Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Gold Standard

If you have armed yourself with a copy of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook and have done more than flip through the pages, you know that this book is not just an instruction manual with a lot of recipes, each with a list of ingredients followed by directions. It's actually a diary as well as an in-depth discussion of how Judy Rodgers cooks. It's as personal a cookbook as I've ever seen. Listen to what Michael Ruhlman, the apostle of making your own stock, has to say about it.

It was actually written by the chef herself and is thus a true reflection of her personality: eccentric, passionate, articulate, and most important, deeply observant about the way food behaves. This is a cookbook that’s truly valuable to read.

I'm rambling and feeling a little like Bilbo Baggins this morning, trying to decide where to begin. So I guess I'll just start at the beginning....

Meet Jeffrey Ruhalter of Jeffrey's Meat Market located in the historic Essex Street Market.  He is the real deal - a butcher, who can get you anything you need in the way of meat or poultry and can prepare it any way you want, all without having to take out a bank loan. Plus, he is without a doubt one of the nicest, friendliest people you will ever meet. 

Jeffrey Holding Thelma and Louise
There's no recipe for veal stock in Zuni. (If you want to make veal stock, go see Carol.) In The Elements of Cooking Michael Ruhlman reported that Judy Rodgers said she "hasn't found a good source for veal near her restaurant and so doesn't use veal stock."

Chicken stock is Zuni's basic stock. It's used for most of Zuni's soups, for meat and poultry braises, and for making compound meat stocks, which are other meat stocks that start with chicken stock instead of water. I'm going to need a lot of it. And that's why this is the beginning.

Zuni Chicken Stock

Whole birds - with their head and feet - are Judy Rodgers' first choice for making chicken stock. Before I met Jeffrey, I used to get my chickens for this stock in Chinatown, so if you don't have access to Jeffrey (or the Jeffrey of your hometown) but can get to an Asian market, that will probably be your best bet. If you can't get whole chickens, don't let it deter you from making this beautiful stock. You can add wings, necks, and feet, but Judy Rodgers cautions against using backs.

Thelma and Louise on Jeffrey's Counter
I've been making this stock regularly for a little over a year now, and I can testify that you want to have one cup increments of this stashed in your freezer to use at will.  This was the first time I doubled the recipe so I used a 20-quart stock pot. Unless you are lucky enough to have a BIG sink, prepare to wash this baby in the bathtub.

Thelma and Louise After a Bath

Ta da!
A Home Cook's Notes

Next time I won't double the recipe; I will use one chicken at a time instead of two as I did here. I don't mind making this recipe often - I love the way my house smells while this stock is simmering away, and I find making a single batch to be more manageable than a double batch.  The 20-quart stock pot was just too large for me to handle comfortably.

Doesn't Sylvano have Beautiful Eyes?

The View Outside the Kitchen Window

So all in all, it was a good two days!

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Anonymous said...

I'm a cook-only-because-I-have-to-eat kind of cook and although I use 'real' food, I rarely put much more time in to cooking than absolutely necessary.

But you know what? You've got me seriously thinking about making my own stock...

Anonymous said...

Thelma & Louise?!!! I'm seriously laughing out loud. I'm so glad to 'meet' Jeffrey. I can't wait to see what trouble you two will get in to!

Mandi said...

I am still getting into "How to Eat" by Nigella ( a last name is not necessary in this case!!) and will need to get Zuni off Amazon just for the read. I am not sure I would go to so much trouble for bags of stock as wonderful as they are, but, considering the view and the company is so good, and this is what you enjoy.....WHY NOT?

Anonymous said...

Thelma and Louise are hideous. Does this make them taste better?

Anonymous said...

Great writing! I hope you end up having as much fun as I am.

Mike @

Ai Lu said...


I too am scratching my head trying to decide if I really want to run out and buy a stock pot just before summer's heat becomes truly unbearable -- your description of the process (and the smell!) make it quite an appealing prospect.

As a Manhattanite, I was also pleased to find out where I can get the best birds in New York.

I hadn't heard of this cookbook before but will keep reading your blog until I can't bear it any longer and simply must see what Zuni is all about.

Ai Lu

Anonymous said...

That's alot of great stock! I never seem to find a stock pot big enough! My problem is always trying to fill what ever size pot I have to the brim.
Thelma and Louise never looked better!

Anonymous said...

I too have a ridiculous number of cookbooks, and I recently read Zuni. These collections aren't so crazy when you actually read them and use them, right? Rogers is incredibly thorough with her information and instructions. It'll be a lot of fun to watch and read as you cook through it. Good luck!

Cathy said...

That looks like great stock! I've head a good bit of luck using a cheese cloth bag to hold all my aromatics. It's so much easier to lift it all out that way and it seems to make the straining process go faster.

Glad to have found your blog - can't wait to read more!

Annolynlee said...

I've been making stock for years (mother's mother's method) and have never skimmed the fat off before chilling to a gelatinous consistency - nice to know someone else doesn't!

As for freezing stock - a friend of mine clued me in to this trick: freeze it in giant muffin tins and then bag together once solid. They may not pack as tightly, but I don't ever have to worry about individual bags leaking before freezing ...

Victoria said...


Thanks for the great tip. I just have to figure out how many liquid ounces each muffin cup is, which will be easy; then I'll know what I have. I'm on it.


Anonymous said...

stock pots should always be taller than they are wide. Tall and Narrow. In most commercial kitchens stocks are made entirely with bones(and some scrap meat)together with mirepoix which is onions, celery and carrots. In a ratio of 2 parts onions to 1 part (celery and carrots combined). Cover the bones by about 2 inches of water, bring to a boil and let simmer at a temp betwee 185 to 205.