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Sunday, February 19, 2017


Somewhere along the way, the superstar status of bone broth seems to have blurred the line between broth and stock. Stock or broth? Bone broth or bone stock? Are they the same? Although both are prepared in very similar ways, stocks are classically made with bones, aromatics, and vegetables while broths are made with meat, aromatics, and vegetables. However, because most bones for stock might have particles of meat attached to them and meat for broths might contain bones, the line blurs. That said, bone broths are simmered much longer than typical broths, giving them the collagen rich character of long simmered stocks. In essence, they are a hybrid of both. Call it what you may. Stock. Broth. Bone Broth. Bone stock. Bone juice. In any form, it's fabulous. So, whether you slurp it from a mug or use it to fortify soups and stews, it's a handy thing to have in your back pocket, refrigerator, or freezer at any given time.

What's in a name?
Having been schooled in stock making, I'm on team stock.

Guinness Caramelized Onion Soup

While store bought stock would have been fine, I wanted the deep beefy nuance of a collagen infused long simmered stock. With a little effort and a bit of time, stocks basically take care of themselves. Aside from some occasional scum skimming, they're pretty much hands off and fuss free. Good things come to those who wait, so bone up and enjoy the ride.

Roasting the bones and vegetables gives any stock depth, body, and intense flavor. Typically, the two are roasted separately. With a watchful eye, they can be roasted together. I scattered 4 pounds of meaty Marksbury Farm beef neck and shank bones onto a sheet pan along with 1 split leek, 2 chopped parsnips (unpeeled), 2 chopped carrots (unpeeled), 1 Large quartered Spanish onion (skin on), and 1 halved whole garlic head (skin on). After drizzling the meat and vegetables with olive oil, I seasoned them with salt and cracked black pepper before sliding them into a blistering 450 degree oven. After 30 minutes, I pulled the bones from the oven, brushed them on all sides with tomato paste, and returned them to the oven for an additional 30 minutes.

Blistered and caramelized, I pulled the roasted bones and vegetables from the oven, tumbled them into a large stock pot, deglazed the sheet pan with 1/2 cup sherry vinegar to release the browned tasty bits, and scraped the juicy fond into the stock pot. After covering the bones and vegetables by 2" with about 12 cups water, I added a few sprigs of fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, fresh parsley, 10 whole peppercorns, and 3 bay leaves. I brought the water to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, moved it to a back burner, and let it rip, skimming the scum from time to time.

Stocks and/or bone broths can simmer up to 24 hours. While 4 hours is a good start, a longer cook allows the collagens to seep from the bones and melt into the stock. I took a little under/over wager on the cook time. After 8 hours, I strained the stock through a cheese cloth-lined chinois into a clean stock pot, discarded the solids, quickly cooled the stock in an iced water bath, ladled it into mason jars, and slid it into the refrigerator to chill overnight.

Caramelized Onions.
Cry me a river.
Low and slow wins the race when it comes to coaxing the natural sugars out of sliced onions to achieve silky sweet onion candy. The standard method requires hovering over slowly bubbling onions for a very long time (sometimes hours), gently stirring them as they gradually soften, collapse, and caramelize from the heat. While a slow cooker ( on a 10 hour setting)  would have alleviated the fussy attention, onions simmered in a slow cooker tend be softly browned rather than deeply caramelized. Direct contact with heat was key.

Crank the oven.
After slicing 5 pounds Spanish onions into 1/4" half moons, I tossed them into an oiled cast iron
dutch oven, added 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper. I mixed the onions until they were coated with the oil, covered the dutch oven, and slid it into a 450 degree oven.

On 1 hour intervals, I pulled the onions from the oven, gave them a quick stir, covered the pot, and returned them to the oven.

After 3 hours, I pulled the onions from the oven and placed them over a medium flame on the stove top. After allowing the onions to saute for a second or two, I deglazed the pot with 1/4 balsamic vinegar, a splash of Irish Whiskey, and 1 cup dark Guinness Stout Beer. When the beer reduced by half, I added 5 cups of the reserved gelatinous beef stock, 2 bay leaves, and fresh thyme. I brought the soup to a boil, reduced the heat, let it simmer for 30 minutes.

I ladled the hot slippery soup into oven safe crocks, slammed back a shot of Guinness, floated toasted Sunrise Bakery baguette croutons over the soup, smothered the toasts and crocks with mounds of grated Irish Kerrygold Dubliner sharp cheddar cheese, and slid the bowls under a broiler.

When the bubbling molten cheese blistered from the flames and oozed down the sides of the crocks, I pulled them from the oven and let them settle down before finishing with a sprinkling of flaked sea salt and fresh thyme.

Suspended in the soup beneath the slightly charred cheddar ,the sweet caramelized onions punched through the creamy saltiness of the melted cheese, the buttery soft crunch of the toasted croutons, and the subtle bitter undertones of the stout-spiked stock.

Tipping a hat to ubiquitous French Onion Gratinee, Guinness caramelized onion soup is a booozy slap happy rough and tumble riff on the iconic classic.

Bad to the bone.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Steam Heat

Bao down, there's a new bun in town.

Steamed instead of baked, Chinese bao buns are pillowy puffs of simple yeast dough that can be filled with a variety of sweet or savoring ingredients. Centuries old, bao buns are becoming wildly popular outside of their traditional dim sum trappings. Although typically stuffed with saucy Chinese barbecued pork ( char siu bao) or roasted Peking duck,  they can be filled with just about anything. Rules are made to broken. Everything old is new again, so choose your fillings, gather some garnishes, and get your steam on.

Steamed Bao Buns With Sticky Duck.

I sprinkled 1 package active dry yeast into the bowl of a stand mixer and added 1/2 cup warm water. When the yeast started to bubble and foam, I added 1 1/2 cups bread flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon baling powder, 1/2 cup warm milk, and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Using a dough hook, I mixed the dough until it turned a bit shaggy before adding 1/2 cup bread flour to bring it together. When the dough pulled away from the bowl, I turned it out onto a floured board, kneaded it for 5-10 minutes, shaped it into a ball, slid it into a clean bowl, covered it with plastic wrap, and set it aside to rise.

After doubling in size (about an hour), I punched down the dough and turned it onto a floured work board. From what I understand, most folks pinch off small bits of dough and roll them into individual discs. I cut to the chase and rolled the dough into 1/2" thick slab and used a 3" ring mold to cut out even discs. Rule breaker. After brushing the tops with vegetable oil, I
folded them in half and set them aside.

Steam Heat.
I lined a double tiered 10" bamboo steam basket with trimmed parchment paper, punched holes through the paper to allow the steam to penetrate both layers, and nestled the buns into the steamer. After filling a 10" wide pot with 3" water, I cranked the heat to high. When the water came to a rapid boil, I carefully placed the steamer basket on the pot, let it rip for 10 minutes, killed the heat, removed the buns, and set them aside.

Duck. Duck. Bao.
A while back, I picked up a gorgeous farm raised  whole duck from Joe Weber (Farmer Joe, Salvisa Ky), at the Chevy Chase Farmer's Market. After breaking down the duck, I tossed the breasts into the freezer and used the legs, thighs, and fatty carcass for duck confit. That journey to duck fat heaven left me with two gorgeous plump duck breasts on reserve. Fast Forward. Few things crack my knees more than pan seared medium rare duck breast.

Being mindful not to cut into the flesh, I scored the fat on top of two breasts and set them aside. I knew I needed a finishing glaze for the quick pan seared duck, so I tipped my hat to the flavor profile of slow braised Chinese barbecued pork.

After dissolving 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon light brown sugar in 2 tablespoons warm water, I added 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce, 2 tablespoons light soy sauce, 2 tablespoons oyster sauce, 2 tablespoons hoisen sauce, 2 tablespoons shooxing wine, 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1/4 cup local honey, and 1 teaspoon 5 spice powder.

Hot skillet? Nope. To allow the fat to render slowly for shatteringly crisp skin, I seasoned both sides of the duck with salt and cracked black pepper before placing them skin side down in a cold cast iron skillet. After turning the flame to medium, I let the breasts coast until the fat slowly melted away and the skin caramelized, about 6 minutes. When the breasts easily released from the skillet, I flipped them over, cooked them skin side down for 3-4 minutes until they registered 135 degrees, and pulled them from the heat to rest.

While the skillet was still hot, I added 2 minced garlic cloves and 1 minced shallot into the sizzling duck fat. Just before the garlic teetered on the edge of overly browned, I deglazed the skillet with 1/4 cup shooxing wine, scraped the flavorful fond from the bottom of the skillet, let the wine reduce by half, and added the reserved sauce. When the sauce settled into a syrupy glaze, I pulled it from the heat, let it cool, and slathered it over the warm duck.

After slicing the breasts on a thin bias, I tucked the duck into the bao buns and drizzled them with additional sauce before finishing with quick pickled julienned carrots, fresh cilantro, shaved fresh radishes, slivered Thai chilies, and sesame seeds.

Boom to the bao.
The simple inherent nature of the steamed buns parlayed into perfect neutral canvasses for the big flavors spilling from their gentle airiness. Tender, juicy, and cradled in crisped fatty skin, the candied duck melted into the puffy soft bread.  While the pickled carrots added punchy bright acidity to cut through the sweetness of the jacked up caramelized duck, wisps of cilantro, biting chilies, and sesame seeds balanced out the party with fresh stinging crunch.

Steam heat.
Hot buns.
Sticky duck.