I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

saucy: a culinary project, beef stock

How to make stock: toss bones of some poor decimated animal carcass in a pot, and boil the crap out of it for 12 hours. Or, buy a can.

Okay, not quite how I've done it. Though I will confess to letting it boil too hard, or for too long. Oh, something smells good this morning. Oops, forgot that pot overnight...

I enjoy homemade chicken and turkey stock, which are wonderful for soups and risottos, and have made duck stocks as well since we raised our five last summer, but have never really made a nice beef stock. I tried it a time or two. The smell wasn't nice, there would be this foam on top that, to be honest, was a little creepy - beef bubbles? - and buying the can was so much easier and tastier.

But, since I'm trying to do the sauce thing right, I figured I should make a proper beef stock. So, consulting my handy Sauces book (oh, dear little book,I fear for you. Books I use too often in the kitchen rarely escape unscathed. And you are so cute!), I read up on stocks. And in keeping with the variations-on-variations thing that is an understandable product of centuries of amazing chefs doing amazing things with food, there is more to stock than meets the eye - err, tongue. There are white stocks, and brown stocks, and demiglaces, and glaces; chicken, beef, veal, vegetable, fish, even lobster stocks. And they all (of course!) have subtle and not-so-subtle differences, depending on how the bones are prepared, what is added, and how concentrated the end result is.

The beginning - bones ready to be roasted
I kept it basic - a brown stock from beef bones (thank you, Farm Boy store!). Big chunks of bones with marrow are the start for this, and they were roasted in the oven, which led to a false advertising dispute when I had to reveal that there was not, in fact, roast beef for dinner. Roasting the bones brings out their flavour and gives the stock its rich color (hence the 'brown' stock, versus 'white' stock, made from unroasted bones). The recipe I used was for veal stock, but veal bones were not to be found. For that matter, neither was the half of a calf's foot that the recipe called for. I wasn't too upset about that.

Roasted bones plus mirepoix
A mirepoix (mix of carrot, celery, and onion) was added and the roasting continued, then the bones and mirepoix moved to my stockpot. The fat, and there was plenty, was poured off, and white wine added to deglaze the pan. 

The stock begins while the fond reduces.
Deglazing is a bit of culinary loveliness in itself. When the meat cooks, bits of caramelized yummyness stick to the pan. When wine or other liquid is added to the pan and heated, the bits (called the "fond") release and the flavour can then be incorporated into a sauce or stock. It's getting the most out of it.

The wine and bits from the pan simmered to reduce the wine by half, then this was added to the stockpot. Cold water topped off the lot, and it was brought to just barely a boil, then simmered for 10 minutes. I waited for the nasty foam to appear, but only a teensy bit did and really, it looked less threatening in smaller quantities. The final addition to the pot was mushroom, tomato, garlic, and a bouquet garni - a lovely little package of herbs wrapped in a section of leek and tied with string. Cute and easily removed all in one. Score!

Then, the simmering. For two hours. Not ten hours. Not a rolling boil, just gently simmering away and getting brown and rich all the while. The end result was strained, chilled, and packed into nice little containers in the freezer for use in sauces.

Last stage of simmering. Look! No nasty foam!
A lot of work, definitely, but much of it was of the wait-and-cook type. Certainly not as convenient as a can, but the rich layers of flavour are sure to be a nice addition to the sauces I'll be making. 

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