Saturday, December 23, 2006

Stock can buy you happiness

I wanted to see for myself what it would have been like to sit down before a warm bowl of hot celeriac soup poured over a pile of wild smoked salmon anchored with a dollop of crème fraiche and garnished with a small herb salad, parsley oil and coarsely ground black pepper, cool and calm having not just ladled out 40 portions of it to my sister’s wedding guests. I knew it was good as we had wolfed down a lukewarm test-bowl with feverish hunger in the kitchen during the afternoon. A posh Cullen Skink really. But having this time just spent 7 hours on my feet in clouds of gamey steam, skimming the richest duck, pork and chicken stock and siphoning a little off to make comforting cottage pies and the like for the sick excited children, I’m not sure I quite managed.

I don’t relish stock-making days like I used to, and try to get them started as early as possible so that we don’t have to sit there at the sticky table with our sinuses infused with slightly-antiseptic-meat-flavour as if we’ve been in a sweat shop all day. I didn’t get the bones into the oven until 14:00 today, and there was water running down the insides of several exterior walls all evening, not to mention windows dripping with a several-micron thick layer of fatty residue, by the time I had strained and reduced it to a useful concentration that would allow me to help myself to spoonfuls from the fridge for the next few days. The house was trashed, my Christmas present almost ruined by condensation, and the rest of the family were mildly put-out, although more by the general scene – this, their father and husband, standing yet again for hours and days with his back to the world, cooking for two, or one -- than with the stock itself.
Wander upstairs for a piss, though, and you couldn’t help begin to smile at the centuries-old scent of orange, cloves and cinnamon making deeply pleasing the rich meaty flavours of the gamey meat. I put some star anise in there too, all of it about half an hour before the stock came off. It brought a festive mood into the house, and the large quantities of flesh on the bones had yielded a thick glossy sauce. Re-sticking a few patches of wallpaper is a small fee for such a desperately-needed personal atmosphere.
And it is but one of the many DIY jobs that I have lined up for the festive break none of which will ever happen owing to the amount of time I spend in the kitchen.

Nevertheless the soup was fucking tasty. I had used some very aromatic veg stock from the freezer plus a ladle of the Christmas brew, throwing it on top of the steaming chunks of celeriac that had been sweating with shallots and Chablis, simmering it all along with a tattie for half an hour with a big fresh bunch of herbs and then blitzing it to a smooth, creamy state. This soup can’t get too aromatic (on top of the stock I had topped the firm ribbons of fish with a salad of tarragon, parsley, dill, basil and chives) nor seem to take enough Maldon (we’re talking handfuls here). I could never afford to eat like this were it not for my fortunate Highland contacts.

But to complete the meal, and in an attempt to reach out to the Christmas spirit, I made a cross between a tarte tatin and an apple crumble by caramelizing some coxes, studding the gaps with dates and topping it with a buttery crumble full of walnuts and almonds. It almost worked.

No comments: