Photo by Renee Suen
Creating a good soup stock is an art unto itself, and clarifying that stock takes things to an even higher level of culinary skill. Whether you’re creating a delicate consommé or a luscious broth for phở, there’s a certain elegance in a soup that’s crystal clear, but still brimming with flavour.
Why would you want to clarify stock, anyway?
It’s strictly for aesthetic purposes, really—if you want to impress the diners you’re cooking for, you can make ingredients like dumplings, exquisitely cut vegetables, etc. the “stars” of the dish, and the clear soup will add flavour, but not texture, and there will be no floating bits of detritus detracting from the visual appeal of the dish.
Simmer Down, Don’t Boil Away
Before straining or any other technique, consider the way you’ve been preparing stock up until now. Stock can be created with a variety of ingredients, from vegetable-only to discarded cuts or bones, but there is one key thing to remember when creating your own soup stock: don’t boil it.
You’ll want to heat the stock-in-process just to the point where it’s simmering gently, and then keep the heat low, allowing it to simmer softly for a few hours. Cooking this on lower heat creates a richer-tasting broth, and by not boiling it, you’ll prevent the ingredients from breaking into tiny particles and clouding the stock.
*Note: If you have a crock pot/slow-cooker, it’s a fantastic tool for making a spectacular stock. Since the contents cook at a low heat for several hours, all the flavours have the chance to develop and strengthen, but it will never roll into a boil to cloud it all up.
Photo by I Believe I Can Fry
The first step in clarifying your stock is to strain it. Use a very fine-meshed sieve to strain out all the large bits from the broth, and then strain it again through 3 or 4 layers of fine cheesecloth.
I’ve even strained stock through linen, but that’ might be considered going a bit overboard for some.
While the stock is simmering, you can skim off the froth that accumulates on the surface. You can do this several times, though there will always be a tiny bit of foam left behind that the straining method will catch later.
Once strained, chill your stock in the fridge for a couple of hours until a thick layer of foam and/or fat has collected on the top. Skimming this off will remove a significant amount of particles from the liquid, as they will have risen to the top and gotten caught in that fat layer.
The Egg White Raft
Photo by euqus
There are a few different ways of using egg albumen to clarify soup, but I’ve only used one of them myself: beat two egg whites until frothy, stir into rapidly-boiling strained stock, and then turn the heat off. As the liquid cools and stops moving, the egg white will trap all the stray particle that have been whipping around through it, and will eventually rise to the surface for easy skimming.
Technique #2 – Whites and Shells
Some people swear by the technique in which you whip up those two egg whites along with 2 crushed shells and a bit of water. That mixture is stirred into the stock when it’s at a rolling simmer, skimmed off once it’s cool, and then the liquid is strained through a jelly straining bag: no-one wants bits of eggshell stuck in their throats while sipping consommé.
Technique #3 – Whites and Ground Meat
Another method that I found is to combine the frothy, whipped egg whites with ground beef or chicken, and to add that to the stock after its first strain. Simmer this mixture for about 30 minutes, let it cool, and then skim the egg-y meat raft from the top. It should have picked up all the loose particles and left your stock cloudless and clear.
It’s a good idea to strain this liquid one final time to ensure that you’ve removed any stray bits of albumen that might still be sloshing about in it, so lay 4 or 5 layers of very fine cheesecloth into your strainer and pour the soup through it gently. As mentioned earlier, you can also use a super-fine jelly straining bag to ensure that every last particle is sifted out, but it depends entirely on how meticulous you want to be with your clear stock.