Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Raft

I have been wanting to write this blog for days.....but between snow, internet access problems, a computer taken over by malware (not mine, my husband's), crazy cabin-fever cats, filling out paperwork for a new job, and all those outside obligations, I have been swamped. But I've never stopped thinking about "the raft."

For Christmas, I finally received two books by Michael Ruhlman that I had wanted but had not yet read: The Making of A Chef and The Reach of A Chef. In The Making of A Chef I read about "the raft." This is something that a cook does when turning a stock into a consomme, so that it becomes so clear, one can read the date of a dime at the bottom of the consomme. Wow! Now that's like magic, and like magic, it takes some very skillful work. But it wasn't just the idea of "the raft," it was also Ruhlman's description that just took me in:

"The idea of making goop that looked like a ground-beef milk shake and dumping it into perfectly good stock offered childish pleasure--like making mudpies or dropping very large melons from very high places or seeing how far apart you and a friend could play catch with a raw egg before it smashed in one of your hands. And yet, despite these crude pleasures--indeed, because of them--the end result was one of ultimate refinement."

And then Chef Pardus gave the scientific explanation for this "ground-beef milk shake". Despite the science, it was difficult to shake this milk shake into a broth so clear I could read the newspaper through it. It intrigued me, beguiled me, and just sucked me in. I thought about this for a long time, and I found the recipe for this raft of ground beef, mirepoix, egg whites, and tomato and I was not only intrigued but down right impressed. It was a yucky thing to dump into a stock, or rather, on which to pour a perfectly good stock. But for the clarification, I had to stop and think, was it worth it? Well, for a true consomme, of course it was worth it.

But for the home chef, trying hard to be sustainable, not apt to serve a consomme, and usually just pleased with the tasty stock, the idea of ultimately "wasting" all that perfectly good ground beef which I could use for meatballs or a risotto, all those egg whites that would make a terrific almond meringue, and using those few homegrown tomatoes that I had scavenged from the garden this year, well, I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

But someday I will. Because to me "the raft" has come to symbolize all that is good about professional cooking. It requires skill, knowledge, desire, and experience to make a perfect consomme, and that kind of perfection is what cooking is all about. Someday, I'll make it.

Because, for the rest of my life, I will never forget about "the raft." So magical, so professional, and ultimately, yielding such an ethereal tasting product. Mmm, I'm almost tempted right now....


Bob del Grosso said...

I think that one of the reasons you don't see consommé in many restaurants is that it is very expensive to make. To defray some of the cost I used to turn the raft into spaghetti sauce for the staff, but it was errr...let's say not the best sauce going. Chili might have been a better choice.

Why not get a hog, make lots of consommé and feed her the raft?

IdahoRocks said...

I'm liking that hog idea. Actually, a friend offered to raise another hog and sell us half. Since their hog usually eats slop, the raft would be a perfect treat! Thanks for the hog idea - it sure beats using it for spaghetti and chili....

ntsc said...

I've done this a couple of times, just to see if I could. My wife and I decided that just for us it is too expensive.

We do use beef stock for a 'consume' thought. In winter simply hot, in summer we mix in geletain and chill. With lemon and sour cream it makes a great cooling dish,