Category Archives: Robert Farrar Capon

RFC makes one of nature’s marvels.

In the chapter titled “Living Water” in The Supper of the Lamb, in which we learn how to make Brown Stock and White Stock, Robert Farrar Capon continues, “…you are now ready for the really astonishing part of the exercise.” It’s the lead-in to another of the recipes that are scattered throughout the first two-thirds of The Supper of the Lamb, with more of them concentrated in the recipe section at the back.

Many of the recipes seem a little outdated now, but I doubt I’d have taken to the foods featured in Supper even in 1969 when it was first published, because I was just learning to live on my own and to eat rice and vegetables. Our ferial eating in those days was sparser of meat and wine than RFC could have imagined, and Diet for a Small Planet was the go-to cookbook. It would be another ten or fifteen years before I bought my first leg of lamb.

Nowadays I am well supplied with recipes for most everything I could possibly want to cook, but Capon’s next suggestion sounds so strange and appealing that I think I will have to try it eventually. If I had to choose between meat and butter, two foods at the top of my list of culinary loves, I guess I’m just sensible enough to choose meat, and when RFC tells me I can capture its “heart and soul” in my kitchen, I can’t resist his encouragement to create something of which he also claims, “…you will find yourself whittling off little pieces to dissolve on your tongue at odd times of the day.”

I’ll just give you the whole recipe here, because though we no doubt can find a version online, I naturally like the style of this one. It will be my last “meaty” post on this book, because in my church we are beginning our Lenten fast from meat very soon, and it’s time for me to turn the page.

(Meat Extract)

Take the strainerful of bones and scraps [from which you have made the stock] and put them back into the stockpot. Add any scraps of meat you have around: poultry, pork, veal — even leftover hamburger — just stay away from lamb and ham. Meat extract can, of course, be made from the used bones alone, but anything that brings more natural gelatin to the pot is welcome. Cover everything deeply with cold water, adding no salt at all, and boil for two or three hours more.

That done, strain once again, this time into a large saucepan. Discard the bones. (They have been worked to death. Even the dog will look down his nose at them now.)

Boil the contents of the pan hard, skimming the froth from the top now and then, until the liquid is drastically reduced. When it is down to about a pint, transfer it to a smaller pan and boil on, over slightly reduced heat. Continue boiling until it reaches the consistency of a thick, blackish-brown syrup (half a cup, give or take a little). Pour this into a heatproof jar, cool, and refrigerate.

You now have, perhaps for the first time in your life, real meat extract — one of nature’s marvels. It is, of course, highly concentrated gelatin, but it has been imbued with the heart and soul of meat. Its taste is beautiful. Moreover, in spite of the fact that no speck of salt went into all those quarts of water the second time around, it is salted to perfection. Its consistency is, admittedly, a little forbidding; It is not unlike a young and tender shoe heel. Refrigerated, it will keep in this state for weeks; but, obligingly enough, it melts at the temperature of the mouth. If you are any lover of food at all, you will find yourself whittling off little pieces to dissolve on your tongue at odd times of the day.

Use it ad lib. Its general effect is to give a sauce soul and substance without overpowering the proper flavor of the dish. Experiment. It improves almost anything. A tablespoonful melted in warm Hollandaise imparts a certain roundness and resonance to what is sometimes an excessively light and lemony sauce. A piece dropped on top of a hot fried egg (plus a dash of Tabasco, if you are up to it) is delightful. And in the form of Colbert Butter, it is the perfect accompaniment to steaks, chops, fish, or poultry — not to mention a piece of matzoh at three in the afternoon.