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Veal Stock -- a personal reflection


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#31 hjshorter

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 11:34 AM

It's more of a "baseline classical French haute-cuisine taste" than an actual neutral taste like MSG. Perhaps it doesn't impose a specific beef taste (and I submit if you make beef stock with mostly bones it doesn't impose much of a specific beef taste either), but it imposes a taste for sure.

I can absolutely tell the difference between veal stock and beef stock and I use mostly bones for each. I would use veal stock for any preparation, but would use beef stock only for dishes that call for it.

If you're going to make veal stock then use Keller's recipe. It's gorgeous. And I use it for more than French haute-cuisine. Veal bones are pretty easy to come by, just make sure your butcher or grocery knows you want them. They are almost always happy to sell you something (I pay about $2/pound) that will ordinarily be thrown away.

Andrew: I find chicken stock to be more strongly flavored than veal stock.

My copy of the book is on order, and I'm going to reserve judgement on its usefulness until I read it.

Edited by hjshorter, 18 November 2007 - 11:35 AM.

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#32 slkinsey

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 12:11 PM

What makes veal stock so special is its neutrality.  It adds body and enhances flavor without adding its own.

If the point of veal stock is "neutrality," then why, in your recipe in Elements, do you call for browning the bones and meat and adding tomato paste and mirepoix? It seems to me that if you want something that adds a silky texture and no discernible flavor of its own, you'd do better to make a white veal stock -- no browning, no aromatics, no tomato paste. I mean, I'm all for brown stocks, but surely a brown veal stock will be nearly as robust as a beef stock -- certainly more so than chicken.

Because you want more than just a silky texture.

What makes veal stock special is that it has a combination of things that other stocks do not have on their own. It has a less distinctive flavor than beef stock, but carries plentiful flavor compounds (here I have to disagree with Fat Guy... beef stock has a much more distinctive flavor). It also has plentiful umami (thus the brown stock with it's mailliardization instead of a white stock) than a chicken stock, which is typically white. And it has far more gelatin than chicken stock. It's a strong all 'rounder.

Steven's point is well made that the highest-end restaurants nowadays are more likely to simply have brown and white versions of beef stocks, rabbit stocks, pork stocks, and so on (I would argue that there's no such thing as shellfish "stock" but rather shellfish "broth" -- you're not getting gelatin and a silky texture out of a shellfish broth). However, for anyone other than the most fanatical home cook, this model is unsupportable. If one were able to keep around only one reduced stock for culinary purposes, it would certainly be veal stock.

But I'm still curious about your example. It seems to me (from your description) that of all the elements in that sauce -- mushrooms, shallots, wine, butter, salt and pepper --  the veal stock is the least essential. That is, if the veal stock were missing (replaced with water), I'm sure the sauce wouldn't be as good.

I think you've touched on what makes MR so rapturous about veal stock. Rather than "least essential", I would substitute "most ineffable".

I think that some experiences might be ineffable; I'm not sure that veal stock is one of them. It may not be a particularly romantic notion, but I'm quite sure that whatever veal stock does for a sauce can be described, and at least in part explained.

In this case, I'd say that the veal stock adds a silky texture due to the gelatin, further amplifies the other present flavors due to the umami contributed, adds its own background flavors which contribute to the overall richness of the sauce -- and does all these things without necessarily screaming "veal!" Indeed, it has been my experience that most people would never guess that a sauce thus enrichened actually contains veal stock (that is edsel's "ineffability").

I can't speak for Mr. Ruhlman, but I get the impression that he's enamored of the way that veal stock can elevate something ordinary into something more. I heard him speak at a kitchen demo (posted in the Heartland forum), and he did indeed point out that you can use water to deglaze the fond in a pan to make a very serviceable jus.

Of course, in his example, the wine is what he says to use to deglaze, not the stock. Veal stock goes in later. And I would bet that if you substituted water and a pinch of MSG, you'd get a very similar "something more."

No, you sure wouldn't. I suppose if you added an envelope of rehydrated gelatin, a shot of light soy sauce and pinch of MSG you might get some of the same effects -- but you wouldn't get anything near "very similar." That's like saying, "wine is primarily used because of the acidity it contributes. And I would bet that if you substituted water and pinch of tartaric acid, you'd get something very similar." I think we can all agree that you wouldn't.

(edited to fix bizarre formatting error)

Edited by slkinsey, 18 November 2007 - 04:40 PM.

Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

#33 Dave the Cook

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 12:56 PM

Michael, you've earned the privilege to publish your take on the professional kitchen. And defining it in personal terms -- ". . . an opinionated glossary of cook's terms, everything I think cook's need to know in the kitchen, everything I needed to know when I entered the CIA, and all that I've learned since . . . " -- explains the premise of the book well. My review was based on that proposition.

It is certainly opinionated; point for the book.

Everything a cook needs to know? Even a generous definition of "everything" finds the book wanting. It's odd to me that cooks need to know about mayonnaise but not soy sauce (which must be less important than nam pla or preserved lemons), or that the relationship between mirepoix and sofrito (which, by the way, is hardly the condiment that you've suggested), or even trinity for that matter, is of no importance. A cook does need to know these things, just as they need to know what happens to a roux as it cooks -- much more than they need to know about "peasant style" or "dextrose." These are your choices, and you had a right to make them, of course. I wouldn't have, because I think the omissions weaken the book (as do circular assertions such as the one that says iodized salt is useless. I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it. You correctly point out that iodine deficiency is no longer an issue in this country. Of course, that's because of iodized salt, so tossing it over your shoulder, so to speak, could lead right back to the problem it solved.)

Everything you needed to know when you entered the CIA? Only you can answer that question, but I'd suggest that you were hardly the typical student. Although I didn't attend the CIA, I've yet to meet a schooled cook (and I've met quite a few, including CIA alums) who didn't know most of this stuff before they entered school, and didn't already have a bookshelf full of food literature.

I'm not bitter, Michael, I'm disappointed. You committed to an important -- perhaps impossible -- task, and for that you have my admiration. I spent the first paragraph of my review explaining how much I wanted to like Elements; I further said that I agreed with almost everything you wrote. Where we part company has nothing to do with my role as a Society administrator. We differ on what each of us thinks a cook needs to know. You haven't really responded to my criticisms, so I have to ask, where have I been inaccurate?

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#34 slkinsey

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 01:27 PM

...the relationship between mirepoix and sofrito (which, by the way, is hardly the condiment that you've suggested), or even trinity for that matter, is of no importance.

I'm not quite sure I understand your point here. Mirepoix is certainly the most canonical and important of any of these traditions. And an understanding of the role played by mirepoix should certainly extend to other traditions, such as Spanish, Italian, Creole, etc. I am especially mystified by your example of sofrito, which you speak of as though it were a codified base. It isn't. "Sofrito" is different depending on whether one is Spanish, Cuban, Puerto Rican, etc. The Italian soffritto is simply a word for softened vegetables used as the base of a dish, usually including onions but sometimes including one or more of carrots, celery, garlic, mushrooms, and dozens of other vegetables. Perhaps he should have said that similar principles are at work in X, Y, and Z other traditions?

You correctly point out that iodine deficiency is no longer an issue in this country. Of course, that's because of iodized salt, so tossing it over your shoulder, so to speak, could lead right back to the problem it solved.)

Um... no. Iodized salt did not solve the problem of iodine deficiency in the United States. This is because there was never really a widespread problem with iodine deficiency in the United States to begin with. People experience iodine deficiency-related health problems when they live in areas of the world where they subsist on foods grown in iodine-poor soils and the diet is low in marine products. This describes approximately no one living in the United States today. Historically, iodine deficiency-related health problems were confined mostly to the "goiter belt" around the Great Lakes and perhaps one or two other localized areas. This was, however, back in the days before World War I, when people in these areas were eating produce grown in relatively local, iodine-poor soils for the most part, and had zero access to salt-water fish. In today's world where we all have access to fortified cereals, there is widespread distribution of marine foods, food production is concentrated in California and people all across the country eat foods produced all over the globe... it's unclear that iodized salt is necessary for the prevention of iodine deficiency-related health problems. Perhaps I'd use iodized salt if I lived in Michegan, but there's little reason for most of the rest of us to use it (and I don't). ETA: It's also worth of note that the US RDA for iodine (150 micrograms per day) is triple the amount deemed sufficient to prevent prevent hypothyroid, cretinism and endemic goiter.

Edited by slkinsey, 18 November 2007 - 01:42 PM.

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#35 Katie Meadow

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 02:01 PM

Despite some wildly divergent opinions here I'm getting a sense of how important veal stock is to me personally--a cook of modest skills and even more modest ambition. I don't make sauces ordinarily; I do make lots of soups for which I make my own stocks: chicken, beef and combinations thereof with various types of bones. Whenever I buy veal knuckle bones I split them with my dog; she gets one and I throw one into the pot for no good reason, actually, except that one more bone can't hurt.

It sounds like making a stock with veal bones results in something most useful as a texture additive for sauces without imparting too strong of a beefy flavor. So, this has definitely been a useful read for me.

I am completely unqualified to comment on either the book or the virtues of veal stock. Did I detect some ruffled feathers? Let me suggest we all hoist a few Dirty Bulls as featured in today's NYT style section. This strange cocktail could just as easily be called the Laughing Calf and yes, I did laugh. Veal stock and enough salt to curdle your cud--in a martini? I would be more inclined to dump mine in the soup pot. Cheers!

#36 Fat Guy

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 02:20 PM

Um... no. 

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I think it would be worth a separate topic on iodine deficiency. Sam, let me just lay out here, however, that your statements do not reflect my understanding of the issue based on what I've read. I don't have blind faith in our pediatrician, or pediatricians in general, but I have at least taken notice of repeated emphatic recommendations to use iodized salt -- and as a result I've switched back to iodized salt (mostly) since having a child. In terms of more general information, the Micronutrient Initiative, based in Canada, has issued this report which seems to suggest that Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD) is about a lot more than goiter and is still a significant public health issue. From the preface:

For 40 years, from the 1930s to the 1970s, iodine
deficiency was generally, and mistakenly, associated with goiter, viewed as a cosmetic problem among
people in the hills and highlands. Cretinism, the most severe consequence of iodine deficiency, was largely
confined to mountainous areas and not considered a major public health issue in any nation. During this
time, the soil in many parts of the world kept losing iodine because of flooding and overuse of the land,
depleting the iodine content in food and spreading the effects of IDD across the plains and coastal areas.
Endocrinologists, led by Dr. John Stanbury of the United States and Dr. Basil Hetzel of Australia, among
others, have succeeded in establishing IDD as the most preventable cause of brain damage. They have
shown that visible goiter represents only "the tip of the iceberg" in terms of the harm IDD causes. Even
low levels of iodine deficiency can inhibit brain growth so that a child may lose 10-15 IQ points. Tens of
millions of infants and children are affected in over 100 countries.


The report divides the countries of the world into three groups. The United States would be in the third group. From the foreword:

The third, growing set of countries is already largely consuming iodized salt, so that basic information is
no longer relevant. In these countries, people need to be reminded, encouraged to observe, or given
reports of the fact that indicators of iodine status have improved, that children’s intellectual development
probably has improved as a result of this, and that they should therefore be sure they continue to take
iodized salt and that the ancillary structures are in place to ensure that they get good quality iodized salt.


Now for all I know this is influenced by some industry group -- is there an iodine industry group out there artificially perpetuating fear of IDD? -- though the endorsement by UNICEF's nutrition chief is at least noteworthy. And, again, I think we should have another topic devoted to this issue rather than getting bogged down here. But I think there may be more to the iodine issue than "goiter was only a problem in Michigan."

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#37 slkinsey

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 03:16 PM

Steven: I'm not saying that I wouldn't use iodized salt if I had a young child just to be safe. Children may be at particular risk because they often pass through a stage in which they consume an extremely restrictive diet. There are lots of things we do with respect to children that represent huge overkill just to be on the safe side. But, considering some of the things you've written about accepted wisdom, official recommendations and doctors' instructions concerning consumption of fish and raw fish, I'd think you would take some of this with... well, a grain of salt. :smile: Given the other various sources of iodine in the American diet, it's not clear to me that the typical American would suffer from IDD if iodized table salt were no longer the norm.


The UNICEF thing makes a lot more sense. The typical child living in, say, Zambia, is probably quite a bit at risk for IDD (not to mention a whole raft of other nutritional deficiency disorders).

ETA: I'm not advocating that we discontinue iodization of salt -- especially salt used in processed foods, etc. In general, I am in favor of iodization (and fluoridization of drinking water, etc).

Edited by slkinsey, 18 November 2007 - 03:27 PM.

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#38 Daily Gullet Staff

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 05:11 PM

Rosetta Stone

by Ron Kaplan aka ronnie_suburban

There's an abundance of useful information in Michael Ruhlman's The Elements of Cooking. Not surprisingly, that information has been distilled into a concise, well-organized and easy-to-use reference that cooks of all levels will appreciate and benefit from. Modeled after Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, The Elements of Cooking seeks to do for the culinary craft what the former tome did for the craft of writing. It is a clearing house for inarguable, salient and scientifically-based information that can be easily and immediately applied in one’s own kitchen.

Elements is divided into two sections. The first section, entitled 'Notes on Cooking: From Stock to Finesse,' details a few of the most important and basic kitchen fundamentals. Here Ruhlman, the CIA-trained chef (he refers to himself as a "cook"), begins with an explanation of the importance of stocks. He argues passionately and convincingly that stocks represent the primary difference between home and professional kitchens. He discusses the finer points of stock-making and provides the book's only recipe -- one for veal stock -- which he argues is the most important of all the stocks. He decries the virtual non-existence of other veal stock recipes in American cookbooks -- even the most lauded ones -- and wonders why the dearth exists. In this regard, Elements distinguishes itself and, if you subscribe to Ruhlman’s passion, justifies its expense from the outset. The provided recipe is a scarce commodity and it promises to transform one’s kitchen.

Other cornerstones of cooking are covered as well, such as the ubiquity and near infinite variety of sauces, the miraculous versatility of eggs and what comprises a complete set of kitchen tools. The ability to properly salt food and mastering knowledge of temperature (throughout the kitchen) are also discussed in detail and categorized as two of the most important abilities a cook has in his repertoire.

The second section of Elements is an alphabetically-organized reference of important information about specific ingredients, kitchen tools and cooking techniques. Here, clearly-worded, usable-on-the-fly capsules are provided about a wide variety of common culinary topics. In many cases, these are the vital and essential details that are often omitted in standard cooking manuals. As such, in a sense, this book becomes a road map for all other cooking volumes, as it successfully illuminates the vague definitions and incomplete technical information they usually provide. The knowledge that is shared in Elements, which was obtained over years spent in important kitchens, is easily absorbed and applied. In fact, Elements' subtitle, "Translating the Chef’s Craft for Every Kitchen," couldn’t be more accurate. It is the Rosetta Stone.

Elements fulfills its mission to assist and advise cooks in the form of a compendium of chef’s notes. One almost feels as if he's reading an accomplished culinary student's class notes. Devotees of Ruhlman will not be disappointed, in spite of the referential nature of Elements. It's hardly impersonal. Mr. Ruhlman's sage and impassioned voice comes through loud and clear in nearly every paragraph. Through reading the text, the reader gets the feeling that Ruhlman is speaking directly to him.

Amidst the preponderance of shoddy cookbooks on the shelves these days, The Elements of Cooking is a welcome antidote. Instead of piling on with more useless, celebrity-ghost-written recipes or ultra glossy gastro-porn, it genuinely teaches and informs. This volume is not only likely to find its way into the kitchens of many cooks, it’s likely to become a "go to" resource, too. Its distinctive orange cover will certainly help harried chefs locate it on the bookshelf quickly, though it's not likely to spend much time there. This is a book that will likely live on the counter, collecting the tell-tale dings and stains that come with incessant use. This book will educate and improve one’s cooking . . . and it’ll probably even be used to settle a few bets.

* * *


The opinions expressed here are those of the reviewer and not those of the Daily Gullet or the eGullet Society.

#39 moosnsqrl

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 06:32 PM

Amidst the preponderance of shoddy cookbooks on the shelves these days, The Elements of Cooking is a welcome antidote.  Instead of piling on with more useless, celebrity-ghost-written recipes or ultra glossy gastro-porn, it genuinely teaches and informs.  This volume is not only likely to find its way into the kitchens of many cooks, it’s likely to become a "go to" resource, too.  Its distinctive orange cover will certainly help harried chefs locate it on the bookshelf quickly, though it's not likely to spend much time there.  This is a book that will likely live on the counter, collecting the tell-tale dings and stains that come with incessant use.  This book will educate and improve one’s cooking . . . and  it’ll probably even be used to settle a few bets.

'zactly. And if (in all modesty :wink:) the Kansas Jayhawks ever lose a game in any major sport, giving me time to read, I look forward to finishing it. Actually I'm thinking of having the moos (to my squirrel) who, while a fairly accomplished bbq-er, knows not the first thing about Cooking (with a capital "C") read it as a better barometer to test the 'everything you really need to know' theory.
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#40 Blamo

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Posted 19 November 2007 - 03:08 AM

While reading through On Food and Cooking, I came across this bit of information regarding veal on page 91, "Veal, for example, contains about twice as much collagen as year-old calf meat." Perhaps, this accounts for the emphasize of veal stock versus beef stock. (SEE McGEE!)

Edited by Blamo, 19 November 2007 - 03:12 AM.


#41 Diner Girl

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Posted 19 November 2007 - 02:07 PM

I can absolutely tell the difference between veal stock and beef stock and I use mostly bones for each. I would use veal stock for any preparation, but would use beef stock only for dishes that call for it.

If you're going to make veal stock then use Keller's recipe. It's gorgeous. And I use it for more than French haute-cuisine. Veal bones are pretty easy to come by, just make sure your butcher or grocery knows you want them. They are almost always happy to sell you something (I pay about $2/pound) that will ordinarily be thrown away.


Heather, I can tell the difference, too. I'd much rather spend a few days making veal stock a la Keller than do beef stock. In fact, there've been dishes I've made that call for beef stock, and I use veal stock instead, and it made a cleaner, better-tasting dish. Veal bones are easy to come by, and the guys at Union Meat in DC's Eastern Market will cut them however you need them done.

I've always loved McGee, but used it as reference... not as often as I used The Professional Chef, but nonetheless, I would refer to it from time to time. I actually sat down and read Ruhlman's Elements cover to cover, and found it really useful. Not only did it reinforce what I already knew, it clarified some things I thought I knew, but wasn't too sure about (or was completely wrong about). I like Ruhlman's tone and approach with this book. I enjoy reading the work of someone who knows what he's talking about, has worked with the best in the business, and can find a really thoughtful way to share what he's learned. It's almost like getting to have a conversation with Keller, Ripert, et al about their technique and the things they think are most useful to know about cooking.

I think it's a great book, Michael. Thanks for writing it.

#42 Daily Gullet Staff

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Posted 19 November 2007 - 04:25 PM

Stretching for More

by Rachel Dulsey aka racheld

I like a book that doesn't dash at you, trying to blind you with flash and a thousand colors of impossibly-balanced food. The skill is undeniably there in The Elements of Cooking, but in a quiet, considered way that shows the hard kitchen work, the training, and the lifelong research that went into each entry and each method.

It's like having a conversation while carving a great haunch of beef side-by-side, or making stock by a centuries-old method learned and perfected over lifetimes in far-flung kitchens. There's a personal air to the narration and definitions, like hearing them from a friend who has learned something wonderful, and wants you to share in it.

The first fifty pages are devoted to "Here’s what I’ve learned that makes cooking the best I can make it, and in the most enjoyable way" with no air of "Here’s what I know and you don’t." There are solid reasonings and traditions that have the merit of long use and enjoyment; there’s a list of utensils and their usefulness, and there are descriptions.

I grabbed the book, still in its FedEx wrapper, to read on a trip. Then I found myself, a grown-up Grandmother, salivating over page thirteen in a parking lot. I glanced furtively around, then fell back under the spell of veal-stock-as-Grail and ice-cream-really-is-a-sauce (a fact known to most females from birth). I was delighted that a chef of Mr. Ruhlman's caliber also knew that secret, and wasn’t ashamed to put it right out there.

I wanted to stop somewhere for ten pounds of veal bones, go home and crank up the old black Franklin to almost-bubble, and just be while that magic happened. I want to smell the changes in the air as the kitchen fills with hours of the aromas of crisp-roasted meaty bones, earthy vegetables, a handful of the last thyme in the back door pot. And when it’s time to make the raft and let alchemy take over -- now that will be something to witness.

The Encyclopedia section offers definitions, method, the magic of chemical reactions and their benefits/drawbacks, small asides which sweeten and pepper the pages with personal experience. Just the cosmic secrecy of yeast/honey/grain, all those wonders thousands of years older than the first fire-and-a-stick kitchen, as well as a judicious hand with the salt and a feel for heat -- those are all spoken of reverently, as befit their place in things.

G.R.I.T.S. girls and guys -- by birth or inclination, all of us with black skillets and perhaps a stockpile of cream-of-something soup, fledgling cooks whose skills are beginning to stretch for more and better, and seasoned chefs with Wusthofs and a Gaggenau would all profit from some of these tips.

Any book which gives almost a page each to Bacon and Cake and thrice that to Butters -- now that's a book. I like it. All day.

* * *

The opinions expressed here are those of the reviewer and not those of the Daily Gullet or the eGullet Society.

#43 Todd36

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Posted 19 November 2007 - 07:07 PM

You all might want tp read the Saucier's Apprentice by Raymond Sokolow, 1976. He was a former food editor of the New York Times. His core recipe is for Demi-Glaze, which is 50-50 beef and veal. Its a very interesting book with much historical information.

#44 Kerry Beal

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Posted 19 November 2007 - 07:39 PM

You all might want tp read the Saucier's Apprentice by Raymond Sokolow, 1976.  He was a former food editor of the New York Times.  His core recipe is for Demi-Glaze, which is 50-50 beef and veal.  Its a very interesting book with much historical information.

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I love the Saucier's Apprentice. That's the book I make my demi-glaze and sauces from. I do a swap with the butcher, bones for demi-glaze.

Edited by Kerry Beal, 19 November 2007 - 07:41 PM.


#45 Marlene

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Posted 19 November 2007 - 07:44 PM

You make demi glace Kerry? We need to talk. :biggrin: I guess I'll have to put Saucier's Apprentice on my list as well.

I like your review Racheld. Not necessarily because you liked it (I haven't read it yet), but because of the way you describe it. As if it is a book that will become an old friend.
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#46 racheld

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Posted 19 November 2007 - 09:37 PM

That's how it felt to read it. Like stepping back between the pages of a familiar, friendly book, seeing new words and phrases, taking another look at a meaning, finding more to see and learn.

I read cookbooks like novels, and this one had a bit of that feeling---not a cold reference book, not a cookbook, not a lesson, but some of all put together full circle, like the round of an apple or a neatly-finished plot.

And for some silly reason, during all the paeans to veal stock, I had the same warm-kitchen feeling as reading Farmer Boy, the Laura Ingalls Wilder story about the childhood of her husband, Almonzo Wilder, with the big farm kitchen the hub of the home, and a constant parade of good, solid homey dishes cooked on that big old wood stove. Just the breakfasts alone would gladden the heart of any eGullet member.

And that's mostly why and how I cook.
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#47 Michael Ruhlman

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 08:21 AM

thanks for all these comments and commentaries.

I've wanted to address something fat guy brought up--the availability of veal bones. he's right, your grocery store may not put these out or have them (so much of our meat comes pre-fabbed).

But that's not an issue! My grocery store usually has veal breasts for sale. This is a perfect cut to make stock with--just ask the meat dept to cut it into three inch pieces. i have a friend who's so fanatical about veal stock--he uses osso bucco for stock. That's not cost effective--veal breast is. It's got abundant connective tissue (resulting in gelatin) and meat (resulting in flavor) and where i get it, it's pretty cheap. It's also a more manageable size. Obviously, you can make a great veal stock with one or two pounds of bones depending on the kind of pots you own.

White vs. brown: yes good question, white (blanching rather than roasting the bones) results in a supremely neutral stock; that's the French Laundry way. But I almost always want the roasted flavor at home; a restaurant may have many more uses for veal and so may only want to introduce roasted flavors sometimes. At home, i find it more efficient to roast.

The Saucier's Apprentice is one of my favorite books! Glad it was mentioned.

And yes, the Little House stories. One of my all time favorite food-writing passages is in the first one, where she writes about putting up meat for the winter, and all the things they do with the pig. I even quote the passage at length in Charcuterie. THAT is what cooking is all about!

#48 moosnsqrl

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 08:37 AM

And for some silly reason, during all the paeans to veal stock, I had the same warm-kitchen feeling as reading Farmer Boy, the Laura Ingalls Wilder story about the childhood of her husband, Almonzo Wilder, with the big farm kitchen the hub of the home, and a constant parade of good, solid homey dishes cooked on that big old wood stove.  Just the breakfasts alone would gladden the heart of any eGullet member. 

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Likewise, two of my childhood favorites (just after moveable type was invented :laugh:) were A Kettle Named Maude and Smiling Hill Farm.

When I finally found and re-read them as an adult, I had to laugh at the discovery of why they had planted themselves in my memory - they were 85% about farming, harvesting, cooking, curing and putting food by.
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#49 Pam R

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 09:42 AM

I've wanted to address something fat guy brought up--the availability of veal bones.  he's right, your grocery store may not put these out or have them (so much of our meat comes pre-fabbed).

But that's not an issue!  My grocery store usually has veal breasts for sale.  This is a perfect cut to make stock with--just ask the meat dept to cut it into three inch pieces.  i have a friend who's so fanatical about veal stock--he uses osso bucco for stock.  That's not cost effective--veal breast is.  It's got abundant connective tissue (resulting in gelatin) and meat (resulting in flavor) and where i get it, it's pretty cheap.  It's also a more manageable size.  Obviously, you can make a great veal stock with one or two pounds of bones depending on the kind of pots you own.

You can also try asking the guys in the meat department to order the bones in for you (after you've befriended them, of course). Even if it's not something that's carried in the store all the time, it doesn't mean it's not available to them. They probably don't bring the bones in because they don't think there's a demand for them.

#50 chromedome

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 11:11 AM

I have the luxury of ordering veal bones from a wholesaler, now, but in the past it was always a struggle. Supermarkets here in Canada stock very little veal; the odd chop or piece of stew meat is about it. I *think* I've seen veal breast once, but I wouldn't swear to it. To make demi for myself, while in cooking school, I schmoozed the meat manager for months. I got one shinbone every week, and it took me a couple of months to accumulate enought to make my stock.

Perhaps if I"d lived in cities with more "gourmet" markets, it wouldn't have been such an issue.
Fat=flavor

#51 slkinsey

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 11:14 AM

Well, certain ingredients are going to be harder or easier to find depending on where you live. I bet you have a much easier time finding bones for moose stock than we do in NYC. :smile:
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#52 chromedome

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 11:14 AM

Oh, and for what it's worth... having read "Making of a Chef" and "Soul of a Chef," I would give any of Ruhlman's books a place in my queue. He's earned that from me, just as I'll watch any movie the Coen brothers put out. I don't always like them, but even their failures are more interesting than most others.

I read a great many food-related books. Some have been more valuable than others, but even one nugget, or one train of thought that might not otherwise have occurred to me, makes even the tedious ones worthwhile. And Michael's are never tedious.
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#53 Daily Gullet Staff

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 04:32 PM

Brave Old World

by Chris Amirault aka chrisamirault

It's a strange gambit to model your essential cooking reference on William Strunk and E. B. White's Elements of Style. For one thing, you tempt readers to invent drinking games in which players seek sentences that follow or violate the style book's dictums, applauding the well-pared "All other knives are nonessentials" and giggling over -- deep breath -- "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 a la minute, and because it came from your kitchen."

Whatever Elements of Cooking lacks in Strunk-Whitean precision it makes up for in bravado. Like fatter forebears such as Larousse Gastronomique, Elements promises definitive answers on pressing culinary questions of the moment. Like the context for Larousse, however, the moment in question may well have passed. Ask yourself: when was the last time you ate "fancypants dishes at your favorite French restaurant"?

Though living in an era in which old and new media illustrate fascinating new techniques shortly after they've been revealed and the reach of both professional and amateur chefs is truly global, Ruhlman expresses a deep desire for the good old days when a list of "the elements" could be frozen in time and "cooking" meant Continental cooking. Covering topics from pate a choux to the concept of a recipe, the book proclaims its version of the plain facts in strident declarations that would, in tone if not in syntax, make Strunk and White beam. Why you'd want to look up "Recipe" in a reference I do not know, but if you do, you'll be told that "Recipes are not assembly manuals" and then given a manual for how to read recipes: "Do it over again. And again. Pay attention. Do it again."

Ruhlman never wants you to forget that these elements are serious business, the foundation for all that is good in cooking, and nowhere is that clearer than in the opening section on le fond itself, veal stock. Though dozens of books have stressed the importance of veal stock for many decades, Ruhlman's insistence on his mission blinds him. When he states that "one has to travel all the way back to 1970 to find a cookbook author properly expounding on the notion of veal stock," he must be excepting Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook, Julia Child's Way to Cook, and The Gourmet Cookbook, in which Ruth Reichl uses Ruhlman's own recipe for the stuff to expound, we surmise, improperly.

Of course, the insistence on veal stock as The One Thing is both deeply parochial and deeply familiar. When he declares that "the bones of beef result in an unpleasant bone-gelatin flavor," he doesn't just toss the pho bo out with the bathwater. He also reveals that his commitment to French-derived cuisines allows no culinary or even gustatory relativity, and the book's focus on wobbly categories such as "essential" and "refined" allows for definitive judgments about what's in (composed salad) and what's out (soy sauce), judgments that to this reader seem out of touch with our times.

Taken as a whole, the book suggests less Strunk & White than Dumas on Food, the slim edition of the French author's 1873 Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, a book whose declarations about the objective truths of cuisine are just as biased as they are stentorian. If you are amazed, along with the author, that most humans wouldn't put veal stock in the same category as the Goldberg Variations or Plato's cave allegory, then let Ruhlman be your Beatrice. If you're confused by the taxonomy itself and, given our exciting era of cuisine, by the need for claims of categorical superiority at all, then take a pass. The Elements of Cooking leaves me in just that state of confusion, unclear as to what counts and doesn't count as elemental, and unsure that we need yet another reference detailing the culinary traditions of the Western world, no matter how handy and slim.

* * *

The opinions expressed here are those of the reviewer and not those of the Daily Gullet or the eGullet Society.

#54 Anna N

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 05:23 PM

Brave Old World

by Chris Amirault aka chrisamirault

. . .

The Elements of Cooking leaves me in just that state of confusion, unclear as to what counts and doesn't count as elemental, and unsure that we need yet another reference detailing the culinary traditions of the Western world, no matter how handy and slim.

The opinions expressed here are those of the reviewer and not those of the Daily Gullet or the eGullet Society.

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See - here's my problem. If we take this sentence and strike through the word "Western" and insert the word "Asian" or "Mexican" (you choose the ethnicity) all hell would break loose about our lack of political correctness. Why is there something wrong with trying to maintain the traditions of one cuisine whatever its ethnicity? Perhaps we need people like Michael to stand up for Western culinary traditions lest they get lost in our effort to shed our ethnocentricity and embrace everything that isn't Western.

I confess that I have not yet read the book but intend to as soon as I get a copy but I can still applaud Michael for standing up for Western traditions. We do not need to denigrate one tradition in order to support another whatever it may be.
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#55 Chris Amirault

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 05:32 PM

The Elements of Cooking leaves me in just that state of confusion, unclear as to what counts and doesn't count as elemental, and unsure that we need yet another reference detailing the culinary traditions of the Western world, no matter how handy and slim.

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See - here's my problem. If we take this sentence and strike through the word "Western" and insert the word "Asian" or "Mexican" (you choose the ethnicity) all hell would break loose about our lack of political correctness. Why is there something wrong with trying to maintain the traditions of one cuisine whatever its ethnicity?


There's nothing at all wrong with trying to maintain the traditions of one cuisine. But the book isn't called "The Elements of French Cooking" or even "The Elements of Western Cooking." It's called "The Elements of Cooking."

If the book claimed to be merely a compendium of advice and opinions about one cuisine, then it could get away with its focus, as far as I'm concerned. But the book seeks to state (I quote from the dustflap)

the essential knowledge of the kitchen, ... what every professional chef knows instinctively[.] [H]ere is all the information -- no more and no less -- you need to cook[.] You'll learn to cook everything[.]


That's not a claim to cuisine-specific information. That's a claim to universality.
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#56 hjshorter

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 05:51 PM

If the book claimed to be merely a compendium of advice and opinions about one cuisine, then it could get away with its focus, as far as I'm concerned. But the book seeks to state (I quote from the dustflap)

the essential knowledge of the kitchen, ... what every professional chef knows instinctively[.] [H]ere is all the information -- no more and no less -- you need to cook[.] You'll learn to cook everything[.]

That's not a claim to cuisine-specific information. That's a claim to universality.

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Oh, come on. This is deliberately obtuse. It's not like you, or most of us, don't know where Ruhlman is coming from. If we're going to be like that then maybe we should retitle Child's The Way to Cook as Maintaining the French Culinary Hegemony for Beginners? :wink:

(ETA a little winky thing, in case anyone couldn't tell that my tongue was in my cheek here.)

Edited by hjshorter, 21 November 2007 - 03:04 AM.

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#57 Chris Amirault

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 05:59 PM

It's not deliberately obtuse at all. I believe that it's wrong to claim that the only elements of cooking worth knowing these days come from the French/continental tradition. That's not to say that the tradition isn't worth knowing. Heck, his veal stock recipe is a good one, as my freezer can attest! But there's too much good cooking out there that isn't in that tradition and that is for me part of any good professional or amateur cook's repertoire.

There are models for that sort of book, too. I'd point to The Cook's Book, edited by Jill Norman, which attempts to recognize both new techniques and non-Western cuisines as essential elements to a cook's battery.

What can I say? I hoped for and expected more from this book.
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#58 hjshorter

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 06:10 PM

So, The Elements of Cooking (In the French Tradition)?

It sounds like you wanted a book that Ruhlman wasn't writing. Are you basing your review on your expectations, or on what it is?

ETA that, while I haven't read it yet (waiting on Amazon.com to deliver...), the Strunk and White conceit appeals to me.

Edited by hjshorter, 21 November 2007 - 03:50 AM.

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#59 Chris Amirault

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 06:16 PM

I'm basing it on a comparison of what the book is and what it claims to be: a compendium of the essential elements of cooking. It's a compendium I find lacking for the reasons I stated above. But, hey, YMMV (ETA: when you get and read the one you ordered!), as can be seen by the variety of responses here!

Edited by chrisamirault, 20 November 2007 - 06:36 PM.

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#60 moosnsqrl

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Posted 20 November 2007 - 07:55 PM

Well, I have my copy, I have read it, and I find most of the criticisms above disingenuous and, frankly, [it is starting to appear] premeditatedly (is that even a word?) snarky.

Based on some of the comments above, anything short of a weighty, all-encompassing tome, will fall short of the mark and that is completely out of the scope of, and missing the point of, this book.

I think we all know the author's formal training is CIA which is, largely, French-based, as is all 'formal' (note indirect quotes) culinary training. Hence the baseline. On what other basis would you suggest he lay the foundation for this book?
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Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

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