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Chapter 1

Equipment Important to Making Stocks, Soups and Stews

The batterie de cuisine of the most humble kitchen can produce the tools to make a soup. A knife...a pot...a stove. But to make the full range of stocks, soups and stews in this book calls for something more. These are suggestions for equipment to help -- not absolutely necessary but definitely desirable.

Knife

It is always possible to substitute this pot for that one, or borrow one from a neighbor, but there is one tool that is essential to every kitchen -- a sharp knife! One knife in particular -- the French or cook's or chef's knife -- is a necessity in the kitchen to transform stalks, roots and leaves into all the different shapes and sizes appropriate for soups and stews.

All knives cut but no knife cuts and chops as well as this. A French knife usually has a blade 8 to 10 inches long. Volumes have been written about this one knife, and a cook's apprentice learns early on to protect the blade with the same fierce devotion that a samurai shows for his sword. It is a cutting tool with a shape that has been honed and refined to near-perfection by generations of cooks; the French knife is to the cook what the chisel is to the sculptor -- a hand instrument without which a professional or a serious amateur cook can hardly function.

The ability to use the French knife does not come overnight, however, but is acquired gradually with each onion chopped, each carrot diced, and each stalk of celery sliced.

Two kinds of steel are used in the French knife as well as other knives used in the kitchen -- carbon and stainless. The carbon knives have been admired for years because they hold a keen cutting edge -- but they are easily tarnished by acidic fruits and vegetables. Until recently most stainless steel blades were difficult to sharpen and they held their edges poorly. This changed in recent years with the introduction of new high-carbon stainless steel blades, especially those from Solingen, Germany. They now equal the best of carbon steel knives. I have only stainless knives in my kitchen now, and they area joy to use because they are rust- and stain-free.

The classic French knife has a triangular blade, the cutting edge turned to a gentle curve toward the tip. When selecting a French knife, make terrain the tang (the obverse end of the steel) is thick and runs the whole length of the handle and is visible on top and bottom. Wooden handles that have been impregnated with plastic can withstand frequent washings in hot water. Choose a handle that allows your fingers to grip firmly without the knuckles hitting the cutting board when dicing or slicing. Make sure that the knife you choose is comfortable for you.

The drawings illustrate the proper way to hold the knife. In the beginning it may seem easier to let the index finger rest on the top of the blade. Don't do it -- it makes chopping difficult and tiring.

When guiding vegetables under the blade, do so with the knuckles of the other hand held curved against the blade to protect finger tips!

Also important to the care of a knife is a sharpening stone and a steel -- a length of tapered rod to restore the edge of the knife each time before it is used.

Two other knives recommended for a kitchen in which a lot of soups are made area 4-inch paring knife and a 6'-inch utility knife.

Stock Pot

The stock pot is designed especially for its job -- fall and narrow, so that the liquid bubbles up through the layers of meat, bones, vegetables and aromatics to create a rich flavorsome stock. At the same time, the narrowness Of the stock pot reduces evaporation and conserves the liquid.

A stock pot is great to have but good stock can be made almost as well in pots and kettles designed for other jobs.

If you are in the market for a stock pot, what size should you choose? Buy the largest you think you will need -- and then double it. Stock pots for the home kitchen range in size from a small 4-quart pot upward to 20- and 22-quart vessels. Some of the larger ones are made with a spigot to drain oft the stock or consommé without disturbing materials floating on the top or resting on the bottom. But these pots with spigots are expensive and their use in the home kitchen probably does not warrant their cost.

I have a medium-weight black aluminum-alloy stock pot in which I made all of the stocks and consommés in the book, with a yield generally of about 6 to 8 quarts. This always gave me enough stock for the soup preparation at hand as well as a supply to freeze and use later.

If you are puzzled about the relationship of the pot size to the amount of the stock produced, keep in mind that much of the bulk is caused by the bones and vegetables that are discarded after they have given up their flavors. The stock itself is only part of the volume.

Saucepan and Sauce Pot

A saucepan is more than the small vessel in which to warm the baby's bottle. It and its larger companion, the sauce pot, are two of the most important utensils in the kitchen.

The saucepan, the smaller of the two, has a long handle with which it is moved around on the store or lifted oft. It may also have a loop handle on the other side to hold if the pan is especially heavy. The saucepan comes in a range of sizes from 2 cups to 15 quarks.

The sauce pot is identical in use but for larger quantities. It has two loop handles, rather than a long one, for lifting truly heavy loads. Sauce pots come in sizes ranging from 8 quarts to 15 gallons.

Both the saucepan and the sauce pot have tight-fitting lids.

The sauce pot is probably too large for most kitchen stoves, but it is worth considering if the guests are many and frequent.

To determine the size of the pot best for your kitchen, figure that a modest serving of soup and stew is about 1 1/2 cups per person. So, to make stew for a party of 8 would require a 4-quart pot at the very least. A 6- or 8-quart pot would give a comfortable margin.

In my kitchen I have 12- and 8-quart sauce pots with loop handles only. Next in line are the saucepans -- 1 1/2, 2, 3, 4 1/2 and 6 quarks. The 4 1/2-, 6 1/2- and 12-quart models are used the most. The ones I like best are of black aluminum alloy with tinned iron handles to retard the passage of heat. Infrequently I use a copper sauce pot.

Casserole (metal)

A vessel of equal utility in the kitchen is the casserole that can be used both in the oven and on top of the stove. It is used for many dishes and comes in many sizes, shapes and materials. Some are cast iron; others are of stainless steel, aluminum, and on and on. Some are round, others are oval. Some have stubby handles while others have loop handles.

Double Boiler

The double boiler is an ideal vessel in which to cook cream soups and other mixtures at temperatures below boiling without the risk of scorching and curdling. The Pyrex glass double boiler holds only 1 1/4 quarts but allows you to see whether the water in the lower container is boiling or simmering.

Chinois or China Cap

A chinois is a metal strainer, conical in shape and size and reminiscent of the Oriental head covering of another era.

Its long, sturdy handle makes the chinois easy to hold or rest over a bowl as stocks or soups are poured through it. It comes in a range of hole and mesh sizes. Solids are pureed by pressing them through the holes with the specially designed wooden roller that usually comes with this utensil.

The chinois alone is usually sufficient to strain most stocks and soups. For a clearer liquid, cheesecloth is draped inside the chinois and the broth goes through both meshes.

An ordinary sieve is good for straining, but most have limited capacity, when stock is poured through to separate the liquid from the solids. With care, however, it can be used.

A colander, a less sophisticated piece of equipment, does a valuable job in the kitchen for washing and draining food. In a pinch, the colander can be lined with cheesecloth for more subtle straining, but it is not ideal.

Timers

While timing is not as critical in making soups and stews as it is in baking pastries or breads, it is important to go back to the stove at intervals to check progress. It is easy in making soup to go off and forget about the project because of the length of time some soups and stews are on the store. A timer will remind you that something is cooking.

My favorite is a round 60-minute timer on a cord that I wear around my heck whenever I leave the kitchen. It is made by Terraillon and sold in most gourmet cookware shops and by catalog.

Thermometer

Is it a simmer? Is it a hard boil? Which? To make this determination by sight comes with experience (pages 20-21) and a thermometer can be of great help in deciding which it is.

The Taylor Bi-Therm Pocket Dial Thermometer (0°F. to 220°F.) is an accurate instrument to check temperatures of liquids. It is held in the soup only momentarily and then withdrawn. It is especially helpful in determining the temperature of hot soup before it comes to a simmer.

Other Equipment

Other tools to be found in a well-equipped soup kitchen would include a food processor, a blender, food mills, slow cooker, mixer (with meat grinder), scales, ladles, wooden spoons and spatulas, slotted spoon. For the times when it is impossible to get the temperature lower without shutting oft the heat, a metal or asbestos heat diffuser placed under the pan is effective.

Perhaps a microwave oven has a place in soup-making but I am uncertain where. Of course it is excellent for thawing and heating soups and stews that have been frozen.

Copyright © 1984 by Bernard Clayton, Jr.

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