No, I’m not talking about IPOs or dotcoms. Nor am I talking livestock. Not taking stock of oneself. I’m talking about cooking. Specifically, one of the most basic, core ingredients; something that goes into almost every sauce, stew, soup. Stock. I cook a lot. Maybe not as much lately, but I go through phases; sometimes […]
No, I’m not talking about IPOs or dotcoms.
Nor am I talking livestock.
Not taking stock of oneself.
I’m talking about cooking.
Specifically, one of the most basic, core ingredients; something that goes into almost every sauce, stew, soup.
I cook a lot. Maybe not as much lately, but I go through phases; sometimes it depends on who I’m hanging out with, sometimes it’s about what I feel like doing. But cooking is one of the great joys of my life. It’s also one of the things I’m best at.
I could have, should have, been a chef for a living. I’m good enough. I have the skills, and the talent. I should, when I was twenty and working in record stores, getting high and hanging with dealers, I should have gone to culinary school back then. Now, you’d be seeing me on TV with Bobby Flay and Ming Tsai and Tyler Florence; or maybe I’d be more like Alton Brown (Only my comedy would be better and I wouldn’t make as many mistakes as he makes.)
I would not have been Jacque Pepin; you know, I’m pretty good, but I’m not that kind of good.
But I could have been Tony Bourdain. Maybe that’s my best role model; chef, author, infamous kitchen wildman and drug user. The man who’s eaten a cobra’s heart for our entertainment. I could have had his job.
Paths not taken. I didn’t go to school, and I didn’t go work in restaurants. I went to work in record stores and then in high tech companies instead, following my wallet and an innate ability to learn, and benefitting from a great ability to fake and bullshit my way though things.
But still, I am a cook. My friends call me Chef, and not because I reseble the South Park character; but I’m no chef. I am a cook.
One of the most basic, most satisfying tasks I undertake in the kitchen it to make stock. That simple, basic substance that becomes magic when it’s used in other things, when it’s reduced and seasoned just so.
Stock is so simple. You take parts of an animal that would be throw away, vegetables that cost pennies, water, salt, pepper, maybe a few other things, put them together, cook for the better part of forever, strain, and — there you have something that is flavor, pure and simple. Something that will make you feel good; something you can make into a million other things.
I save bones. Some other cooks I know do the same things. You wind up with the freezer of death after a while; more carcasses and little bodies and parts than Jeffry Dahmer. Chicken bones usually but sometimes beef ribs, once in a while lamb.
Today, I had the mother-load. I somehow wound up with 15 dead chickens in my freezer. Ok, many of them were tiny; we had this plan to make old fashioned Cornish Game Hens for a dinner party. Only we (my Dear Sweet Andie and I) didn’t factor in the time it’d take to defrost the damned things and wound up with eight or nine chicken-shaped ice-cubes and a party to feed. So we grabbed a couple full-sized chickens, stuffed them with lemons, garlic, and fresh rosemary and put together a damned fine dinner. But the following monday, I still had all those hens; so my kids ate hens for dinner, my in-laws ate hens for dinner, and I ate hens for dinner. And lunch the next two days.
Somewhere along the line, there were a couple more chickens that wound up as frozen bones, and today, they all went into the pot, along with the deglazed contents of roasting pans, five onions, a big bunch of carrots, a big bunch of celery, a handful of pepper corns and a few herbs and wine.
There they’ve sat all day, making my home smell wonderful, giving up all that’s left of themselves for our future dining pleasure.
It’s a funny idea; pretty much the complete essense of a body can be rendered down to pure flavor. Boil and boil and boil, all that’s left is bones, some skin, bits of meat.
I started this pot going about 10am this morning while I drank coffee; now, 10:30 pm, it’s still going on my stove; strained, and now simply reducing.
Why is it I like doing this so much?
Well, there’s the obvious. I’ve got some fantastic soup coming out of this. Cream of veggie soups that you’ll kill a man for, trust me, you will. Tortilla soup that’s simply the best I’ve ever had; the combination of four recipes and the reverse-engineering of many more. Chicken-leek soup, chicken-noodle soup, french onion soup. This stock’s going feed a bunch of people and make them feel very, very good.
But there’s more than that. I give the stock away sometimes. It’s not just because I like soup. There’s just something basic about certain kitchen tasks. I stand in the kitchen alone, cutting vegetables, stirring, straining. It’s something solitary, one of the few things I like to do all by myself in the kitchen. I’m usually doing that last of this late at night after letting stock cook all day, waiting for it to reduce, then to cool enough that I can put it away. I get into a medatative, almost zen state.
I feel, when I get a big batch of really good stock done, like I’ve done something significant. Something simple, basic. Something that makes me feel good, and will, later, make my family and friends feel good.
And there’s nothing like a bowl of soup to cure a hangover. Trust me on that one.