presentation - beautiful. I received a nod and a “good job.”

Small victories, that’s all I could hope for when you are in the trenches at culinary school.

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