Broth? Are you serious – we’ve been offline for four weeks and you want to serve broth?! But Jody reminded me that we had introduced people to Roquefort ice cream in our last post and it was a new year, time for new beginnings, setting off on the healthy foot, etc. Okay, okay, I get it. Herewith: New Year’s Brodo (brodo, Italian for broth). I sometimes envision visitors to the blog like season-ticket holders to the Circus Maximus, just slavering for the opportunity to thrust out their inverted thumbs. But where I see potential critics Jody sees gentle souls garbed like her in moth-eaten cashmere bathrobes and fuzzy slippers, waiting for a warm mug of beef tea, a good book and a place by the fire. I hope she’s right. There is something comforting about broth with shiitake mushrooms, fresh turmeric and ginger. It’s definitely not a meal (for me), but it is solace. As for the malcontents hoping for braised rabbit this week, I only have one thing to say: You’re about to learn to make stock, which is not the same as broth, and if you shut up and sit down I’ll tell you why.
In days of yore no one considered themselves a good cook unless they made stock. Vegetables, meat scraps and bones, sometimes roasted, sometimes not, along with various aromatics were thrown into a pot. Stocks were the secrets of soups, of sauces, of risottos… and broth. Cooking French food was considered an impossibility without homemade stock, and many aspiring cooks back in the ’70’s, saw themselves as secretly French. As a young man I made chick, beef and fish stocks (as I assume young Brooklynites are doing today). After I was married I made lobster and goose stocks. For awhile you couldn’t open our freezer without risking entombment beneath an avalanche of amber cubes of lobster stock, precious harvest from the summer, hoarded like bottarga, ready to give lend extra depth to anything involving liquid.
Seasoning separates the broths from the stocks. Stocks are under-seasoned by design, so you can add salt later according cording to how the stock is used. Restaurant cooks know this, but not the general public, or the general public as seen by the manufacturers of commercial stock, who often laden their products with salt. If you salt a stock, and then later reduce it to make a sauce, the sauce will be too salty. Unseasoned stock tastes a bit on the insipid side. Add a pinch of salt however, and the world changes, and so does the stock… into broth. Broth is the butterfly hidden inside the stock chrysalis – all you need to release it is a bit of salt and pepper. Homemade stock, metamorphosed into broth, is vivid, real in a way that what comes in a can or box can’t match. Lesson: make stock, then season as needed.
Twice in the past week, I’ve seen references in casual restaurants to “broth bowls,” filled with Asian noodles or Italian pasta, diced vegetables and fresh herbs. My sense is that stock is coming back among home cooks and that these brothy bowls reflect its appeal to cooks looking for flavor while reducing reliance on processed food. Like good bread, good stock requires time (but much less effort), and kids and careers eat up a lot of time. It doesn’t help that the culisphere is filled with stories of stocks that consume days of effort (i.e. the legendary pork stock used to make ramen broth). Our stock is a matter of hours, not days. The labor is uncomplicated – and brief – separated with longish periods of inactivity that easily adapt to laundry cycles, exercise, or building stupefyingly complicated Lego structures with your children.
Before you slip into your cashmere bathrobe and head for the fireplace with the latest David Mitchell tome and a cup of shiitake broth, a couple of quick provisos. In the photos we don’t use a stock pot. Traditional stockpots are deep and narrow and taking pictures of their contents is like photographing the interior of, well, a well. You can make stock in any large pot, but stockpots offer a smaller surface area relative to volume, so less liquid evaporates during cooking. If you use a wide pot, you may not end up with the three quarts the recipe posits, but if you’ve simmered it sufficiently low you will end up with a more concentrated elixir, which you can always dilute with water to fill it out. Secondly, this recipe calls for chicken and beef to commingle in the same pot. That’s, er, a bit irregular, especially to people who like hearing their moos coming from one side of the fence and their cluck-clucks from the other. But there’s a purpose in mind. Combining beef with chicken makes a weightier and richer stock than one made with chicken alone, yet without being as assertive as typical beef stock. Okay, provisos over. Everyone back into their cashmere bathrobes.
New Year’s Brodo
- 3 pounds chicken legs and thighs
- 2 pounds meaty beef bones, such as shanks or oxtails
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 3 carrots
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 head fennel
- 1 medium purple top turnip or parsnip
- 2 medium onions
- 1 head garlic, cut in half
- ½ pound mushrooms or mushroom stems
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large sprig thyme
- 2 ounces fresh ginger, sliced thin
- 1 ounce fresh tumeric, sliced thin
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Season the chicken and beef with salt and pepper. Set on a sheet pan with the skin side up of the chicken. Roast until all the shanks are brown and the chicken skin is beginning to get golden, about 40 minutes.
- Meanwhile, wash the vegetables, and chop into 2-inch pieces. You don’t need to peel the carrots and onions. Toss in a big boil with oil and spread out on a sheet pan or two in a single layer. If they are crowded, the vegetables with steam rather than roast. Roast until the vegetables start to caramelize, about 20 minutes.
- Put the chicken and shanks into a large pot. Don’t forget to drizzle the juices from the pan over them. Add enough water to come 2 inches above the contents. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, pull the pot just off center of the burner, so the impurities and fat collect at the edge of the pot. Skim and discard.
- Add the roasted vegetables and the aromatics. Add more water if necessary to just cover the contents. Simmer 3 hours, continuing to skim off the scum* and fat as they rise to the surface. Add more water as the liquid level falls below the top of the vegetables and meats.
- Separate the meats and discard the vegetables. You can shred the chicken and beef and add them back to the broth to make a hearty soup, or use them for something else. I chopped up the beef and added it into a pasta sauce. I turned the chicken into a salad.
- Pour the broth through a fine strainer into a large container and allow to cool before putting in the fridge.
- Remove the layer of solid fat before using.
- To make broth, throw some thinly sliced shiitakes, ginger and turmeric into a pot. Pour over the desired amount of stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer until everything softens. Serve at once, adding a few more slices of raw shiitake and fennel fronds as a garnish, if desired.
I returned from Paris a few days after Christmas to prepare for New Year’s Eve at Rialto. I left Ken to revel in the City of Lights with our daughter Roxanne, and our friends Amy and Gabo. Champagne bottles in hand, abroad with the rest of Paris on the Champs Elysées on December 31, I’m sure they had no fun at all.
I was alone for a week, feeling sorry for myself, and just a little debauched after seven days of Parisian holiday eating and drinking. All I wanted was clear broth. In the supermarket I found fresh turmeric near the turnips, which, paired with ginger, turns out to be the piece de résistance for a restorative broth. They say it’s good for your blood.
My recipe calls for many and a variety of vegetables. It’s why it’s so good.
I treated the broth like tea and heated up pots of it each morning with shiitake mushrooms sliced paper-thin and some fresh ginger and turmeric. I am ready for 2015.
*I had to include the phrase, “skim the scum”. I heard this 30 years ago when I was just starting my career. It made me laugh then and it still does. It’s so vivid.