Stocks. They are wonderful.

No, not that.  I mean that hard won infusion of meats and vegetables.  Making stock was a natural starting point for learning fundamentals. They serve as foundation for so many dishes, it seems one could study them for years and years.  Since I can no longer live without homemade stock, I'll cover in later posts the process I've arrived at from reading books and learning from my own and others' mistakes.  For now, I just want to post my attempts at clarifying stocks to produce consomme.

There are three ways I know of to clarify a stock.  The goal of clarification is to remove the small particles that cloud the stock and make it opaque.  First, the traditional method uses a combination of ground meat, egg whites, and small dice mirepoix.  These are added to a stock and cooked to filter out the particles.  This uses ingredients which can later be used to make a decent meatloaf.  The downside is that you mess with the flavor of the stock, but not necessarily in a negative way.  You can boost the flavor with the added vegetables and meat.   Here is the result of my attempt at the traditional way:

Consomme Royale

Second, and third, are more modern methods which use the interesting property that gels will hold onto the particles and release their liquid in a process called syneresis.  The result is a crystal clear stock (i.e. consomme).  There are two increasingly well known methods for doing this.  The first I tried uses agar-agar, a gelling agent derived from algae.

Agar clarification: Attempt 1.

 500 ml white chicken stock
1.5 grams agar powder


1. Took 200 ml of stock and dispersed agar powder with a whisk.
2. Heated to 100 degrees centigrade.
3. Added in the remaining stock and mixed well.
4. Added to ice bath in a stainless steel bowl to set quickly.
5. After it was set, I whisked to break up the gel and promote syneresis.
6. Using a coffee filter, I extracted the liquid from the gel through a strainer. Coffee filters are said to be about 20 microns.

Notes: The stock is much clearer in post-clarification. Success mixed. It is a real pain to do this with coffee filters. I'll get a stronger material, and finer filter next time.

Gelatin clarification: Attempt 1.

To perform gelatin clarification, freeze your stock and then let it thaw through a cheesecloth or coffee filter in the fridge.  The ice crystals do the work of breaking up the gel for you, releasing the liquid when it thaws.

You can see Jacques Pepin's grin through the stock!  The downsides are twofold.  First, you lose gelatin, and hence body.  I'll either reduce this a great deal or add fresh gelatin back into the stock.  Second, it takes a while for the stock to melt and drain: 1-2 days of valuable space in the fridge is lost.

Welcome to Cook & Dagger!

  For the inaugural post on Cook & Dagger, I thought I would talk a little about how this whole thing got started.  In later posts, I'll elaborate a bit on why I am starting an supper club-cum-underground restaurant, my philosophy on food and eating.

My interest in food relatively recently started to rise very quickly after tasting a dish from the Alinea cookbook. It was prepared by a friend in Houston while we were in a PhD program together. It radically changed the way I think about what a dish could be and what food could do.  Sure, it was a visceral experience, but that's true of eating generally, I think.  What worked for me was that it not only engaged my senses but, through them, my mind as well.  Prior to that experience, I was skeptical of these newfangled techniques he was talking about...spheres out of food...huh?  After that, I was on board, 100% and then some.

I quickly ordered a basic spherification kit from WillPowder and started experimenting (photos here). Soon after, I got the Alinea cookbook and jumped into the deep end, preparing a 7 course meal for a few friends.  While the two days of cooking were highly stressful, I had some help from aforementioned friend.  The response was incredible.  I heard things that seemed to come from the same feelings that I had with that first dish.  I did it!  Word spread about the dinner, and I was invited (commissioned) by another friend to have a dinner, on their dime.  I jumped at the opportunity and decided I was going to go bigger -- 12 courses this time, and 8-10 people.  By myself.  While 2 of the courses weren't presentable, I pulled off 10 courses in 2.5 hours (some photos here).  Another success under my belt, and I knew this is something I was having fun doing and I was passionate about it.

Since then, I left Houston with M.A. degree in hand (yes, I finished all my coursework, but did not feel a dissertation was in me).  My focus has been on learning fundamentals, trying new things, and practice, practice, practice.   Why blog? I see it as a way to document my progress as a self-made cook.  In part, this is to serve as an inspiration to myself.  To see where I've been and how far I've come.  Cooking offers many opportunities for failure, so I also think this may be an inspiration to others who want to allow their reach to exceed their grasp.

I'll post experiences and experiments with food and techniques.  The blog will also serve as the central focus of a supperclub called Cook & Dagger  (e.g. announcements about upcoming dinners, previews of dishes, menus, etc.)