Author Archive | Laura Silverman


Nectar of the Gods

Honey’s move beyond sweet

This liquid gold paints as vivid an expression of terroir as any fine wine,
paying tribute to a rich array of pastoral sources with an ineffable sweetness.


The San people of the Kalahari Desert tell the story of a honeybee that carried a mantis across a wide river. Exhausted, it deposited its cargo on a floating flower and, just before dying, planted a seed in the mantis’s body. This grew until it became the first human.

For centuries, in diverse civilizations around the world, honeybees have signified immortality and resurrection, diligence and indefatigable effort. The substance that fuels all this focused activity, their pellucid and voluptuous lifeblood, is honey. This liquid gold paints as vivid an expression of terroir as any fine wine, paying tribute to a rich array of pastoral sources with an ineffable sweetness. Its mystical taste varies depending on the season, the weather and what’s in bloom. Varietal honeys owe their distinctive characters to the bees’ diet: goldenrod, pine, buckwheat and basswood. They can be pale yellow or deep amber, wildly musky or delicate and ethereal. I love our upstate and Hudson Valley honeys and avidly support small purveyors in my area, but I’ve also indulged in fennel honey from Morocco and sourwood honey from Mississippi, and those luxurious flavors haunt me still.

Honey isn’t merely sweet. Dissolving on the tongue, it reveals a spectrum of aromatics, ranging from toasty and caramelized to floral and woody, that dovetail beautifully with salty, bitter and nutty notes. It’s this complexity that makes honey such a versatile and unique culinary ingredient, as delicious drizzled over yogurt as it is whisked into a salad dressing or spackled onto a smoked ham. Though many recipes allow for a one-to-one exchange of honey for sugar, it’s important to take into account honey’s water-attracting nature when using it for baked goods. Properly adjusted quantities ensure a wonderfully moist crumb in baking. The actual texture of honey actually depends on its balance of sugars: the more fructose it contains, the runnier it will be; the more glucose, the thicker and more crystalline. Heating it will return any solidified honey to a pourable state, but bringing it to above a temperature of about 95 degrees can be detrimental to its many healthy attributes.

An incredibly nutrient-dense substance stored in wax combs (themselves a display of genius artistry), honey is a food source for the bee colony. It contains or is surrounded by other elements essential to this ecosystem, including propolis, an antimicrobial, antifungal and antibacterial resin used to protect the hive from unwanted organisms; small pellets of bee pollen, a protein source necessary during broodrearing; and royal jelly, a vitamin- and mineral-packed glandular secretion that nourishes both the larvae and the adult queen. Raw honey, which you will typically get at farmers markets and from small-scale beekeepers who prefer to minimally process their honey, has been separated from the comb and then simply filtered through a sieve to remove any unwanted debris. It is not subjected to the high-heat pasteurization and refinement of other honeys that are not labeled “raw” and so retains the beneficial enzymes, pollen and antioxidants that cannot withstand even moderate heat. In its raw state, honey is said to help fortify the immune system, heal wounds and counteract seasonal allergies, but its wonderful texture and flavor remain transcendent in many cooked preparations.



On the savory side, I often whisk together honey, vinegar and smoky pimentón and toss this with root vegetables before roasting them on a sheet pan. I’ll also use the same trio as a marinade for chicken wings. Honey is wonderful in a dish of Moroccan-style braised lamb and right at home in baked beans. I would even venture to say that some honey has an irresistible umami taste that pairs beautifully with other similarly funky foods, like pork, cheese and nuts. I love packing a jar full of freshly toasted hazelnuts and a few sprigs of thyme and covering it with a deep buckwheat varietal; its antimicrobial properties effectively turn this into a preserve. Nothing is better over a slab of Roquefort or a piece of grilled lamb—or pound cake or ice cream, for that matter.

On the sweet side, honey knows no bounds. A simple syrup made with honey instead of sugar is a staple in our house for stirring into cocktails or tea, even more compelling when it’s infused with ginger or lemongrass. The high note of an extraordinary dinner I had recently at Estela in New York City was the smooth and dreamy panna cotta, which chef Ignacio Mattos tops with a truly addictive, sweet-tart reduction of honey and vinegar and a sprinkling of dense and crunchy bee pollen.

Another talented and creative New York chef, Alex Raij, of Txikito, El Quinto Pino and La Vara, serves a honey-and-whey sorbet that is as unforgettable as it is simple. The milky tang of whey and the honey’s floral sweetness come together in a subtle and refreshing bite whose allure is amplified with hints of sea salt and orange flower water. With its featherweight frostiness—and the purported digestive properties of whey—this sorbet makes an excellent finish to a hearty meal. Not familiar with whey? It’s the yellowish, watery liquid that separates from the solids when milk curdles. You can initiate this process with rennet or with something acidic, like lemon or vinegar. (Hang the curds in a cheesecloth bag and they will drip more whey (the solids can be pressed into a firm white cheese; or you may be able to coax your local cheesemaker into donating some of their whey to your culinary cause, they usually have more than they can handle.)

Entranced by the delectable fall wildflower honey from upstate purveyor Catskill Provisions, I wanted to find a way to capitalize on its umami undertones. As fate would have it, I had on hand a stash of local black walnuts, also a rich repository of savory glutamates. I thought these could be paired in a version of the sweet and chewy caramels I make every holiday season. After a few failed attempts, I developed a very successful combination of honey, maple syrup, butter and cream that is the perfect showcase for the deep flavors of the honey and the winey complexity of the toasted nuts. A sprinkling of flaky sea salt is the ultimate crackling garnish for a treat that is infused with what naturalist and forager Euell Gibbons called “that wild taste.” It will give you quite a buzz.




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Not Milk?

D.I.Y. alternatives to conventional dairy



In our ever-evolving culinary landscape, where veganism and other specialized diets seem to be spreading like mold on cheese, there is inevitably a dinner guest or family member who is not “doing dairy.” For the allergic, intolerant or averse, the options have long been largely limited to the perverse (rubbery faux cheese), the serviceable (ersatz milks in vacuum-sealed boxes) and the not-halfbad (Tofutti Cuties). But new experimentation and creativity have cracked open an exciting world of alternative pleasures. Fresh nut cheeses, long popular with raw foodists (though not so much with anyone else), are being revolutionized by Tal Ronnen, a vegan chef and author of The Conscious Cook who has created vegan meals for the likes of Oprah Winfrey and, most notably, set the table for the first vegan dinner for the U.S. Senate. Along with a few partners, including a Stanford University biochemist and a former cheese-making instructor at Le Cordon Bleu, his artisanal operation in California, Kite Hill, is turning fresh almond and macadamia milks into aged cheeses with the flavor, texture and complexity of the grand classics. Word is, they’re arriving on the East Coast pretty soon.

Omilk, a Brooklyn-based company, is doing a booming business in small-batch fresh almond and cashew milks, sold at retail and also delivered right to people’s doorsteps, like the glass-bottled milk of yore. And until the recent shuttering of its casual juice bar, New York City’s ABC Kitchen offered a divine dairy-free smoothie made with fresh walnut milk, banana and raw cacao syrup that rivaled any milkshake out there.

Little but vital: hemp hearts

Got an Alternative?

All fine and good if you can’t have the real thing, you say, but why would anyone able to drink cow’s milk look elsewhere? The answers are myriad, with flavor, diversity and nutrition at the top of the list.

The sweet taste and beneficial nutrients of raw or low-heat-pasteurized milk from pastured cows have been virtually eradicated from highly processed industrial dairy due to compliance with industry standards and desire to extend product shelf life. And, while copious sweeteners, gums and emulsifiers are required to make packaged almond, coconut and rice milks palatable and store-shelf stable, such additives are simply not necessary in the fresh, homemade versions. The benefits of making your own nondairy milks extend from your palate to your health to your wallet. You gain control over the quantity, sweetness and thickness of the milk and can adjust the flavor with spices and aromatics tailored to its final use, creating something far more vibrant and vital than anything available in a store.

Consider these alternative milks on their own merits rather than as mere substitutes for traditional dairy. Constant comparison of these products to their more conventional dairy analogs may be a source of frustration, as they often behave differently depending on how you use them. A willingness to experiment will be rewarded. I have discovered that rice milk makes a very acceptable béchamel, that hemp milk curdles when you try to use it for chai, and that sunflower seed ice cream is a revelation. Open your mind and your mouth will follow.

NUTS TO YOU—Nut milks are fantastic in smoothies, soups and curries, adding a richness that still manages to be light. They’re also excellent with oatmeal or granola and can be substituted for dairy in some baked goods recipes and used to make ice cream. Although a high-powered Vitamix blender makes short work of nuts (and seeds and grains), a regular blender also does the job, albeit with a bit more effort and time spent. The only other equipment you need is a nut milk bag, a fine-mesh bag to strain out small particles for a silkier texture; several thicknesses of cheesecloth or a fine cotton or linen dishcloth lining a colander works just as well. A general recipe for nut milks is included below, but don’t be afraid to adjust the ratio of nuts to water, the soaking times and the amount of sweetener in order to make the milk that suits you.

SEEDS OF CHANGE—For those who can’t eat nuts or who prefer something with a little less fat, seeds offer amazingly creamy options. Nothing will astound you more than the frothy white elixir that emerges from ground sunflower, pumpkin and hemp seeds. The taste, as with all these milks, subtly alludes to the source, and the pumpkinseed milk retains the faintest tinge of green.

Despite all of Woody Harrelson’s heroic efforts, it’s still essentially illegal to grow hemp in this country. Although a number of states have licensed the cultivation of industrial hemp, and despite the fact that it contains no THC (the psychoactive constituent of cannabis), the DEA is still throwing up a lot of roadblocks, keeping the raw material with limited accessibility. But seeds imported from Canada and Europe are readily available here (yes, legally), and hemp milk is a delicious nutritional powerhouse. It contains every known amino acid and is high in essential fatty acids, vitamins and protein.

In general, when making milk from seeds, always look for shelled varieties—the hemp version is often called “hemp hearts,” and pumpkinseeds are “pepitas”—because the outer casings are quite fibrous and tough to work with. The process for making these into milks is almost the same as with nuts, though the soaking times tend to be shorter.

The aforementioned pumpkinseed-milk ice cream, ribboned with maple syrup and studded with cacao nibs, has a frothy iciness and subtle creaminess reminiscent of an ice milk. It is not gelato, by any means, but it has its own intriguing allure.

GOT RICE?—Commercial rice milk is processed from brown rice and is mainly a source of carbohydrates without much protein or fat, which is why the boxed variety is often fortified with calcium or vitamin D. It’s a bit more chalky than the other milks but it tends to work well in cooking and baking, and you can make it at home with any rice you choose, bearing in mind that each variety holds its particular charms and inherent flavors.

A delicately floral jasmine rice is a delicious base for horchata, a drink that was brought to Mexico by colonists from Spain, where it is made with edible tubers known as chufa, or tiger nuts, that have been soaked and blended with water and sweetened with sugar. Mexicans have invented versions of horchata made with rice, with almonds, with melon seeds, with grains and fresh fruit, and some are even mixed with condensed milk. They are wonderfully refreshing and, like all the aguas frescas (a Latin American favorite meaning “fresh waters”), ideal for balancing out spicy and full-flavored meals. The recipe for horchata included below calls for a lush combination of toasted rice, almond and coconut milks, as well as canela, a nutrient-rich variety of cinnamon that has origins in Sri Lanka, whose complex flavor adds hints of vanilla, heat and honeyed fruit. A light-textured coconut milk can quickly be made from dried coconut blended with hot water—no need to find a can, a carton or even a coconut!

This kind of painless D.I.Y. that liberates you from constantly having to open (and dispose of) packages, that broadens your repertoire and your self-sufficiency, hearkens back to the future.… Read More

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Retooling the Recipe

Are substitutions a recipe for disaster?



When veteran pastry chef and baking instructor Michelle Tampakis was diagnosed with celiac disease, she feared this chronic condition might force her to abandon her chosen career. Even if she left the hands-on work to others, the flour dust in the air was still enough to cause her debilitating migraines. As particular as this sounds, it’s a story that has become all too familiar. Foods once considered commonplace are now increasingly controversial— as you know if you’ve tried to get a peanut butter-&-jelly sandwich anywhere near an elementary school lately. Contemporary diets are a reflection of a whole host of physical (and political) sensitivities.

The low-fat focus of the ’90s may have provoked a baconenthused backlash, but diet modification still exists under a host of new labels and designates. Vegan. Gluten-free. Lactose-intolerant. Sugar-free. The food industry has begun to respond to the demand for specialized products, with purveyors adapting their offerings to suit different perceived needs. Heather Carlucci, a New York chef and product consultant, has helped develop gluten- and sugar-free alternatives for companies like Catskill Provisions, which raises bees for honey and produces maple syrup upstate. They offer chocolate truffles made with honey instead of sugar and are working on a gluten-free version of their popular pancake mix. Carlucci says these terms are also part of the recognized language for restaurants, many of which now provide options that address diverse dietary restrictions as a matter of course.

That’s the case at Yeoman’s Kitchen, a small pizzeria in Glen Spey, New York, recently opened by Michael Cortright. He tries to support the area’s economy by cooking with all the local ingredients he can find, especially those from small, organic farms. His customers, increasingly disenchanted with processed foods and factory-farmed meats—which Cortright refers to as “plastic”—have been receptive to his decidedly eclectic savory pies. With frequent requests for vegan and vegetarian options, and a son who is allergic to both gluten and tomatoes, Cortright is always experimenting with new possibilities. “Pizza is modular,” observes Cortright, “so it’s easily modified, but I’m not convinced by most of the ersatz stuff.” Rather than using highly processed soy or rice cheeses, he favors hummus as a vegan alternative to cheese. Attempts at a gluten-free crust using mostly buckwheat flour have not been entirely satisfying, and he plans to put in more R&D to the pursuit. This requires both time and money, as Michelle Tampakis discovered when she began developing glutenfree versions of the baked goods she had long been replicating while teaching fledgling pastry chefs at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.


Tampakis ultimately opened Whipped Pastry Boutique, a glutenfree baking business based in Red Hook, Brooklyn, which primarily serves restaurant pastry chefs and those searching out gluten-free ingredients. “They want to offer gluten-free options to their clients,” says Tampakis, “but don’t necessarily have the bandwidth to produce them in-house.” After much trial and error—“total failure is not uncommon”—she eventually mastered such refined delicacies as éclairs, tartelettes and madeleines. Starting with conventional recipes that use wheat flour, she methodically plugs in substitutions, finding that even small quantities can make profound changes. Her go-to formula is a varying combination of brown rice flour, sorghum flour, potato starch and tapioca starch, and from these she has even managed to come up with gluten-free versions of technique-intensive puff pastry and phyllo dough. Locally, By The Way Bakery in Hastings on Hudson conjures up everything from deeply indulgent brownies to equally indulgent red velvet cake without the use of any dairy or gluten (all flours are certified gluten-free). All of it from scratch and not one bit of it divulging its lack of seemingly requisite ingredients.


Because recipes are essentially chemical formulas, it can be intimidating, if not ill-advised, to start fiddling with them, but it can also be fun. Julia Sforza, who has a Hudson Valley–based jam company, Half-Pint Preserves, and blogs about her culinary projects at What Julia Ate (, goes through phases of cooking that include no sugar. “Eating sugar is definitely tied to my emotions,” she reflects, “so when I’m trying to be more mindful of this, I substitute the refined stuff with honey, maple syrup or even dates.” She generally “wings it” when it comes to quantities, and the resulting baked goods are often chewier and denser than their glutenrich counterparts, but no less delicious. Her cocoa cake—a riff on the standard version she finds herself craving—is made with buttermilk, coconut oil and honey. Lightly sweet but immensely satisfying, it’s especially good served with a dollop of crème fraîche.


Which brings us to the central issue of trying to replicate favorite recipes while juggling dietary restrictions. In this arena, I’ve had spectacular flameouts, moderate successes and total triumphs. Nut milks are a revelation, but I’m not talking about what comes in those supermarket boxes (though they can be perfectly fine in a pinch). Creamed spinach with a béchamel made from brown rice flour and homemade almond milk never disappoints. A smoothie of frozen banana, fresh walnut milk and carob powder is a wonderful way to start the day. But a great deal of the pleasure must come from the thing itself and not from how well it imitates some inflexible standard of taste. That way madness lies.

When it comes to changing our diets, I’ve found it’s best not to cling too tightly to what we can’t have and instead discover new delights. If your idea of heaven is Berkshire Mountain Bakery’s chocolate bread, the sad news is you’re never going to achieve something identical (or even similar) with gluten-free flour. Lena Kwak, Thomas Keller’s “R&D chef” at the famed French Laundry, upon witnessing a diner cry tears of happiness after a taste of gluten-free brioche, dedicated herself to developing an excellent all-purpose gluten-free flour called Cup4Cup. While it won’t work for baking bread, it does turn out exceptional cakes, quick breads and biscuits. Because it’s expensive, and doesn’t offer much nutritionally, I use it only when I’m making something like a potpie or my famous strawberry-rhubarb cobbler. Otherwise, I’m happy to play around with nut flours, a pastime which has led to some new favorites, like my brown-butter-hazelnut biscuits, which are like nothing else. Whether tinkering with existing recipes or starting from scratch, you want something that compares favorably with its source of inspiration but ultimately stands on its own.


Hazelnut Brown Butter Biscuits


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Dry Spell

The season of magical preservation

Photography by Laura Silverman

Around the same time every year, during the idyllic days of Indian summer when, as RalphWaldo Emerson said, “everything that has life gives signs of satisfaction,” I inevitably feel a bit overwhelmed by the bounty. Nothing will staunch the relentless flow of kale and zucchini from the garden. Velvety quinces and dusky grapes compose still-lifes worthy of Zurbarán on my kitchen counter. Wild mushrooms whisper imploringly from the damp woods. A small army of tomatoes—some clad in ripe red uniforms, others in cadet green—awaits marching orders. But even after a hot summer spent transforming endless flats of pristine fruits into a coveted arsenal of jewel-toned jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys and shrubs, I still can’t turn my back on all this freshness in search of an afterlife.

Generations ago, it would have been unthinkable to head into the cold months without a pantry full of provisions, so homesteaders and housewives alike employed a host of preservation methods. Canning, lacto-fermenting, smoking and salting provided variety and nutrition until the first signs of spring. The recent proliferation of small-batch purveyors is evidence that these traditions are once again being embraced with great enthusiasm, but for those who lack the equipment, kitchen space, time or nerve to attempt some of these classic methods, there is an even more ancient means—without doubt, the original one—of preserving food: drying.

Ever since the first Neanderthal left a strip of meat to dry on a rocky ledge, discovering methods of food preservation has been vital to the expansion and development of mankind. There is something wonderfully primal in allowing the sun and fresh air to do the work. And as Deborah Madison points out in the introduction to the essential Preserving FoodWithout Freezing or Canning (Chelsea Green Publishing) (a highly instructive work by the Gardeners and Farmers of Terre Vivante, a French nonprofit that promotes a way of life respectful to the natural environment), “it’s good to know about the old ways of putting food by because we might need to know about them someday, just to survive.”


For all its simplicity, drying food can be unpredictable and require a bit of management. The ultimate goal is to remove water, which gives life to the microbes that cause spoilage. Very humid environments will not only hinder the process but may create mold and mildew. So you may find that an electric dehydrator or even your oven make better options than the great outdoors. But as raw food proponents will tell you, drying at relatively low temperatures preserves many of the nutrients and antioxidants that are lost when food is exposed to high heat. Flavors become amazingly concentrated and intensified. Textures range from satisfyingly chewy to crunchy and brittle. As one would guess, timing is everything.

Eugenia Bone, author of Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods (Clarkson Potter), suggests preserving with an intent to use. “I’m very end-result oriented,” she says, “so I dehydrate small quantities of a variety of fruits and vegetables for very specific uses: cherries for granola, apricots for a special cake I bake in the winter. I don’t dry or preserve just for its own sake.” This sort of planning and forethought makes real sense, because the last thing you want are a bunch of dusty and bewildering ingredients cluttering up your cupboards.

After drying everything from blackberries (never again) to black trumpet mushrooms (a triumph) by virtually every means possible, I have determined what works best for my pantry and in my Sullivan County microclimate. You’ll be wise to do the same. Consult a reference like Phyllis Hobson’s useful Making & Using Dried Foods (Storey) for specific guidelines on drying times and which vegetables to pre-blanch. And remember that, as a rule of thumb, four pounds of fresh food yields about one pound dried. Consider what you like to cook and eat when it’s snowing out—Mushroom risotto? Stewed prunes?—and do a little experimenting of your own. Embark on a dry run, if you will.


In addition to stocking your pantry with your favorite foods (albeit in a less hydrated form), drying can be a welcome solution to a sudden unwieldy influx of produce. After last year’s late-summer hurricanes, my daily hikes turned up more than 50 pounds of hen-of-thewoods mushrooms and several ecstatic hauls of black trumpets.

Mushrooms really benefit from sun-drying, because exposure to UV light breaks down their high-grade proteins into savory glutamates and transforms ergosterol (their unique kind of plant cholesterol) into high quantities of vitamin D2. Once dried, they can be sealed in glass jars or plastic bags, to be reconstituted in soups, stews and stirfries, or ground into powders. You’ll sing your own praises as you melt a gob of porcini butter on a slice of pan-charred ciabatta and stir an earthy spoonful of ground black trumpets into cream-laden mashed potatoes.

Thinly sliced paste, or plum, tomatoes, like Romas and Italian Golds, dry very well. I saw heaps of these wrinkled beauties piled high in the markets on a recent trip to Venice, where they were featured in so many classic sauces and antipasti preparations. But I almost prefer my sweet cherry tomatoes, halved, sprinkled with salt and fresh rosemary and sun-dried into little flavorsome umami bombs. I pack them into jars, submerge them in a fruity olive oil and use them on crostini, over pasta, scrambled with eggs or tossed into salads to instantly evoke sunnier days.

The recurring nightmare of late-summer zucchini is likewise transformed by the prospect of hearty winter dishes. Slices of squash, strung on butcher’s twine like party decorations and air-dried, can be layered in clearMason jars with dried heirloom beans and sprigs of thyme and sage. Just add water, and delicious soup is yours. Or take a tip from my Korean friend, who reconstitutes rounds of dried zucchini in fish stock before sautéing them with garlic, scallions, kelp powder, sesame seeds and soy sauce to serve over bowls of fragrant rice.

Whether at farmers markets, from friends’ trees or my own garden, bumper crops of figs, plums, chile peppers and black walnuts prove utterly irresistible. Figs can simply be washed, blotted, halved and placed on trays. Once the outer skins become leathery and the insides are soft but not juicy, store them in airtight containers in a cool, dry place for up to two years. Or cook fresh figs over low heat with a thick swirl of honey and a few pinches of ground cardamom, then purée and spread to dry into colorful, slightly sticky sheets of fruit leather. Among the endless possibilities for flavor combinations, my favorites include yellow plum with pink peppercorns, apple with spicy chile, Concord grape and pear with ginger. They make fantastic (nutritious, low-sugar) snacks for kids and adults like.

At Marlow & Sons and Diner inWilliamsburg, where house-made fruit leathers are almost always on offer, a regular program of preserving has boosted the kitchen’s sustainable practices. “We’re beginning to integrate different odds and ends into our dehydrating regimen,” says pastry chef Ashley Whitmore. “Our Excalibur dehydrator is excellent for making delicate candied herbs which we grind into dust and sprinkle on ice creams and dessert plates.” She also slices fruits paper-thin on a mandoline, dips them in simple syrup and dries them to a crystalline crunch, using these translucent crisps to create a little drama and unexpected texture to whatever dish they might grace.… Read More

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Yellow Plum & Pink Peppercorn Fruit Leather


makes 2 sheets

  • 1 dozen small ripe yellow plums (about 2 cups puréed)
  • ½ cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon pink peppercorns, crushed with a mortar and pestle

Gently heat whole plums in a heavy saucepan and simmer over low heat until they collapse. Place in a tamis (a drum-shaped strainer popular in Indian cooking) or over a fine-mesh strainer and push through as much as possible, discarding stems, pits and skins. Return purée to saucepan and, over low heat, stir in honey and lemon juice until combined. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, salt and peppercorns. Cool to room temperature.

Spread purée about ¼-inch thick on dehydrator tray, Silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet, making sure to leave a 1-inch border free. Dry in dehydrator (145 degrees) or low-temperature oven until leather feels fairly dry to the touch and peels easily from the sheet, up to 20 hours.

To store, cut into strips, sandwich between pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper and roll up. Tie rolls with butcher’s twine, if you like, and seal in an airtight container.

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The Stockpile

The case for making your own
stock has never been stronger


Photography by Laura Silverman

During the Great Depression when many had trouble putting dinner on the table, families developed the practice of leaving a big porous rock at the bottom of the stock pot.

On days when food filled the pot, the stone was there to absorb the flavors. When groceries were scarce, the solitary stone was boiled in water to make a meager broth. Imagine what a treasure a single beef bone would have been at that time—though if you’ve tried to buy one lately, you may have some sense of this. Soup bones have become a rare commodity at both ends of the spectrum, as hard to find in supermarkets, where boneless cuts lie neatly shrink-wrapped to their Styrofoam trays, as they are in artisanal butcher shops, where simple bones are now highly valued and hoarded for house-made stocks and charcuterie.

According to Jessica Applestone, a former vegetarian who, with her former-vegan husband, Joshua, owns Fleisher’s Grass-fed & Organic Meats in Kingston and Brooklyn. “Bones are precious. Water and time is all they need to be transformed into liquid gold.” Fleisher’s sells its stocks for much more than it would be able to charge for mere bones, not least because so many people have lost touch with the tradition of making stock, as well as the need for it. The reasons for this generally boil down to no bones, no time and no storage space. But bones are only a chicken away, simmering stock is a multitasker’s dream and the results can be cleverly stored flat in freezer bags. The case for making your own has never been stronger.

Before we go any further, let’s consider how stock differs from broth, often merely a question of semantics. A general consensus seems to be that stock is a relatively clear, unsalted liquid made by slowly simmering bones and sometimes vegetables, which is then used as the basis for sauces and soups, while broth is a simple soup in itself, more highly seasoned than stock and perhaps containing bits of meat. In most recipes the two can be interchanged, though stock is more neutral, its salinity, strength and seasoning dependent on how it will be used.


Aside from flavor—which we all know is missing from the wan, industrial stocks in those ubiquitous cans and boxes that colonize grocery shelves—what makes homemade stock so essential is its nutritional value, much of this due to the bones. In her seminal book on reclaiming traditional foodways, Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, author Sally Fallon underscores the importance of bone broths for their mineral content—especially calcium, magnesium and potassium—and vital collagen, a wonderful digestive aid and rich source of amino acids. When simmered, collagen forms the gelatin that gives the best stock its unctuous quality. It is most concentrated in cartilaginous knucklebones and bony bits and bobs like chicken feet, wings, backs and necks. Long before 12th-century physician Maimonides prescribed chicken soup (aka Jewish penicillin) as a cure for respiratory ailments, the eternally bubbling stockpot in preindustrial kitchens around the world was the source of all things curative and comforting. Sip a steaming cup of clear, golden beef broth every morning and feel your aches and pains subside.

Flavor remains perhaps the greatest motivating factor in the decision to haul out the (lined copper or stainless steel) stockpot. Rarely the star of a dish, stock is more the workhorse character actor, without whom the show simply can’t go on, contributing an invaluable nuance and complexity. An essential foundation for soups and sauces, stock can be used almost anywhere in place of other liquids with excellent results. Try it in rice or polenta, to deglaze a roasting pan or to thin a Bolognese. A lamb stew made with lamb stock heightens the intensity of flavor in a way that water and wine alone cannot. Roasting bones and vegetables prior to simmering creates an even richer depth that works well in earthier dishes, but you can also create more ethereal stocks for lighter fare. Next summer, when you’re making corn chowder, use stock simmered from the scraped cobs and swoon over the incredible sweetness. Save your shrimp shells in the freezer until you’ve accumulated enough to make a surprisingly intense stock, ideally deployed in a hearty bisque spiked with sherry and cayenne.

Sip a steaming cup of clear, golden beef broth
every morning and feel your aches and pains subside.

Recipes for stock vary from cook to cook, much as Asian and African curries reflect regional and personal preferences, and every country offers up its own variations. Stocks range from the briefly simmered dashi that is the basis of so many Japanese dishes to the syrupy demiglace of classical French cuisine to the American South’s own “pot likker” which consists of the liquor left behind after boiling greens. What all these have in common are ingredients packed with the naturally occurring glutamates that impart a satisfying savoriness. Thanks to umami-laden vegetables like kombu (edible kelp), mushrooms and tomatoes, it’s also possible to build a meatfree stock with character. The cooking time for vegetable stocks should be far more brief, according to chef Tony Nogales of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, who says that after simmering for about half an hour, “the flavors tend to flatten out.” He recommends sweating chopped vegetables in a bit of oil or butter first, or even roasting them until caramelized, to bring out deeper flavor. Pho, the soul-stirring Vietnamese noodle soup classically made with beef stock, can also be based on a stock flavored with flame-charred bits of onion and ginger along with other pungent aromatics. For an easy, shelf-stable option, there’s an inspired recipe for homemade vegetable bouillon in Pam Corbin’s River Cottage Preserves Handbook (Ten Speed Press, 2010). It calls for whizzing up fresh vegetables and herbs into a paste that is preserved with the addition of quite a bit of salt. Simply stirring a teaspoon into a cup of hot water produces a light and flavorful broth that can be the start of a soup or the backdrop for a delicate risotto.


For those who do want to make stocks with bones, the problem of their elusiveness remains. As with all foods, but especially for a stock whose flavors are reduced and intensified, starting with the highestquality ingredients is paramount. Where meat products are concerned, that means sourcing conscientiously raised, pastured animals, ideally from small farms, an increasing number of which can be found in the Hudson Valley. Those who have the freezer space to buy a whole cow or lamb—or can share one with friends—will have ready access to the knuckles, shanks and even hooves that make the best stock. Alternatively, oxtails and short ribs are among the more readily available cuts good for stock, and combining a few meaty pieces of chuck with some marrow bones is also a fine option. For chicken stock, a whole bird works well, especially if you can find one complete with its head and feet. The more bony pieces added—like extra wing tips and necks—the higher the gelatin content and the richer and silkier the stock.… Read More

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