Bourdain’s Kitchen Basics: Session 2

By Karen

Things were looking up with stocks, soups, and sauces, featuring:

  • Rich Chicken Stock
  • Fish Stock
  • Mushroom Soup *
  • Mussels Steamed in White Wine (Moules à la Grecque) *
  • Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Béarnaise Sauce

* (From Les Halles Cookbook, soup page 47, mussels page 84. Contrary to Sur La Table’s handout, the béarnaise recipe was significantly modified.)

Fish stock got postponed until next week. Fish heads were too hard to come by.

Our instructor, whom I’m calling Sue, gave us an overview of stocks and explained how roasting bones makes them richer. Then as she quickly ran through all the recipes, panic set in. The myriad details of stock, soup, mussels, and béarnaise reeled off at once made me feel as if I’d jumped into the deep end and couldn’t swim.

My partner and I tackled the chicken stock, which no one else had any interest in. We weren’t given a recipe, but everything we needed was assembled on a tray.

With a big knife (that felt no sharper than my own Henckels) I chopped, unsupervised and without peeling, some dried-out carrots and an onion. If Bourdain actually has any knife instruction in his curriculum, it hasn’t trickled down yet.

Our stock also got some brownish celery with wilted leaves, 10 peppercorns (exactly), thyme and rosemary (I think) with stems, store-cooked rotisserie chicken bones, and water.

We also threw in the onion skin. I’m sorry, but nothing will convince me that was called for. I’ve never made anything that started out looking like floating compost and had it turn out well.

While writing this post, I saw that Bourdain specifically says to peels carrots and onions and not to use celery leaves, stems, or other junk (page 38). And it was included in the section of Sur La Table’s handout that we didn’t have time to read.

Our stock simmered all through class, but was nothing special when we tasted it. It’s supposed to spend more hours on the stove, and next week we’ll skim off the fat.

The béarnaise was tag-teamed, with one person stirring and one person dribbling in the butter.

The mussel recipe called for fennel (again with the fennel!) and other spices. This time, the fennel contributed to the dish and the mussels were great.

Someone pounded the chicken and pan-fried it in butter, but it overcooked in the oven waiting to be served. I could have seen that coming.

While we took a break, Sue puréed the mushroom soup, which turned out absolutely delicious. It was easy and I’d definitely make that myself.

Even after sitting around for 15 or 20 minutes, the béarnaise sauce was perfect. They succeeded with smoothness where I failed on my first attempt. But it wasn’t the cookbook recipe. This version added sherry, lemon juice, and water, and substituted white wine or tarragon vinegars for sherry or red wine vinegar.

So what did I learn this week?

That commercial chicken stock/broth is not created equal. Let Top Chef be Swanson’s whore. I’ll never buy it again. We sampled a brand called Kitchen Basics that made Swanson taste like swill in a box.

That if you have to let chicken sit around, don’t cook it beyond medium rare.

That it takes more than 2 hands to make good béarnaise.

That you test a partially-opened mussel’s freshness by tapping it on the table. If it reacts and closes up, it’s alive and ripe for killing. If it doesn’t, and smells like the bottom of a bait bucket, toss it.

Speaking of which, as I was driving home, I started feeling queasy and thought, “Oh, no, the mussels!”

By the time I got home, I could have thrown up, but I’d left the TV on for the cats, and Tony was in Provence, which distracted my stomach. I drank some peppermint tea and took a Pepcid Complete before bed and woke up fine, so who knows?

Next week, we have the fish stock and meat grand finale.

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34 Responses to Bourdain’s Kitchen Basics: Session 2

  1. Class sounds as if it is extremely interesting and at least it has gotten progressively better!

    Have been using Kitchen Basics stock for a few years now (when I don’t make my own) it is the best out there and also has less sodium than many of the others. They also make a Turkey and a Veggie stock, as well as beef.

  2. C from FL says:

    The cooking class sounds like everything is kind of “rushed” but I enjoy reading about your experiences with the basics of French cuisine. Let me give you a good tip about fish stock—NEVER, and I mean NEVER discard shrimp shells. If you are peeling the raw shrimp yourself to use in a dish or if everyone is sitting around the table peeling and eating steamed shrimp (without any sauce or spices on the shells)put the shells in a big bowl in the center of the table. Then either save them in a baggie (in your freezer) to use later or put them all in a big saucepan with a few cups of water and boil them for about 1/2 hour. Strain the liquid and “Voila”—fish stock (which can also be frozen). I use this as a base for my clam chowder instead of adding water. Also, you can’t go wrong with always having red wine vinegar on hand. I use it in everything from coleslaw to tater salad even when a recipe calls for white or apple cider vinegar.

  3. catsworking says:

    C, the next time I buy shrimp, I think I’ll opt for raw so I can get those shells and try your stock. Fish heads, forget it. Never in MY kitchen (I’m squeamish). The shrimp I usually buy only has the tails on. Sure, they’d work. But it takes a helluva lot of shrimp to get enough tails to matter. And, being half Italian, red wine vinegar is something that’s ALWAYS in my pantry.

    caren, I think “extremely interesting” may be stretching it. I’ll have more to say on the class overall after it’s finished. I’ve never seen Kitchen Basics brand at the store, but now I will be looking for it. Swanson is dead to me. I use prepared broth to make rice instead of water because it gives it some flavor without doing anything else to it. And if I can gather enough bits together to make my own stock, so much the better!

  4. C from FL says:

    Karen, I forgot something else re:fish stock. Along with the shrimp shells you can add the celery leaves that one usually trims off the top of the bunch. After washing any grit off, just add to the water.There good flavor in the leaves which a lot of people just discard. I would probably get guillotined in your class because–GULP–I have been known to use a bouillon cube now and then instead of stock. Formidable!

  5. catsworking says:

    Ah, celery leaves. I would be OK with adding them if they are not on the verge of mush, although the flavor of celery does nothing for me. If a recipe calls for celery salt, I omit it because I don’t own any.

    Sue did give us a heartfelt warning about the evils of bouillon (as Bourdain does in his cookbook). I sat there thinking about the huge now-half-empty container of beef cubes I got at Sam’s Club. I’ll confess unapologetically that I use it when I’m boiling dried beans of any kind (if I don’t dump in a mess of Emeril’s Essence instead) for some saltiness and flavor. Since all the liquid is discarded, there’s no way I’m using something I spent a day in advance simmering to perfection and then maybe preserving in suspended animation in my freezer.

    And sometimes I even like to DRINK a nice hot cup of bouillon instead of tea. So shoot me!

  6. Ohhhh yes!! I LOVE using stock instead of water for my rice (I usually just make brown rice) it flavors it sooo nicely! Sometimes I will add some dry seasonings to the water and rice as well. I know it is very basic but it tastes sooooo good!!
    Enjoying reading about all you are learning! It is enabling all of us to learn as well!

  7. catsworking says:

    caren, even though I have been covering the Bourdain beat for a few years, I have been assiduously avoiding food topics because I’ve considered myself a piker (compared to him).

    But I’m beginning to think that maybe I should branch more into that avenue of my experience because we all gotta eat, right? The question is how do I do it without coming off sounding like a pathetic foodie wannabe?

  8. adele says:

    Karen, now that I think of it, the most successful and least frazzling hollandaise I ever made was when a friend and I used to make eggs benedict together. One person to drizzle the butter and one person to whisk is great, but I have made successful Bernaise a couple of times. Now that you know what it looks like, I predict you’ll be able to as well.

    And Kitchen Basics — a great product, although I’ve never read the label closely. I’m with you guys, it’s the best packaged stock I’ve tasted; they even make a seafood stock.And I used to be able to buy packs of 4 8-oz. boxes of KB (can’t find them any more), which were most convenient. I do love to have homemade stock, and it’s pretty forgiving. If I have some leftover fresh herbs, I put them in; I don’t bother to peel the onions because Michael Ruhlman told me I didn’t need to; if I have some parsley, I put it in, and I always put carrots and celery in; I just wash the carrots,don’t bother to peel them. This time of year is the best time for me to make stock, since I can set my stock pot on a chair on the enclosed back porch, which serves as a giant refrigerator. When the stock is cold, it’s so much easier to skim.

    Sorry to hear about the tummy; maybe the Bernaise was too rich for you. Actually Sur La Table seems to be about as good a group cooking class as you’ll get. Did everyone, who was at the first session come back?

  9. catsworking says:

    Adele, I don’t think it was the bearnaise. Rich food doesn’t usually bother me. It was funny because Sue was talking to some of the students about shellfish allergies and getting sick from bad ones. I know I’m not allergic because I ate about a hundred mussels in DC in November, and I eat the tinned ones occasionally.

    As for the student body, we lost the 2 guys who made the rice pilaf with us the first week, and 2 women apparently called in sick. We picked up a mother-daughter team who only came for the 2nd class because they bought it with a gift certificate, but the daughter had read KC and was familiar with No Res.

    Sue told us why Kitchen Basics stock is so much better: they roast the bones. That’s what gives it the dark color, too.

    I don’t care what Ruhlman says. Why would anybody deliberately throw onion skin into something when it adds nothing and they KNOW they have to fish it out later? Same for garlic peels. Julia Child threw those into something I watched her make and grossed me out. Not to mention that you don’t know who touched that peel. We’re so squeamish about everything else being clean and peeled, then throw onion and garlic skins in?

  10. adele says:

    I figure with stock, you’re bringing it to a boil, so the skins probably don’t matter, but you make a point, and it’s not that hard to take the skin off an onion.The part I hate about stock is fishing everything out. But you’ve inspired me, I’ve got a couple of chicken carcasses in the freezer from making roast chicken. so I think I’ll make a big batch of stock over the weekend and use part of it to make tortilla soup.

  11. I don’t think there is ANY WAY you could come across sounding like a “pathetic foodie wannabe”….just impart your knowledge….I think people should always write about what they are passionate about…the rest will take care of itself

  12. Carrie says:

    It doesn’t sound like these classes are worth the price.

  13. catsworking says:

    caren, thanks for the encouragement. Maybe I will start sharing more of my kitchen capers then. I was thinking of a former regular of Cats Working who is no longer invited to comment here (long story, don’t ask, but he deserved banning) who started his own blog. He tries to be a faux Bourdain, and has a standing appeal in the Twitterverse (which I believe has gone unanswered) for restaurants to send him menus so he can “review” them.

    I guess he’s become my idea of the “pathetic foodie wannabe.”

  14. catsworking says:

    Welcome, Carrie! I still have one more session to go, and then I’ll be sharing my overall impression of their value and what I think I’ve learned about cooking classes in general. Stay tuned…

  15. adele says:

    Karen, on your worst day, you could never be mistaken for that former CW regular. And you could fill in many words other than foodie between “pathetic” and “wannabe,” but I think “pathetic decent human being wannabe” just about covers it all.

  16. catsworking says:

    Adele, at least I haven’t sunk so low as to trade sexual banter with part-time hookers. Nor have any hookers (that I know of) considered Cats Working (or its affiliated Twitter account) a forum where they can share and be encouraged in their seedy exploits. Around here, it’s called “spam.”

    Which brings us back to food, sort of…

  17. adele says:

    Re: banned former CW regular. Perhaps it’s a case of “Those, who can, do; those who can’t, tweet.” Not food-related, but I couldn’t resist.

  18. I’ve gotten sick from bad mussels twice, and it was not just queasy either time. When there are enough bacteria to cause GI problems, it is usually full blown (pun can be inferred or not).

    A wanna-be foodie? Foodies are, by definition, amateurs. We just love food: learning about it, eating it, reading about it. Nothing wrong with being a foodie, and nothing difficult about it either. Wanna-be gourmets? They would be a greater test of patience, I would think.

  19. catsworking says:

    fullmoon, then maybe it was the bearnaise. Or the chicken, although that was certain well-cooked enough. Or could it have been some hidden crud in the mushrooms? Hmmm….

    I think you drew a good distinction between foodies and gourmets. Two different animals – although I think some foodies must be wannabe gourmets because they have a certain pretentiousness.

    I guess where my path diverges is that I DON’T particularly like learning and reading about food as subject matter, and I don’t actively seek out new eating experiences because I couldn’t care less. I think I’m more interested in technique than the food itself, which is really kind of stupid. Without the food, there is no technique.

    I’m the same with travel. I find the “hows” of travel (how to pack, how to get through airport security, how to get around places) endlessly more fascinating than the “where” which, in most cases, I will never experience. But again, without the where, there’s no how needed.

    And why do I like applies, but I’m “meh” on apple pie, sauce, cider?

    Do you think I need professional help?

  20. MorganLF says:

    The former regular:a/k/a the “Winnipeg Walrus”, wrote corny, treacly, prose about a “once in a life time meal” partaken at a modest bistro known for steaks, frites, and Bourdain, NOT haute cuisine.

    His wannabe prose about a rather ordinary meal(onion soup for chissakes!)gave me almost fatal douche chills. Lauding himself after the post by declaring he’d “always had a way with words” was gag inducing and pathetic. I can understand why Karen would do ANYTHING to avoid comparison to that sophomoric, overwrought attempt at food writing.

    Karen, until you start pestering the young spouse of a certain celeb with tons of inane tweets that, as it turns out, was a creepy attempt to form a relationship that would lead to more lascivious declarations,I think your observations from the point of view of a non-foodie may generate some interesting chatter.

    I wonder if the WW has figured out yet that he is sex tweeting another dude?

  21. “Do you think I need professional help?” Are you having fun? Are you hurting anyone? Yes to the first, no to the second? “Need” is not the case, in my opinion.

  22. catsworking says:

    Morgan, I’m afraid my invoking WW will inspire yet ANOTHER post on his blog about how we’re lurking in the bushes because we just can’t get enough of him, when the truth is that I haven’t glanced in his direction since he took up with hookers.

    But all your comments have inspired me. I just returned from Food Lion. All the freezer cases were out of order (nice of them to post signs instead of just letting us shop and poison ourselves, which they may have been tempted to do in their good old meat-bleaching days), so I couldn’t lay in my usual supply of Anytizers and DiGiorno pizza and had to buy all fresh. So I picked up a whole rotisserie chicken. With bones. You know where this is going…

    Then I returned to the produce section to stock up on what I think Emeril calls the Holy Trinity. Which means I’m going to be eating celery and carrots for snacks for a while to use them up. Yuck.

    Yes, damn it, I’m going to make my own delicious CHICKEN STOCK! And freeze it! Now, what I eventually do with it remains a mystery at the moment.

    I’m going to try my hand at being a serious non-foodie.

  23. MorganLF says:

    You will take that stock & simmer w/a large can of plum tomatoes crushed with your hands. Add 1 cup wine, basil to taste, a handful of parmesan cheese, hot pepper flakes to taste for about 30 minutes. Add 1 or 2 cans of drained white kidney beans simmer another 10 mins to warm beans through. Add EVOO to taste, and at the end add a small pasta like dittalini 1/2 a box. Put lid on pot take off fire, pasta will cook through and beans will thicken up soup. I like it real thick. Serve w/ more cheese on top and a swirl of EVOO. Pasta e Fagiole (Pasta Fazool) my favorite. More delish the longer it sits in the pot.
    I’ll be making it myself with my Kitchen Basic stock.

  24. catsworking says:

    Morgan, I printed out that recipe. Sounds good and I’ve never tried to make Pasta e Fagiole before.

    I looked for Kitchen Basics stock in Food Lion today, but all they had was Swanson and College Inn. Any experience with College Inn? (Ha, ha, say it fast and it sounds like “collagen.”)

  25. lol about collagen….ha!!!

    College Inn is maybe a step up from Swanson….both of them have hideous levels of sodium….

    You wouldn’t find Kitchen Basics at a market such as Food Lion….you will find it at Whole Foods, independent markets with higher level foods, Plum Market, Kroger, possibly Trader Joe’s but I am not sure about that.

    To control the sodium level (if you choose too) you are much better off boiling up a chicken carcass (love that primitive word lol) at home and making it yourself.

  26. adele says:

    Morgan, the pasta e fagiole sounds great. Beans aren’t wonderful for my delicate digestion, but I love them.

    Karen, I think Swanson’s is better than College Inn. I can buy Kitchen Basics at Jewel, which is Albertson’s on the West Coast and Dominick’s, which is owned by Safeway — do they have Safeway’s out East? Maybe try calling Kroger and see if they carry it.

  27. Vis a vis onion skins in the stock: my impression from reading various takes on this is that it is for a more pleasing color to the end product, not so much a taste thing.

  28. And, Adele, Beano may sound silly, but for most of us whose GI tracts do not welcome legumes, it works pretty darn well.

    I think Kroger and Martin’s carry the Kitchen Basics in this area.

  29. catsworking says:

    There’s a huge Kroger in my neck of the woods that I visit occasionally because it has a nice selection of international foods, so I will check there for the Kitchen Basics stock. But first I am going to destroy this chicken I bought yesterday and try my hand at making my own stock.

    I had the Cooking Channel on yesterday afternoon, but I was upstairs when I heard some guy say to throw the onion peels into something because you’d strain them out later. I don’t know who it was. I’m not buying the reasoning that they “add color” either. Have you ever seen a wet onion peel turn the water around it brown? No, I didn’t think so. They’re not red socks, for crying out loud.

    Adele, we used to have Safeway, A&P, Winn-Dixie, and about a gillion other grocery chains in Richmond, but they’re all gone. We’re down to Food Lion, Kroger, and Martin’s now. We also have a Whole Foods, Fresh Market, and Trader Joe’s, but they’re not the handiest.

  30. catsworking says:

    caren, my closest Food Lion just completed an upscaling, and the array of new items is dizzying. But I guess they’re still not in the Kitchen Basics league. When I was in there yesterday, I expected it to be on its toes for a Friday afternoon, but the whole place looked like it had been bombed. The shelves were half bare and what was left was all tossed around. There was NO lettuce except iceberg and some extremely pricey Boston in its own special container. And ALL the frozen food cases were dark and marked “out of order.”

    Now I’m thinking I shouldn’t shop there for a few MONTHS because of all that slowly thawing/rotting food in the freezer section. Who knows how long it stayed that way, and what they’ll do about it? Last thing I need is to get poisoned by refrozen chicken Anytizers.

  31. adele says:

    Karen, what are chicken Anytizers? I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered them. You’ll do fine with your stock, and after you’ve fished everything out, if you have room in the fridge, put it in there; all the fat and the protein bits will harden and it’s really easy to skim; I don’t even strain it then. If, from your Chinese cooking days you have a spider — one of those basket-ish Chinese strainers with a handle, that’s great for fishing stuff out of the stock.

  32. catsworking says:

    Adele, I do have a spider for my wok. Good idea!

    Anytizers are made by Tyson and they come in a bag. There are all different kinds, and they’re mostly made with chicken, although I do think I got steak fingers once, but they were too greasy. They have Buffalo hot wings, honey BBQ chicken balls, chicken cordon bleu, and other varieties. They’re easy to pop in the oven for a quick dinner, with some kind of side dish. Bourdain would probably rank them down there with McNuggets.

  33. MorganLF says:

    Anytizers? That’s getting into chicken nugget territory. Instead when you need a quick fast meal, Trader Joe’s has a flatbread tarte d’alsace that is simply divuuune! It’s topped with cream fraiche, ham, and caramelized onions on a flat bread pizza crust. It is soo delicious you will die. That and a salad is THE WAY.

    BTW to jazz up the Pasta & Fagiole you can start it by rendering a few strips of bacon or pancetta in EVOO till crisp remove , then to the fat add diced onion & garlic till softened. Complete the recipe as previously stated, tossing in the crumbled bacon. If you have parmesan cheese rinds save them and toss into the soup, they add tons of flavor and smoky bacon adds more depth. Made a pot over the weekend – all gone. Nothing better that cold pasta fazool for breakfast!

  34. catsworking says:

    Flatbread tarte d’Alcace topped with creme fraiche, jambon, and caramelized onions? That’s FOODIE talk! (I’ll have to look for it the next time I’m in Trader Joe’s.) But I still like my Anytizers. Especially the Buffalo wings.

    Saving parmesan rinds… OK. I already save the end pieces from loaves of bread to make bread crumbs for meatloaf. Now I’m saving chicken bones. And I just read somewhere about freezing celery leaves, tomatoes, bits of onion and other vegetable junk to make broth. It’s getting to the point where my fridge will be so full of GARBAGE, there will be no room for FOOD.

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