Why is it the only time you cook a complete abomination is when you have dinner guests arriving in 22 minutes? Because when we rush we make mistakes. Sometimes it is the difference between a soup which looks like cabbage water and a stew. Other times, it is the layer of fat on the top of our dish masking the healthy goodness underneath. Help!
Celebrity chefs have the luxury of stopping the film and retaping when they flub something like gravy, you know the lumpy condiment which tastes nothing like your grandmother’s? You also do not have the unlimited celebrity budget to toss out your mistakes and begin anew from a seemingly bottomless pantry.
Your audience is also unlikely to give you a mulligan and wait an additional three hours for you to recreate the soup. Why give in to going out when you can make your disaster palatable and presentable? Right, just fix it.
It looks like soup.
Sauces dress up any dish and make food taste luxurious. Stew sticks to the bones and makes us feel full. What do you do when it looks like brown dishwater instead of the full-bodied gravy you expected?
“Kneaded butter” is the solution to runny substances. Yes, butter, not that oily substance in the plastic tub. Knead together equal parts softened (but not melted), unsalted butter and flour. Start with a quarter cup each. Roll the butter into marbles. Drop them into the brew one at a time.
When they dissolve, they will not make lumps. Stir between the pellets. Check the consistency and add another until you get the thickness you wanted.
Is the flour in your cupboard the instant dissolving pre-sifted kind? Turn the fire down to a low boil. Put three tablespoons of it into a bowl. Add three times as much liquid from your pot. Whisk until the flour is all dissolved.
Add about one third of the mixture back to the pot. After simmering for a few minutes, check the thickness. Still not enough? Repeat with more mixture. Be sure to taste!
Boil, Boil, Boil
What makes soups too thin is excess water, wine or stock. Turn up the heat and remove the lid. Excess liquid will evaporate. Be sure to stir so the sauce does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
For stews and soups with meat and veggies, remove the liquid to another pot before boiling down so the highlights do not dissolve into mush while you fix the sauce. Strain the liquid through a colander or simply scoop the ingredients out with a slotted spoon before you raise the heat.
We are all trying to be more fat conscious and eat healthier. You have made an excellent soup or stew with fresh veggies from the farmer’s market, but there is still a layer of fat at the top of the soup. The fat congeals at the top as the soup cools. Use that to your advantage.
Fill a large metal ladle with ice. Swirl it in the top of the soup. Dip the ladle in far enough to submerge most of it without letting the warm liquid get in with the ice. The fat will stick to the cool underside of the ladle.
Simply wipe it off. Add more ice and repeat the process until you cannot see any more fat floating on the top.
If you find you are skimming stew and soup on a regular basis, you may do well to invest in a fat spoon. It allows you to skim the top and allows the fat past the slots to be pulled away from the yummy rest of your dish.
This is the ultimate in organic waste. Fat absorbing foods like bread and lettuce leaves will rescue you from the artery-clogging fat. Simply lay them on top for a few moments and toss the fat in the bin. If you use bread, you may want to flip it over to do double duty.
What you waste in lettuce or bread is far cheaper than tossing the pot of soup or the medical visits associated with higher fat.
I have all day.
If you are not in a hurry, pop the pot in the refrigerator. As the soup cools, the fat will congeal on the top. Simply spoon it off before putting the pot back on the stove to warm for dinner.
What other surefire methods do you have for thickening sauce or skimming fat?
(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2012
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