by Michael Ruhlman
That veal stock today should be so phenomenally underrepresented in all media directed at the home cook during what's considered to be a "food revolution" in America is ironic.
I should here counterbalance what might seem on the surface a sort of veal stock fanaticism of mine. Most cuisines of the world do not rely on veal stock at all. The whole body of vegetarian cuisine, for example, gets along perfectly without veal stock. Asian meat-based stocks rely largely on chicken and pork. Italian cuisine uses it occasionally but on the whole seems relatively indifferent to it. One of America's most innovative chefs, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a classically trained Frenchman, became well known in chef circles for eschewing veal-stock-based sauces at his restaurant Vong. Judy Rodgers, the Francophile and French-trained chef at the very American, very eccentric Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, includes no veal stock recipe in her Zuni Cafe Cookbook, which hews so strictly to the recipes used at the restaurant, her cooks refer to it continually in their daily work. She says she simply hasn't found a good source for veal near her restaurant and so doesn’t use veal stock.
But, of course, Vongerichten and Rodgers can work wonders with plain water. It’s the non-pro who stands to gain the most from veal stock, the home cook. Taking this one item, veal stock, and adding it to your kitchen is like taking the four-cylinder engine of your Mitsubishi and turbo charging it; with the addition of a turbo, the engine becomes not only faster but more fuel efficient. Veal stock, same thing -- it not only makes your food taste better by miles, it makes you more efficient in your efforts at creating delicious food.
Here's how simple using veal stock is. Dice mushrooms, about a cup's worth, and mince a shallot. Have ready a quarter cup of tasty white wine and a cup of veal stock. Get a sauté pan smoking hot over high heat. Add a coating of oil, which should ripple when it hits the pan and begin to smoke. Toss in your mushrooms, let them cook for a few seconds, then stir -- the more browning you get the better the flavor -- and cook for a minute or so. Add the shallot and cook, add the white wine and continue cooking till it’s almost cooked off, then add the veal stock and bring it to a simmer. Add some salt and pepper, stir or swirl in a couple tablespoons of butter, and you have sauce for four portions of a meaty mild fish, such as halibut or cod, or slices of beef tenderloin. This same sauce would be perfect for sautéed veal (add a squeeze of lemon) or pork medallions (add a tablespoon of mustard). If you’ve salted and cooked your meat properly, the dish will taste better than the fancypants dishes at your favorite French restaurant --rich and mushroomy and meaty, with great body and, from the butter, smooth texture and lusciousness -- because it is fresh and made à la minute, and because it came from your kitchen. Deglaze the pan you've roasted a chicken in with veal stock and you will soon have an amazing sauce just as it is, or easily enhanced by adding, say, basil, tomato, and olives, or tarragon and chives.
You can do this with chicken stock -- you can do this with water, for that matter -- but it’s not the same.
There's nothing like veal stock. It's a marvel.
None of this is news to a restaurant chef, and any restaurant chef worth his salt could abandon veal stock and make do because they’re chefs and have a great range of tools and techniques at their disposal.
But the home cook, limited by time and money and cooking knowledge, ratchets up his or her talent by a factor of ten by making veal stock. Honest to God, it's like magic, like getting your wings.
From THE ELEMENTS OF COOKING by Michael Ruhlman. Copyright © 2007 by Michael Ruhlman. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
The Daily Gullet thanks Mr. Ruhlman and Scribner. Buy the book here.