Not satisfied to just make more jerky and ground venison year after year, I decided last year to do a little more with my deer. This included new cooking methods, dishes, and a further expansion of my definition of ‘edible’.
For years, like thousands of other hunters, I threw away my deer bones. Rather, my processor threw away my deer bones after returning the meat to me in tidy, butcher paper-wrapped packages. Or maybe they sold them to the glue factory. The end result each year was that I didn’t have any bones in my freezer and after this year’s experiment with stock, broth, and consommé, I’ve come to regret that very much.
Consommé, for those who don’t know, is a clarified broth. But it’s more than just clear soup. Its flavor is intensified, nuanced, and powerful. Consommé is heavy on natural gelatin and because of that, has more body than your run of the mill bowl of broth.
Consommé is also excruciatingly French. Nothing against the French, but my God. Those people can’t just cook something. It must be simmered, strained, reduced, and subjected to a seance first. My two-part test for finding out if you’re eating French food is to first find yourself saying, “This is very good.” If you can say that, then ask the chef how it is prepared. If the answer includes butter, duck fat, or the passage of multiple days of preparation, congratulations. You’re eating French food.
I first heard of consommé by way of a country song in which a young man talks of going to visit his gal and her presentation of a bowl of chicken consommé and a fruit jar full of iced tea for supper. To the uniformed, it sounds like a delightfully low brow meal until you read up on consommé and its preparation. Only then do you realize the amount of love that young lady must have had in her heart for that young man.
Sold on the concept, I consulted my oracle, Hank Shaw, for a recipe. Naturally, he’d already covered the preparation of both broth and consommé. You’ll notice that both recipes reference fowl, but they can easily be adapted for ungulates, too.
The most important ingredient for either broth or consommé is the bones. Specifically, the long bones that are filled with delicious marrow and covered in gristle, cartilage, and tendons. I chose to make use of the hip bones from my opening morning buck as I did a sloppy job of deboning the animal and there was a lot of meat still clinging to the pelvis.
Hank suggests using trim and gristle from the rest of your meat preparation, but I’ve done things a bit out of order. Ideally, you’d get everything else already made like your sausages, steaks, roasts, and cured bits before you started on the stock. I elected not to, and I think the final product turned out just fine.
Rub those bones in olive oil, sprinkle them with Kosher salt, and roast in a 400 degree oven for one hour. Having never made bones for stock before, I consulted with my friend Jason who told me that his litmus test for when a stock bone is ready is if you’d pull it out of the oven and start chewing on it. If so, they’re ready to pull. If not, give them more time.
Fully roasted, the bones go in a large stock pot. Or in my case, the shorter of the two stock pots you own. The taller one is where my eighty pound bulldog gets his water. This would come back to haunt me later.
Cover the bones with cold water by a few inches which should bring you right to the rim of your undersized stock pot. Eyeball the dog. Eyeball the bone-filled pot on your stove. Put a bigger pot on your Christmas wish list and set the heat to low.
This part is important. You cannot rush stocks and broths. Having shot a deer, field dressed it, quartered it, deboned it, and roasted the bones, you might be inclined to hurry. Don’t do that. My experience was that stocks and broths don’t require much hands-on time, but they do take all day long. So be sure to set some time aside.
Over the course of the next hour, the liquid will start to slightly shimmer or barely bubble. This is perfect. I found that once I had my temperature set, I never had to change it. I managed to get my stock shimmering around 10:00 AM one day and let it shimmer and shake for the better part of eight hours.
Hank says overnight is best, but I have a fear of leaving an unattended pot on the stove overnight. In any case, the final product was sublime so I can tell you that eight hours is fine.
Once the eight hours has passed, that’s a fine time to add your mirepoix. Don’t worry, that only means chopped vegetables. Hank goes into great detail on his website about the contents of this and I highly recommend you take his advice.
This will simmer for ninety minutes or so. At some point, your wife will come home and and asks why the house smells so divine. Crack a knowing smile and a cold beer, young man, you’re living the high life now.
After the vegetables have simmered and softened, run your stock through a strainer, and then again through a strainer lined with a paper towel. If you want a sturdy stock, stop here, clean up and go to bed. If you want a full bodied liquid that stands on its own — consommé — clean out the pot, return the stock to the pot, and set the heat to low again.
Taste what you have. Is it watery? Let it simmer for thirty minutes. Still watery? Go another thirty. Continue this process of reduction and tasting until you have the body you’re looking for. At this point, you may add salt or various other spices to bring the broth to your desired flavor. Now you have broth.
The broth I had at this point was an absolute rock star. My wife, who doesn’t necessarily love soup, raved about it. I found it full-bodied with what I’d call a “stick to your ribs” quality that a commercial broth just can’t touch. The flavor wasn’t gamey or otherwise offensive, but it certainly wasn’t beef or pork, either. Impossible to describe or put down. At this point, you can put it in jars and refrigerate or freeze for later usage.
The next day, the broth is a loose gelatin in the jar and looks downright frightening. But you want to make consommé and this is how it starts…cold.
Next, you mix up a bowl of lean ground venison with yet another dose of mirepoix. Added to this is liberal shot of tomato puree and egg whites. The tomatoes and egg whites are the powerful chemical bits that clarify your broth into consommé.
Mix in some other aromatics and start the low heating process again as you stir the whole mixture on a regular basis. Then the magic happens.
As the heat gently rises, the egg whites bind with the impurities in the broth while the meat and mirepoix and aromatics add further flavor and depth. The whole group of solids floats to the top forming a raft. Poke a hole in the raft and let the whole mess simmer for ninety minutes or so. Now you have consommé. You just need to get it out.
Slowly ladle your consommé through the hole in the raft and pass through a paper towel-lined strainer. Once you reach the bottom of the pot, pick out the raft as best you can and then strain the dregs through the paper towel lined strainer into a separate jar.
I mention this specifically as I found the jar I filled by ladling was significantly clearer than the stuff at the bottom I poured through the strainer. I fear I may have not used enough egg whites to properly clarify my broth so I ended up with what I can only describe as A Team consommé and a B Team consommé. The better stuff was served at Thanksgiving dinner with the second pass stuff reserved for guests who couldn’t make it this year. Both jars can go in the fridge and be kept for a few days. Once cold, they also become a loose gelatin.
Mine made the trip over to Houston for a large Thanksgiving gathering attended by my parents, my in-laws, and various other assorted guests. Multiple days of work yielded about twenty ounces of consommé that I slowly reheated in a saucepan prior to the main meal.
We had twelve people that were served consommé in wine glasses. Smaller groups would yield bigger servings that might necessitate bowls, but our group had to be satisfied with a serving just larger than a standard whiskey shot. Luckily, a good red wine glass forces the guest to stick their entire nose in the glass as they take in the sight, smell, and ultimately, taste of venison consommé.
The group I served is filled with harsh critics. My parents, for reasons that should be obvious. My father in law, who owned a restaurant at one point and knows his way through a multi-course meal. My brother-in-law’s parents who hail from Louisiana and have traveled and dined extensively. All were pleased. The Cajuns raved about the mouthfeel. My parents declared it outstanding. Myself…I thought I went a little heavy on the rosemary and it could have stood a touch less salt. Luckily, I know where to find more bones.