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Veal Stock -- a personal reflection

182 posts in this topic

<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1195150878/gallery_29805_1195_1178.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">An exclusive excerpt to the <i>Daily Gullet</i>

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.

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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.

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Thanks for the sneak peek. I know Ruhlman had his eyes opened by veal stock when he went to the CIA to write "Making of a Chef". Nice to see he still feels strongly about it, even if it seems to have fallen out of favor in lots of restaurants.

I gotta get my hands on some veal bones. Somehow, someway. I Gotta do it.


Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"
jmeeker@eGullet.org

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I concur that veal stock is a great force multiplier. In my experience, however, for the home cook, beef stock is about as useful as veal stock -- and it's usually easier to gather the ingredients. Veal is almost a specialty item, whereas beef is plentiful and cheap at every level of supermarket. Home cooks are also more likely to have leftover beef bones and trimmings than they are to have veal bones and trimmings. A combination stock is also quite workable for the home cook: a combination of beef and poultry bones and trimmings, kind of like an Italian brodo.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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This is a wonderful reflection on an overlooked art. I grew up in the dairy country and veal knuckles were always available. I was also raised by Julia and long simmers came naturally. One of my sons frequently calls about a 14" calf leg that his restaurant is tossing and I have become adept with the bone saw.

Yes, veal stock is a treasure and all it takes is some veal breast and a few split veal knuckles.

And I thought Ruhlman was an impudent kid.

Tim

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I'm about 25% thru and just the essay on seasoning/salting is worth the cost of the book.

Ruhlman, is a really good writer. I feel like I'm listening to a good story-teller spin a yarn and I mean this in a good sense. MR just writes well. I've never heard him speak but I'll bet he talks much as he writes.


Robert

Seattle

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What is it, exactly, that makes veal stock such a wonder for the home cook? Why do you think it's categorically different from beef stock or chicken stock? Is it the texture? The taste? The umami element? I have no doubt that the pan sauce described is great, but this description seems to beg the question:

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.

The butter adds texture and lusciousness; the mushrooms add the mushroomy element, presumably. The part about being fresh and made a la minute from my kitchen would hold regardless of what liquid I used. Is it merely that veal stock is rich and meaty? That's a wonderful thing, but what makes it richer and meatier than beef stock?


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
Manager
jzimmerman@eGullet.org
eG Ethics signatory
Author, The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook and All About Cooking for Two

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Janet, I think the difference is that veal stock has more gelatin and an inherently richer texture than chicken stock, but it doesn't have as distinctive a flavor as beef stock. For example, whereas a mushroom sauce enrichened with veal stock works for fish, I wouldn't say the same of beef stock.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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I make both veal and beef stocks, and the one thing I find is that veal stock gives a dish a more "velvety" taste if that makes any sense at all. Probably not. But that's the best way I can describe it. It also seems to be more delicate in flavour whereas beef stock seems to be more robust.


Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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Our local supplier of baby white veal sells frozen veal stock, or is it demi glass, at a good price. I can attest to its wonders as its almost always on hand on goes in just about everything. ch


Edited by saturnbar (log)

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Can anyone clarify some definitions? What exactly is a demi-glace? Google/Wiki has some contradictory info. Some sources say a demi-glace is a reduction of combined beef and veal stock. Others imply that it is a blend of veal stock and brown sauce.

As step #1 of our thanksgiving gravy, my husband and I have always made a brown sauce using an old James Beard recipe which specifies as an ingredient beef bouillon. What exactly is bouillon? Is it basically a reduction of beef stock? Would any intense stock be an equivalent?

Last year, in an attempt to get away from any canned and over-salted products we subbed some flavorful beef stock we had frozen earlier. It was fine, but I am thinking that a rich or reduced veal stock might be even better (not that I plan on making it myself.) What do you think?

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Can anyone clarify some definitions? What exactly is a demi-glace?

I don't think you're going to find a credible, definitive answer to that question. It's possible to say what Escoffier's recipe for demi-glace was, but in contemporary culinary usage one can arrive at demi-glace by at least three paths and each of those paths has branches. First, you can do the classic Escoffier method or any of a number of variants. Second, you can simply make a strong reduction of meat stock. Third, you can make something in the neighborhood of a quintuple-strength stock/coulis by repeated remoistening. You'll find professional sources (e.g. James Peterson) referring to all three of those things, and more, as demi-glace.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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In conjunction with Michael Ruhlman and his publishers, we arranged a series of member-written mini reviews of The Elements of Cooking. The first one follows. Needless to say, the opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not those of the Daily Gullet or the eGullet Society.

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Paradigm Tossed

by Dave Scantland aka Dave the Cook

Most every school-trained cook I know carries around a little book that you're not allowed to read any more than you're permitted to browse your daughter's diary. In it is his formula for beet caviar, his means of resuscitating a broken sauce (and what clever thing to do if it’s irretrievable), his brine for belly. It contains every recipe, tip or truc he's begged, borrowed or stolen since he decided to spend his life in clogs and checks. He keeps it safe in his pocket, consults it like Pat Robertson talks to God, and compounds its value with new entries in type so tight it's the province of mice. So imagine my delight when Scribner announced Michael Ruhlman's The Elements of Cooking: Translating the Chef's Craft for Every Kitchen. This CIA alum with little-book-level access to some of the country's top-tier restaurants would be opening up his culinary journal for the benefit of all. And imagine my disappointment when it turned out to be a maddening bundle of contradictions, misinformation and misdirected emphasis.

In a set of essays that precede the glossary, we're told that four different things are most important to the home cook: veal stock, salt, heat and eggs. And though Ruhlman might consider veal stock essential (he provides a rare recipe), the equipment needed to make it isn't. The list of required tools, limited to an arbitrary five, omits a stockpot and strainer. The manifest expands as the book progresses, but I pity the cook who tries to shoehorn ten pounds of bones (and the requisite ten quarts of water) into the eight-quart vessel that Ruhlman promises is all he or she will need forever.

It's not that I disagree with much of what Ruhlman relates; on the contrary, most facts and singular bits of advice are dependable. But when error and evasion dance in, frustration and bafflement shimmy along with them. Potatoes, we're told, are distinguished by their skins; starch content is a mere related factoid. Persistent references to "mashed" potatoes squander the opportunity to discuss pommes puree, an omission that belies the book’s expressed dedication to refinement. Elsewhere, roux proceeds well enough, but the ostensibly helpful formula (by weight, one-to-ten, roux to liquid) neglects to mention that thickening power decreases as roux-browning increases. For that -- as Ruhlman directs with irritating regularity, but doesn’t in this case -- see McGee.

So why not bypass this bantam bible and get On Food and Cooking? Because the very word "elements" promises a valuable economy of expression, a distillation to essentials that McGee eschews. Yet Ruhlman fritters away his word count like a toddler with too many toys, plying us with paragraphs on the obscure "tallow," the obvious "trim" and the overexplained "bacon." There’s room for "pincage" (common or uncommon, depending on which end of the paragraph you scan), "pink salt" and "Pyrex," but none for "soy sauce," "sofrito" or "barbecue." Shoulders, it seems, are for sausage -- short ribs and flatirons go begging for definition, as do the short loin and round.

On second thought, do get McGee -- along with Child, Herbst and Pepin (the rest of Ruhlman’s recommendations are redundant or too idiosyncratic for any but the advanced). And while you’re at it, pick up a small, blank book and start scribbling your own little reference. It will serve you far better than the disappointing, miscalculated lexicon that is The Elements of Cooking.

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I went to college for a degree in English. I came out having acculated a standard dictionary, two unabridged dictionaries, a rhyming dictionary, a Latin dictionary, and an illustrated reverse dictionary. All of these dictionaries had their uses at university; however, now I typically only use one of them, and there are those that I haven't been opened since I left years ago.

Categorizing these dictionaries by usefulness (standard to rhyming), I'd have to say that Elements, like my Latin dictionary, will be a book left practically unused. Overall, I really wanted Elements to be more, considering I'm the target audience, but instead of reaching for Elements, I will continue reaching for Food Lover's Companion and On Food and Cooking when in doubt, which is quite often.

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I think that review by Dave the Cook was more helpful to me than the Amazon.com reviews on Ruhlman's book. I'm glad I read it (the review, instead of the book).


Edited by Jane Die (log)

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I'll be interested to see further member reviews. I don't think Dave's review would stop me from buying the book. First of all, I like Michael Ruhlman's style of writing and I've enjoyed all his books.

Secondly, a review, any review, is subjective I think. One person may hate the same dish I love, hate the same movie I love, hate the same book I love. Is it going to be the definitive resource for the home cook's kitchen? I doubt it, but then, I have several books of resource and don't rely on just one anyway, including my own little notebook.

I think I have to read it for myself to decide. :smile: It's on my Christmas list.


Edited by Marlene (log)

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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Reading Dave Scantland’s comments on my book I would like to clarify what my book is and is not. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive food glossary (like the excellent Food Lovers Companion) or even a traditional reference book for the kitchen. It’s 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, working with so many passionate, talented chefs throughout the country. It is an effort to translate the language of the professional kitchen and make it available to the home cook.

Do not expect to find food terms such as sofrito and soy sauce (Scantland was confused by their omission) or, what else, ketchup, Tabasco, etc., in there. Mayo IS in there, because it’s a fundamental. Basic foods are in there such as potato but only in the most fundamental way, with the most basic practical info, which Dave takes issue with. Roux is another fundamental and Dave the Cook is upset that I don’t say how much brown roux you need, as compared with a pale roux, given that pale has a greater capacity to thicken (the answer is, it depends on how much the roux been cooked, there’s not a hard and fast rule I could add beyond what I did).

No doubt there are many failures in the book, ones that I will work to correct as I learn of them or find them myself. I’ve started a second blog to discuss various "Elements" and I urge readers to question the text and point out errors so that they can be corrected (http://blog.ruhlman.com/elements_of_cooking/). And yes, the book is Eurocentric, because the fundamentals of Western cuisine were first articulated and codified by the French—but the fundamentals themselves are universal. Certainly the book doesn’t fail in its essay on tools or its lack of defining potato puree, or in its acknowledging Harold McGee where he might be helpful for further reading or where he provided information I could have found no where else (issues Dave the Cook was bothered by). This is my take on the language of the kitchen, what I feel is important to know; two excellent chefs, CIA instructors, have read the entire thing and added valuable comments and some of the best chefs in the country have weighed in with their comments. I am surprised by the bitterness of Dave the Cook’s comments. Mr. Scantland and I exchanged some chilly emails after some of my posts were deleted from a thread on two years ago, as I recall, on the restaurant comp issue. I do hope there’s nothing personal here. This is my work after all, I care about it, and if I’ve truly failed a reader, I’d like to do everything I can to account for it.

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I'm glad Michael was given the opportunity and took the time to respond, so that both sides could be weighed.

If you'll excuse me, I need some time to Ruhlmanate over this.

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other issues brought up in comments.

I disagree, respectfully, with Fat Guy about beef being as versatile. It's true beef bones are more plentiful in the store, but it tastes like beef--there's nothing like veal stock. What he says about meat stock generally is certainly true. As for availability, anyone who'd like to try to make veal stock, can simply ask your meat dept for a veal breast, which has both meat and connective tissue and is reasonably priced (ask the butcher to cut it into 2-3 inch pieces for stock).

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

katie, bouillon is the french term for broth. bouillon cubes are to be avoided. turkey parts, such as wings are available and inexpensive, buy some and roast them and make stock from them as your base for gravy.

what is demi-glace? i'd post my definition from elements of cooking but I'm afraid Dave would take issue with that as well!

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katie, bouillon is the french term for broth.  bouillon cubes are to be avoided.  turkey parts, such as wings are available and inexpensive, buy some and roast them and make stock from them as your base for gravy.

I've got turkey backs, necks, and wings cooking just below the simmer. I assiduously skimmed the stock until no Keller-offending scum was left floating on the surface. :wink:

what is demi-glace?  i'd post my definition from elements of cooking but I'm afraid Dave would take issue with that as well!

Heh. I liked FG's summary of the various interpretations of what is understood to be demi-glace. My own take is that it's veal stock cooked down with sauce espangole, pretty much straight out of the guide culinaire. But that's how I learned it (self-taught). FG is correct that different people interpret the term differently, at least in the U.S.

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I concur that veal stock is a great force multiplier. In my experience, however, for the home cook, beef stock is about as useful as veal stock -- and it's usually easier to gather the ingredients. Veal is almost a specialty item, whereas beef is plentiful and cheap at every level of supermarket. Home cooks are also more likely to have leftover beef bones and trimmings than they are to have veal bones and trimmings. A combination stock is also quite workable for the home cook: a combination of beef and poultry bones and trimmings, kind of like an Italian brodo.

Here in NYC, Fresh Direct sells veal bones for $1.99 a pound. I almost always have some in the freezer.

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

Okay, I can see that: it's like MSG, then.

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. But if any of the other elements were missing, I'm guessing the sauce would be bad -- weak or unbalanced or thin, that is -- and no amount of veal sauce could make it right.


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
Manager
jzimmerman@eGullet.org
eG Ethics signatory
Author, The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook and All About Cooking for Two

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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 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.

The veal stock provides a silky texture that can't be explained by simply noting the presence of gelatin in the stock. (I'm with him on that one). But you're on to something with the MSG analogy. If MSG pumps up the umami flavor, perhaps veal stock does something analogous in regards to texture.

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, I would substitute "most ineffable". 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.

Yes, and yes. I used a veal demi glace a while back to finish a dish for the first time, and it "just did something" that I can't really explain. It was a dish I've made several times in the past, but the demi glace just elevated it. I was totally wowed by the dish in a way that I never had been before.

The veal stock provides a silky texture that can't be explained by simply noting the presence of gelatin in the stock.

Again, yes. And I can't explain it either except to agree with the silkiness. Beef stock is wonderful and I use it a lot. But it's got a flavour going all its own and it's robust. But veal adds that silkiness and wow factor, without adding a distinct flavour, that beef stock just can't do. Add some veal stock to a french onion soup and notice the difference. Add it to a sauce and note the velvety taste on your tongue.


Edited by Marlene (log)

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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I have several comments and questions here.

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.

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.

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."


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
Manager
jzimmerman@eGullet.org
eG Ethics signatory
Author, The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook and All About Cooking for Two

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