Sunday, August 9, 2009

Chicken Stock and Vichyssoise

Ok, well. Despite my previous bitching about making stock in the middle of August, there actually appear to be a ton of recipes in the Les Halles cookbook that actually require the making of stock before they can be attempted. And this blog is about following each recipe to the letter with no shortcuts so... stock it is.

But, not crazy-ass veal stock. That has to wait a few more weeks. No, this week is white chicken stock, using the bones from last week's roasted chicken.

There is no real recipe for chicken stock in the Les Halles Cookbook. Instead, Tony gives the basic guidelines for stock, which basically consist of "dump a bunch of chicken bones, some veg and some herbs in a pot and simmer for 6-8 hours." Easy, right?

So, I grabbed an onion, and a pound of carrots, and a big stalk of celery (which Alton Brown teaches me is called a mirepoix), as well as a bunch of sage, thyme and rosemary (notice how I listed them out of order so as not to annoy you with any earworm type songs?), and dumped them into my new stockpot with last week's chicken bones.

It took about half an hour to get the thing up to a near boil, at which time I turned the heat down to medium so all that liquid could simmer. I split the difference and simmered for seven hours while my husband watched Tool Academy and I played Persona 4. (I love a lazy weekend, don't you?)

Well, the house started to smell amazing (I credit the herbs in particular) and the stock reduced to about half the liquid that started out. The stock wasn't exactly colorless, but a nice golden brown, which I decided would have to do. I strained the stock through the last of our coffee filters (not realizing before I did so that we didn't have any left for tomorrow's coffee... ugh...), cooled it in an ice bath, and socked the better part in the freezer. The rest went into the fridge for tomorrow's Les Halles recipe, vichyssoise, cold potato/leek soup.

One of the catalysts to starting this blog was my (finally) reading Tony's Kitchen Confidential (well, listening to him read it on audiobook, which I'd argue is even better), in which he describes a Proustian moment of tasting vichyssoise on the Queen Mary, marveling at the wonder of eating cold soup, and quantifying this taste, as well as the taste of raw oyster, as one of the two major moments of learning to love food as something more than fuel. While the name vichyssoise brings to mind (for me anyway) Claude Raines dumping a bottle of Vichy water into the trash at the end of Casablanca, symbolizing a break from Vichy France and Nazism, cold leek and potato soup is definitely a taste I can get behind. So now that we have the required chicken stock, let's get on with the soup!

I invited friends M and B (a married couple) to lunch on Sunday, so the plan was to serve vichyssoise along with two other vegetarian faves of mine, miso glazed tomatoes and corn/scallion salad. The latter recipes were some I got from the Washington Post, and are probably the best summer produce recipes I've come across, and the most satisfying in terms of deliciousness/produce show-off/blending superb ingredients into something sublime.

So, Sunday morning I roll out of bed, pull on some jeans and run to the farmer's market to get my pick of fresh tomatoes, leeks, potatoes and corn. First stop is the stall with those big ugly purple mottled tomatoes that look like mutants and taste like heaven. I pick out four big juicy ones, when suddenly I am stopped by a man with a "press" card around his neck.

"Excuse me," he says, as I fumble to turn off my audio book (The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson).

"Uhh, yeah?"

"I'm from The Washington Post, we're doing a story about tomatoes, and I just took a picture of you picking out tomatoes. Can I have your name?"

"Oookay..." so I give him my name and head off to pay for the tomatoes, some cilantro, and a few chives. So, I guess, look out for me in The Washington Post, probably Wednesday, in a story about tomatoes. I'm the one with the big cream colored Ray Bans with my hair in pigtails, and oh yeah, NO MAKEUP. Goddammit.

*UPDATE: The Wapo in all its wisdom decided not to use me as the poster girl for the tomato story. Which actually is kind of good, because the story was all about how awful it is for snotty ass yuppies like me to be buying crazy expensive tomatoes during a recession. Not that I'm not a snotty ass yuppie. I just don't want to be enshrined as one in the local paper.*

Anyway, after picking up my produce, and with only a slight detour to the gelato stand, I head home and start cooking. Oh, and brought my husband more coffee filters from the grocery store, which is a good thing, as I walked in on him trying to brew coffee with a NAPKIN. I mean seriously. Husbands.

First sweat the leeks in 4 tb of butter (mmmmm), then add the cubed up potatoes, then the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, and let simmer for 35 minutes.

"The next part," says Tony, "is tricky." We must now slowly, and in small batches, transfer the mix to the blender to puree the soup bit by bit, never filling up too high, unless we want a face full of boiling starchy, sticky hot potato-leek puree. This, according to Tony "hurts like a motherfucker," and is one of the more frequent professional kitchen accidents.

Well OK Tony, I GUESS that is tricky, unless you have a HAND HELD BLENDER like I DO which will puree the soup WHILE IN THE POT IN ONE GO. Haha, sucker!

Looks pretty artistic with the cream being swirled in!

Once pureed, the soup gets a hefty dose of cream, simmers for another 5 minutes, then goes into an ice bath to cool. Once cold, serve with a chive garnish.

I'm happy to report that everyone loved the soup, which was definitely the least healthy thing on the menu what with all that butter and heavy cream. Both B and husband J declared it to be the best thing on the menu for today's lunch, while M and I preferred the corn salad (less rich, more cilantro), but scraped our soup bowls clean anyway. There's about two more bowls left over, lucky for us, as it's a soup that gets better over time. As J, resident food critic said, it's a hearty enough soup that it fills you up, but it's refreshing enough that it doesn't feel too heavy while eating in hot weather like this. Another success for the Les Halles Cookbook!

We also had two nice bottles of white wine, and some brownies courtesy of M and B, as well as some berries and whipped cream (the latter left over from the soup, so easily whipped for dessert) and some fun conversation with friends who we haven't seen in way too long. Seriously, already this project is making me all kinds of happy to have a good excuse to force people to come over and eat some damn food. It's a ton of fun!

And yeah, I promised B that we'd invite them over sometime when the menu was not so vegetarian, particularly since he shares my passion for boudin noir (blood sausage--we have almost convinced M to try some of its delicious, fatty bounty).

Lessons learned: I need some cheesecloth to strain stock, since it tends to rip coffee filters. Vichyssoise takes more than half an hour to chill to proper temperature. That hand held blender is one of the best purchases ever, useful for both the soup and blending the vinaigrette.

Next week: Grilled lamb steaks; blueberries with lime sugar.

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