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Can someone explain the logic behind consommé?

I'm trying to build a nice background for cooking and as such recently read Volume 2 of Modernist Cuisine (my university library had a copy I could check out) and noticed that consommé popped up a lot. Especially in the section devoted to filtration methods, which detailed a number of complex techniques meant to achieve totally clear consommé. At one point, and I'm paraphrasing, it said something along the lines of: "A consommé is serious business and has historically been a method of showcasing a chef's technique and skill."

Is this really the point of the consommé? Just a metric of technical aptitude? I ask because I can't recall ever having consommé, and it seems very labor-intensive.

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  1. I ask because I can't recall ever having consommé, and it seems very labor-intensive.
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    That's why, as you paraphrase "a consommé is serious business and has historically been a method of showcasing a chef's technique and skill."

    4 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      So that's literally the only point? Difficult for the sake of difficult, not necessarily "good"?

      1. re: lamb_da_calculus

        Pretty much. It's to make food look pretty, and people know that in order to make that food pretty, one had to use a clarified stock.

        Because really, at the end of the day, stock -- whether clarified or not -- sort of tastes the same.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          The complimentary cup of shrimp consomme at Veracruz restaurant in Playa del Carmen, known for great ceviche, is arguably the finest item they produce, and they are oblivious to pretty.

        2. re: lamb_da_calculus

          Difficult for the sake of presentation isn't quite the same as difficult for the sake of difficult.

          The difference between a good consomme and a good homemade stock is fairly minimal from a perspective of pure flavor (there can be a slight difference in how it feels in your mouth and how flavor lingers). But a good homemade stock is itself somewhat labor intensive, and the flavor difference between good homemade stock and canned broth is significant, IMO. Beyond that, the difference in labor between a good stock and a consomme isn't so extreme. Ice filtration takes a while but is easy, hands-off work; using a raft is more active and tricky, but doesn't take too long. And that's not to get into 'consommes' that aren't made from stock.

          Meanwhile, consomme is easier to plate in a really striking manner, and that's not a wasted effort. Making your food look good can literally make it taste better in many circumstances, since taste is hugely affected by one's expectations.

      2. My mom told me that her grandmother always served rich chicken consomme as an appetizer for Christmas Eve dinner. She raved about how golden and delicious it was. One of her favorite childhood memories. Different times I guess. I think it was a labor of love appreciated greatly by all the guests at my great grandmother's holiday table.

        1. When I was growing up, we sometimes had consommé as our soup for lunch. My parents didn't make it, they got it out of a Campbell's soup can. In the winter they heated it up; in the summer they put it in the fridge, where it became jellied consommé. Try it, you'll like it!

          Consommé can also be used to make aspic, though it needs added gelatin not to melt at room temperature. Aspic is pretty uncommon these days, except as the top layer on a paté or terrine. Being absolutely clear, in comparison with normal beef or veal stock, it adds an elegant finish without concealing anything.

          With high-end French cuisine going out of favor, you won't find either consommé or aspics on many restaurant menus, It is labor-intensive and I don't suppose there's much demand for it nowadays. But Jacques Pépin thought it worth including in his new series "Essential Pépin." Here's an online video of the episode "Souper Soups for Supper," with consommé at 19:00:

          http://blogs.kqed.org/essentialpepin/...

          1. Consomme is clarified bouillon (stock or broth). According to The New Larousse Gastronomique, "the object of clarifying bouillon is to make ordinary bouillon more limpid; it also improves the taste. It is done with white of egg and lean beef and vegetables cut into small dice. Bouillon clarified in this way is called consomme."

            Clarifying stock or bouillon with a raft of egg white and lean beef is not really all that complicated or labor intensive, no more and probably less so than the act of reducing stock to create demi-glace. A clear bouillon, or consomme, is pleasing to the eye and if it tastes better than unclarified bouillon, I'd say it is not merely a metric of technical skill any more than producing a demi-glace is merely a metric of technical skill.

            While consomme may have disappeared from menus, I'd rather consume a clear bouillon than a cloudy one. It is more appetizing and shows the care of the chef or cook.

            3 Replies
            1. re: janniecooks

              My husband made a pot of consomme for me when I had to do a pre-medical test cleanse (and I was very, very thankful for a clear liquid that wasn't sweet...I had never tasted Gatorade before and now I have confirmed that outside of this type of cleanse, I will never buy it again).

              I hadn't made consomme since cooking school and forgot how tasty is was. And Mr S said he had remembered it as being more difficult than it actually was. I think we remembered it as more difficult, because we both made it early in our cooking school curriculum and EVERYTHING seemed more difficult.

              As you said, it's not really labour intensive. It takes time, but that's mainly time for it to gently bubble away unattended.

              1. re: Sooeygun

                As was pointed out to me before my just-turned-50 colonoscopy: Remember, Vodka is a clear liquid.

                1. re: jmckee

                  Maybe that's why the Gatorade tasted so disgusting. Needed Vodka :)

            2. The point of consomme is to keep runway models alive.

              1. Consommé is all about intensity of flavor that is delicate and clean at the same time, silky liquid mouthfeel, and clarity to the eye. I think the answer to your question is to go to a restaurant known for their consommé and experience it.

                1. In reply to the OPs question in the thread title, I doubt whether any foodstuff has logic behind it.

                  The later, and very different, question asks if the point of consomme is to showcase the chef's skill. Well, yes, on one level it is exactly that. I go to restaurants to enjoy food that I can't cook very well and, as such, I usually enjoy eating something where it is clear that time, effort and skill have been put into it by the kitchen.

                  However, it's real point, as the real point with any foodstuff you're offered in a restaurant, is that it tastes good. And consomme is, inherently a well flavoured and particularly tasty soup. The fact that it is clarified means that it's flavour is particularly clear and precise, as well as looking particularly attractive.

                  The fact that it is time consuming to produce means that it is a dish that has fallen out of fashion in pretty much all but classic restaurants, where there is the staff with the knowledge and time to produce it.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Harters

                    The other half of the equation is having enough customers who will order it. If you build it, will they come?

                  2. I attended the Culinary Institute of America in 1995 and making a perfect consomme was one the basic skills you were tested on in a practical exam by the school's dean. It really isn't that hard once you master it, the key is it can never boil, just a very slow simmer so the stock is circulating through the raft. Once I graduated, I never saw it or used it again though.