It really seems like magic when you take a pan of murky stock and in just minutes transform it into crystal clear broth!
There is no nutritional reason to clarify stock, it is all about the appearance and nothing more. But if you have never done this, it is an easy task that is almost immediately rewarding, and it will make you want to give a dinner party and dress it up with just a few special ingredients.
Clarify just about anything
You can clarify any type of stock: chicken, fish, beef, mushroom, even vegetable. All of these stocks can look cloudy and rough around the edges, as flavorful as they are, and for most purposes, you don’t even need to think about clarifying them. If you’re making a vegetable stew topped with dumplings, it will get even cloudier in the process, anyway so there is no reason to bother!
But if you’re planning a first course of a simple broth with a few enhancements, that would be the time to think about the extra step of clarifying.
You clarify the stock by making a “raft” that floats on top of the liquid and serves as a filter, trapping all the suspended materials in the broth. The raft is made of vegetable trimmings, egg whites, and sometimes the shells as well, but could also include ground meat, gelatin, or agar (vegetarian). These coagulate to form a firm crust, a filter.
Use what you have on hand
I use the trimmings of vegetables I have on hand, and have used the eggs whites alone, or with the shells. When using the shells, I feel as though I am making better use of something that would normally just be composted. I’m not sure if it does a better job, or just makes me feel better!
Our home has a non-meat eater, and we use only local, sustainable meats when we do use them; we would never dream of wasting it on this process, especially since it is not needed.
Some good candidates for the raft: onion and leek trimmings, mushrooms stems, stems of parsley and other herbs that blend well with the broth, carrots and parsnips, minced, garlic skins, minced celery tops, fronds of fennel, etc. Remember, these will add to the flavor of the stock, so think twice if you want to use beet or turnip trimmings!
The rule of thumb for making the raft is two egg whites for one quart of liquid. Measure here to be accurate. Save the yolks for another purpose (how about lemon curd for dessert?).
The process: Chop up about a quart of vegetable trimmings. In a bowl large enough to hold these trimmings, whip up 6 egg whites until frothy. Add the vegetables and the eggshells, crushed up, and mix everything well.
Bring three quarts of strained stock to a simmer. Add the vegetable/egg mixture and mix it all up well. It will look absolutely disgusting and you will think you have made a big mistake. You haven’t.
Before and after. Any questions?
Bring the mixture to the boil, then immediately turn down the heat to medium low and maintain a slightly bubbling simmer, taking care not to let this boil. Once the raft is established, poke a ladle-sized hole in it carefully so that the liquid can filter up and through, and so that you will have a place to extract the broth when ready.
Every few minutes, carefully dip the ladle in the hole to bring up a bit of the broth, and drizzle it over the raft. In the first 15 minutes, you will already start to see the broth clarify.
Set up a pan with a mesh strainer lined with several thicknesses of cheesecloth and a layer of paper towels, just for insurance. When ready, you will do this one last straining of the broth.
Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, you don’t have to exact and most of the filtering seems to happen in the first half hour. When ready, use the ladle to gently spoon the broth into the strainer, pouring the last bit from the pan, but being careful not to disturb the raft.
Cool overnight, and in the morning, skim off any fat that has risen to the top.
Some ideas: Place a few steamed vegetables in clarified vegetable broth to start the meal. This is the place to choose colors that look nice together.
A little mound of crabmeat and some herbs in a fish stock?
How about a few special mushrooms and flower buds in a clarified mushroom stock?
Perhaps a little mound of slice leftover chicken in clarified chicken broth, side with some lovely seasonal vegetables.