To armour my body against the onslaught of colonoscopy preps, I made stock, lots of stock. I remained buoyant with the juices of animals. It sounds sick, but honestly, bones, gelatin and flesh make the most savoury, resoundingly nutrient rich liquids, and if you’re going to eat meat, then here’s what I think: make it ethical meat, know where the animals are coming from, how they’ve lived and died, and pay the ultimate respect for their sacrifice by eating the whole lot of them. Every last tendon and membrane.
Now, that’s what I think, but I’m still working on making the last part of this sentiment a reality. I usually vibrate around innards, but every now and then I surprise myself and love them. Like the head cheese we prepared at Ballymaloe. That’s right – HEAD CHEESE. Take the head of a pig and boil it with herbs and aromatics until it falls from itself. Then get your hands stuck into that gooey mess and extract all the boney bits. What’s left congeals into a loaf of textural complexity that hardly seems headlike at all.
Now compared to Head Cheese, stocks are meek. I’ve already shown you the basics of making chicken stock, so now as a contrast, we’ll head into some darker, deeper flavoured stocks. First off, beef stock. This recipe is a collection of techniques generally suggested for richer stocks. Some of them are for ‘clarifying’ the stock, leaving it free from the mirkier aspects of bone, marrow, blood. The rest are about releasing the deepest, sweetest flavours from all the ingredients used. I think you’ll see how these techniques work as we go along.
Rich Beef Stock
- 6 kg beef and veal bones, with some meat on them (about 2kg shanks, cut osso bucco style, and knuckles are great, but anything else as well. If you have access to some veal bones to add into the mix, even better. All ethically sourced, of course.)
- 750ml red wine
- 10 tomatoes (fresh or canned)
- 4 brown onions, removed of any mouldy skins, root ends cut off, and chopped
- 2 large carrots, chopped
- 3 stalks celery, chopped
- handful of flat or curly leaf parsley
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns, cracked open in mortar and pestle
- sea salt to taste
- 2 large sprigs thyme
- cold water or chicken stock, if you want a really REALLY tasty broth
Soak the bones in plenty of cold water overnight. If you get a chance, change the water a couple of times. This process gets rid of some of the blood impurities that you’d normally remove by skimming the surface of the stock.
The next morning, preheat the oven to 200C (390F), drain the bones, pat them dry, and place them in a large oven tray that leaves enough room for the bones to roast rather than sweat, but not for their juices to burn.
Roast them until they’re browned, smelling delicious, but not burnt at all. Burnt bits will add bitterness to the stock.
If you have a fan forced oven, you can do this next step at the same time as the bones: In another roasting tray, greased with olive oil, combine all the vegetables, again, loosely but not too loosely, and roast until they are softening but not charred in any way. If there are charred bits (like in the right hand side of the photo below), make sure you pull them off.
Once the bones are roasted, place them in a large stock pot. Over a low heat on the stove, add a cup of red wine to the roasting pan and carefully scrape up any stuck on bits and dissolve the juices. Add this to the stock pot, cover the bones with cold water or chicken stock, and place on a medium hot flame.
As the bones come to a slow simmer and the vegetables finish roasting in the oven, stand over the pot and with a wide spoon or a soup ladle, lift off any scum that floats to the surface. Continue this patient practice until there’s hardly any scum to skim and the pot has come to a consistent, but slow, simmer. Do not at any stage let the pot rapidly boil. This a sure way to cloud your stock. (I’m not entirely sure why.)
Once you’ve done most of this skimming and the vegetables are suitably roasted, add them to the stock pot and over a low flame, use another cup of wine to loosen the juices and stuck bits from the roasting tin. Add this to the pot along with the other 2 cups of wine, the herbs, a good pinch of salt and the peppercorns, and then more water or chicken stock, to make sure that everything is just covered.
Bring the pot back to a simmer and keep an eye on any skimming needs. Remember, you’re trying to lift the scummy bits, not the fat. Once you’ve achieved a relatively scum free environment, stop with the fiddling altogether for the next 5 hours. All you have to do now is make sure the stock stays on a good simmer.
At the 5 hour mark, start tasting the broth. The best place to do this is at a point where the broth is bubbling up, because this creates a fat free zone. If it tastes rich but not seasoned, add a little more salt and gently vibrate it into the water between the bones. Don’t stir. You want to aim for a stock that tastes at its peak. This takes practice, and don’t worry if you don’t know exactly what this means. The stock will taste great anyway, just PERFECT if you strike this peak point right. For a larger explanation, see my post on the 8 steps to making great chicken stock.
Once the stock has ‘peaked’, sometime around the 5-7 hour mark, strain it straight away. Do this without pressing the bones and vegetables to get more liquid out. The bigger your sieve the better, because this means you can let all the stock ingredients just sit there, draining, for say, 10 minutes. This is a much better strategy than pressing the ingredients, again, because it stops the broth getting murky. If you think your broth is quite strong, one thing you can do is pour a little bit of water, around 1/2 to 1 cup, over the sieved ingredients to disengage any yummy jellified stock that might be hanging on.
Now, while the stock sits and cools, feel free to ferret through the bones, gristle and smooshed veg for edible bits and pieces- the meat won’t taste like much once it’s cold, but right now, while it’s still alive with the warmth of stock, it’s quite tasty. Judy Rogers recommends picking out all the meaty bits and serving them up immediately with a simple salsa verde. Sounds good to me.
The stock needs to cool completely and then you can cover it and put it in the fridge. Unless you’re Michael Ruhlman, in which case you’ll leave the stock on the stove all week, boiling it each time you plan on using it. I’ve not been quite game.