The word consommé means "completed" or "concentrated" in French.
Beef or veal consommé is made from brown stock, and has a rich, amber color. Chicken consommé is made from chicken stock, and is a pale yellow color. In each case, however, the distinguishing characteristics of a consommé are its strong flavor and its clarity.
Consommé is clarified through a process that involves simmering the stock along with a mixture of egg whites and lean ground meat called a clearmeat.
As the consommé simmers, the clearmeat solidifies into what is known as a raft which floats atop the liquid. The clearmeat draws proteins and other impurities that cloud a stock out of the liquid, leaving it perfectly clear.
Consommé is often served as an appetizer, and is frequently served with a simple garnish of vegetables cut in brunoise or julienne.
Because it is high in gelatin, consommé will jell when it cools, making it the basis for preparing aspic.