Day 5: The foundation of cooking: Stock

“I’m good friends with a chef who roasts dogs. He has a lot of dogs and just puts them in the oven,” says Chef Dominique. “You can make a very good stock like that.”

After this story, I’m looking around the classroom to see if anyone else is horrified by the thought of Spot Soup. And then, as Chef makes Charades-like moves to describe hunting, I realize he’s saying “duck” not “dog.” Phew.

Chef loves stock. He’s been touting today’s lesson since we started because stock is the foundation of cooking. A good stock can make a great stew or sauce. If you mess it up, you’ll have an angry executive chef. No pressure.

Fumet, or fish stock

Luckily, the elements of stock are relatively simple. There are two kinds: White or brown stock. A brown stock is a broth that involves roasting bones to brown them. A white sauce will either boil or blanch the bones to keep the stock a lighter color.

Chef demonstrating how to tackle making a fish stock

My new partner, Tom, a tall Texan whose family owns a barbecue chain in Houston, and I man the chicken stock station. We’re only a two-person station where most stations have four people, so we’re met with the challenge of cleaning about 10 to 20 pounds of chicken, prepping our mirepoix (carrots, celery, leeks, and onions cut into unshaped, but even sized cuts), and bringing the chicken and water to a boil. In about 20 minutes.

The aromatic elements of a brown stock: Garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorn

Being in a kitchen teaches you about being a good communicator. If you can swiftly delegate tasks or make a plan of action, you’ll be more successful. (A good test of how well you work in a kitchen is how clean your workstation is.) You also have to train your tongue to shout “HOT PAN” or “KNIFE” when walking past someone with either object.

Students helping Chef add water to fumet

The stockpots we use (also known as marmites) are the length of my torso. I can actually sit inside the pots, and when they’re propped onto my stovetop, I need to use my tippy toes to have any chance of checking on my stock. The guys (including Chef) find my height handicap amusing (as most people do), and heckle me all day. “Think you can lift that pot, Sara?” needled Ricardo, a Puerto Rican transplant who has restaurant experience and the burns to prove it. I couldn’t, so I left the backbreaking work for the guys. Who’s laughing now? Cue maniacal laugh.

TIP OF THE DAY: If you’re making a small batch of brown stock, save time by browning the meat in a heavy-bottom sauce pan (sautoir) rather than oven roasting it.




4 responses to “Day 5: The foundation of cooking: Stock

      • L’Academie de Cuisine is in Gaithersburg, MD, right outside of DC. Will continue reading about your adventures and look forward to future posts. I’m curing a pig jowl for guanciale right now in the fridge. You know how it is, something always going on!

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