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KotW: Unbelievably Complicated Borscht January 28, 2009

Posted by panterazero in all-in-one, chicken, holidays, Kip of the Week, potatoes, poultry, soups and stews.
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If you’re like me, your early experience of borscht was with the over-refined broth often served as a starter course for Jewish holiday dinners. It looks like cranberry-grape kool-aid and tastes like a nondescript root vegetable; if you’re lucky it’s elaborated with a few shreds of beet or carrot; and if you garnish it with sour cream it’s not bad, really.

Nahhhh.

With a tip of the chef’s hat to my old pal Harriett, I give here the recipe for the reason the Soviet Army beat the Waffen-SS; the borscht that was in the fuel tanks of the first Sputnik; borscht that could make a chronic emphysema patient run the high hurdles.  Plan about three days ahead to make an eight-quart pot of this stuff, which will take hours and cost you serious money. And when it’s done and boiling, if a wooden spoon won’t stand up in the middle of the pot, you missed the bullseye.

STEP ONE.

3- to 4-pound whole chicken
one large yellow onion
Seasoning as for Roast Chicken

Season the chicken and stuff it with the peeled onion. Roast it till done, but moist; water the roasting pan (at least) midway through so the drippings don’t burn.  Put the chicken in a bowl to catch the draining juices, and allow it to cool.  Strip the chicken (don’t be compulsive about getting the last of the meat off the carcass) and refrigerate the meat.

STEP TWO.

bones and skin of the chicken
pan drippings and collected juice
onion from cavity, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
bay leaf
1 clove garlic, smashed but not skinned

Put all the above in an 8-quart stockpot and cover it with 6 quarts boiling water, then simmer for several hours — I let it bake overnight in a 225-degree oven. Refrigerate until you can remove the fat easily, 24 to 36 hours.  Meanwhile

STEP THREE.

1 bunch fresh beets (4 to 8 beets depending on size) with greens

Cut the greens off the beets.  Stem the greens and wash them THOROUGHLY in 2 or 3 changes of cold water.  Boil the beets in lightly salted water for 15 to 20 minutes.  Shred the greens.  Let the beets cool slightly, peel and chop them.  Put beets and greens into a tightly covered plastic container and refrigerate.

STEP FOUR.

two pounds meaty beef short ribs (2-3 ribs)
two or three yellow onions skinned & diced
one or two peeled baking potatoes
one tablespoon oil
the stock from step two

Skim the fat off the stockpot. Lots of stock will stick to the stocktrash, so let it drain into a colander into a big bowl.  Discard the stocktrash. Wash out the 8-quart pot and brown the beef ribs in it; remove them to a plate.  Discard some of the fat, add the oil, brown the onions till golden.  Put the ribs on top of the onions, then strain in the stock through a fine strainer.  Bring to a simmer, cover and let simmer (not boil) for 3 to 4 hours.  Add the potatoes for the last hour. Meanwhile

STEP FIVE.

four carrots
six stalks celery
half a small green cabbage
four to six cloves garlic

Pare the carrots and cut them into chunks.  Wash and slice the celery.  Dice the cabbage.  Shred the reserved chicken.

STEP SIX.

Remove the beef ribs from the broth and let them cool, separate and shred the meat, and discard the bones and surplus tissue.  If you have a food processor, chop the garlic, then add the potatoes and a couple of cups of stock till everything is a thin smooth slurry.  If you don’t, mash the potatoes, press the garlic, and combine them while you add stock; the result won’t be as evenly thick but will still work.

Add the chicken, beef, potatoes and garlic, and beets to the broth and let simmer 30 minutes.
Add the carrots and celery and let simmer 10 minutes, stirring.
Add the beet greens and cabbage, bring to a slow boil and cook 10 minutes, stirring.  Serve.

There you have it, comrades; the borscht of commissars. And personally, I think topping this with sour cream would be like gilding a tank, but who am I to tell you what to do?  Enjoy, you’ve worked for it.

Plain Ordinary Borscht

So now you’re saying “Kip, only a maniac would go through that.”  And I look haplessly about the room for the maniac in question, and concede that you might be right.  I pretty much guarantee that if you make borscht from the elaborate recipe once a year, after a year, you will be so hungry for it that you will resign yourself to performing those miracles again.

But what if you just want, you know, borscht, and you don’t want it to take three days, but you certainly won’t stoop to the Manischewitz stuff in the jug in the supermarket?  Well…

For the carcass stock above, substitute four quarts of box stock.  If you do that, you might want to dice up a few boneless, skinless chicken thighs to give the stock some substance; and season it generously.

The irreducible minimum for borscht is:

    Stock containing one kind of meat
    a second kind of meat (as noted, beef short rib is great, but you can use beef chuck or pork shoulder)
    beets
    beet greens
    carrots
    onions
    a little garlic
    assertive seasoning.

With that as a base, you’ve actually got some latitude.  You can include the potatoes, or not.  You can add tomatoes, which traditional cooks in very old countries might sniff at, but they’re still good.  You can use other greens in addition to the beet greens; I’ve made fabulous borscht with kale.  You can add parboiled lentils.  You can add canned white beans.  If you use your imagination, you may arrive at something that some people wouldn’t call borscht, but so long as you call it delicious, there’s no harm done.  Enjoy!

A Note on Toppings

Contemporary supermarket sour cream needs to loosen up a little bit.  Stir in a little half-and-half or whole milk, while you watch the texture carefully — you want it still thick enough to stand up when it’s applied.  A little grated horseradish is a good addition.  Alternatively, use paprika, and use enough that you can taste it!

Another direction: a good slug of basil pesto, or walnut pesto, to top each serving.

© /KC January 2009

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Christmas dinner, summarized. December 26, 2008

Posted by sarawr in baking, dessert, entertaining, herbs & spices, holidays, menu, potatoes, poultry.
2 comments


From a comment I left over on Kip’s journal:

Mine was a 13+ pound turkey, brined 15 hours in a stockpot full of lukewarm water and 1.5 cups salt. Drained, blotted dry, stuffed with the giblets and a purple onion; sage butter spread very lightly (about a tablespoon total) under the skin, salt and pepper rained over the top. I set it atop about 2 cups of halved baby carrots, more diced onion, and a couple of stalks of sliced celery to make a vegetable rack, dusted more sage over the whole shebang, and popped it in a 425F oven uncovered for about 3 hours.

It was… the best turkey I’ve ever encountered, if I’m being honest instead of modest, and it will live on in my memory as a sort of Platonic ideal turkey. It came out cooking-magazine-golden with crisp skin all over, incredibly juicy, and flavorful in the way that you could taste the turkey instead of a bunch of seasoning.

I didn’t save the carcass to make stock because I had no room anywhere to store it and I wasn’t energetic enough to jump right into stockmaking last night or this morning, but I think I’m gonna do the whole thing over next month and I’ll make stock then. The more I experiment with whole poultry, the better I get at it, and while stockmaking has turned out to be something I don’t particularly enjoy, it is well worth it.

I let my mom take home the leftover stuffing, vegetables (I made green beans and corn, both with lemon butter), potatoes, etc. The potatoes were a dream as well (I used a borrowed electric mixer to whip them with cream cheese, sour cream, plenty of butter, and parsley — not “health food” by any stretch, but gosh, were they ever tasty), but I made far too much and didn’t want to hassle with separation and storage. We’ve got a good-sized Tupperware full of leftover turkey, and if I want more potatoes or veg to go with it we have plenty of those too. I think the only thing I forgot was cranberry sauce, but on balance it wasn’t really missed.

I made a strawberry-margarita cheesecake (which turned out kind of disappointing; it was tasty, but not the heavenly goodness it usually is) and a blueberry cheesecake (for which I had to invent my own recipe, because the ones I found all called for ingredients or equipment I didn’t have) for dessert, and the blueberry was the undisputed winner… although it came out more like pudding than pie, due to my absentmindedly taking it out of the oven 20 minutes before I should have.

On balance, the meal was a roaring success. We had plenty of food for everyone, and everyone seemed to like it; I got to experiment with a turkey (which I hadn’t done before, really) and have it turn out brilliantly on the first try; I did some baking, which isn’t something I particularly love, but was fun nonetheless.

ETA: How is it that we didn’t have a tag for potatoes? You can bet I fixed that right quickly!

How was your Christmas food, Schizoids? The comment section awaits!