The Great Stock Day of 2007

Wow. Lots of stuff happened yesterday – magic in a pot (or six). In no particular order:

  • Coffee – I’ve begun roasting my own coffee using the airpop popcorn popper method. The Target Chefmate popper came in at just under $15, good to get into this sort of thing. I’ve ordered a selection of green coffees from Sweet Marias, although since Houston is a coffee port I should be able to find local suppliers and save on shipping. The first coffee I’m working with is a Java Government Estate Djampit, mainly because the suggested roast for this coffee is the darkest of what I now own, and I’d much rather underroast than overroast.
    The first batch I did a couple of days back did get pulled a bit early, but yesterday’s roast has had a chance to rest overnight and has come out perfectly. The first two words that come to mind to describe this are “clean” and “smooth” – there is none of the harshness present in this cup that you might find in, say, the Folger’s that I’ve been drinking for a few months. This even beats out other whole-bean coffees that I have purchased in the past. The coffee itself is balanced, with a hint of chocolate in it, and downright yummy. The one drawback to this is that the batch size is small – a quarter pound is the most I can do at once, and that did spit out a few beans in the process – but the roasts haven’t taken more than 10 or 15 minutes in total, so I can easily do this a few times a week.
  • Stout Mustard – This one was a bit of a whim. Soak overnight five tablespoons of mustard seed (I used a mix of yellow and brown mustard seed) in 6 oz. stout and 3 oz. white wine vinegar. Drain and reserve the liquid, add the seeds with salt and pepper to a processor or blender and process, adding back liquid until the desired consistency. Let it rest awhile again to thicken back up.
    This one came out a bit sweeter than I’d have liked, and could use a bit of tweaking, but not a bad experiment. Homemade mustard is another easy recipe that can be a fun canvas to play with (I still need to work up a honey shallot mustard sometime).
  • Dark Chicken Stock – As much as possible, when we’ve wanted to have a dinner involving boneless chicken, I’ve tried to buy whole chickens and debone them myself. It’s a bit of a tricky process, and my technique can definitely use some work, but I can say that I’ve managed to remove the bones from a chicken and leave the rest of it intact in a single piece. I’ve saved these bones over the months in the freezer, and now have been able to make a good dark chicken stock out of them. Roast the bones, roast the mirepoix, throw it all in a big pot with some seasonings and fill with cold water. Simmer for hours – 8-10, in this case – skimming as you go. Add water as needed to maintain volume, as you don’t want it to reduce just yet. Strain, strain, strain, then chill down and store. I’m really happy with how this turned out, despite slightly boiling the stock in the process (a culinary no-no, but that’s for another post). It’s chilled overnight in the refrigerator, ready to have the last of the fat skimmed off and get portioned and stored in the freezer.
    Now, I’m a fan of a few brands of canned broth (Swanson’s at the top of my list lately, especially their organic broth) but experience has shown that homemade stock brings a more mellow flavor to a dish. A good chicken broth can be thrown together in as little as a couple of hours – essentially, simmer a chicken with some veggies – but this preparation is rich, deeply colored, and packs some serious flavor.
  • Beef stock and demi-glace – This was the main attraction of yesterday’s cooking bonanza. I’d done this once before, with halfway decent results (which I then managed to mis-store and freezer burned the lot), but I wanted to have another crack at it. I changed up the mixture of beef bones I used to try and get more collagen in the stock, and roasted them for much longer (about an hour and a half, all told) than I had done previously. Same principle as above – roast bones, roast veggies, put in a pot with some seasoning – a couple of bay leaves, some black peppercorns, and a few sprigs of thyme – and fill with cold water. This one got 10-12 hours of simmering before getting strained through cheesecloth multiple times. I pulled out some of the stock and packaged it, then simmered the rest for another 2-3 hours to reduce until it thickened up somewhat, about by half. This is demi-glace (“half glaze”, from the ultimate reduction by 90% to get to glace de viande or “veal glaze”), and I still have yet to see a good description to let a cook know what to look as far as consistency for when preparing this. I declared it done when it had reduced by about half and when a little bit in the ladle gelled when it cooled off. It’s now in the refrigerator in a jelly-like state, ready to be portioned. I also ladled some of it into ice cube trays that are now frozen and need to get repackaged in a bag for storage.
    Try a cube of this stuff in your next sauce or dish. It really adds an awesome richness to food, and in small doses doesn’t bring an overly beefy flavor with it.
  • Rillettes de porc – If the beef stock was the main attraction, then this was the cook’s delight. Find a good sized pork roast or slab of pork belly. The fattier, the better, although it’s best of the fat is in large bands rather than very marbled. Cube it, put it in a pot, cover with water (a cup or two should do nicely) and seasonings (bay leaf, peppercorn, thyme – see a pattern here?) and cook in a tightly covered pot, 300 degF, for 3-4 hours or until the pork falls apart when prodded with a fork. Pour off and reserve the liquid and let everything cool. When cooled, shred with your hands or two forks, adding back the reserved fat as needed to get a thick paste-like consistency, and season heavily with salt and pepper (and, in my case, quatre épices, a blend of white pepper, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger), and voila. Pack tightly in crocks and store; keeps for a week or two, I’m told, longer if covered with a reasonably thick layer of rendered pork fat. Best to let it sit for a day or two before enjoying, to let the flavors meld together.
    Wow. Nothing like a forkful of warm pork and a glass of red wine to end the night. It’s not far from a pulled pork barbecue, but a bit thicker and sweeter rather than spicy. It’s sort of like a coarse, rustic paté once it’s packed. Because my roast was a bit leaner than I’d have liked, I added in some lard to the cooking pot. I don’t know that it’s necessary, as the meat really should poach in the liquid rather than fry in the fat, but it came in handy for the shredding. I’m having some rillettes now on a toasted onion bagel for lunch – forgot the stout mustard, darn it, but that’ll be for the next meal. I should have enough to last, given that I started with a five pound roast and I’m the only one who’ll eat pork. Mmmm….

Meanwhile, I managed to get some light house cleaning and a bit of plumbing repair done, upgraded this site and Fresh Photography [edit – link corrected, whoops] to WordPress 2.1, change my blog design, and helped Jason with school projects. In the midst of all this, I managed to use up most of the pots and almost all of the cooking surfaces in the house for the better part of the day, so dinner was courtesy of Papa John’s. Now I just need to figure out what to do for dinner tonight to show off some of yesterday’s results.
I will say this, though – all of the key ingredients above (except the coffee and mustard seeds, I suppose) came from ethnic markets. I live out in suburbia, where finding speciality goods can be hard to do. All the beef bones and some of the veg came from a Mexican butcher/grocery store, as well as the lard. The pork roast? Asian market down the street, because what I’d get at the local megamart would be far too lean. They cut the meat there, as opposed to getting it frozen from a distribution warehouse. They both had quality products and I could get some of the less glamorous parts of animals as well, something you just won’t find at the megamart. It’s nice to find this out in the ‘burbs. (To his credit, though, the butcher at the megamart is a great guy and will special order the cuts and parts that I need, if I give him advance notice.)
Unfortunately, there’s no photography to go along with this – partly due to my photographer being out of town, and partly due to the fact that this was all made possible because my photographer was out of town. I’ll try and set something up in the near future to show off the results.