Consomme is a clear, strong broth often served as the first course of French meals. It is made from stock but is clarified by straining. The broth can be made from traditional meat stocks or from vegetables. Stock itself is made from lengthy cooking, particularly of vegetables or the bones of meat in order to yield a broth.
Traditionally, consomme also has egg whites added to it when the stock is cold. The broth is then reheated and impurities are theoretically supposed to stick to the egg whites. Once the consomme is fully hot, the egg whites tend to form foam at the top. This is pushed to the side and the broth is then strained again. The result is a clear golden to brown soup.
Double consomme is reduced by half of the original broth, which generally yields a very highly flavored final soup. This takes a little longer to prepare, but many gourmets find the experience well worth it. The rich and intense flavor is hard to match.
A traditional French dish that uses this broth as a base is Consomme Brunoise. After the final straining, simmered leeks, carrots and celery are added to the soup and presented. Though one can use a vegetable stock, it is usually most often made with beef or chicken stock. Directions for serving Consomme Brunoise also suggest warming the bowls before ladling in the finished soup.
A very popular recipe including consomme is French Onion Soup. Sautéed onions are added to rich brown beef consomme. Oven safe bowls are covered with grated cheese, preferably Swiss cheeses like Jarlsburg or Gruyere, and a large crouton often tops the dish. The soup is then finished in the oven so the cheese melts and turns golden. The result is greatly appreciated and is a staple of many fine restaurants throughout the US and Europe.
Consomme is typically used to make a clear chicken and noodle soup as well. Some cooks may prefer to add bits of chicken and other vegetables. Generally however, chicken noodle is clear golden broth with either thin or thick noodles added at the last minute.
If a cook has the time, making homemade consomme can be a rewarding experience. He or she can, however, shortcut the process by purchasing it premade. In some cases, the quality and flavor may be affected by an overabundance of salt, but reduced salt versions are often available in natural foods stores.