Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Beef Stock

I don't know that I have ever designed a trip to the grocery with the idea of making a beef stock. This seems to be one of those things that happens serendipitously around the kitchen, as when you make beef Bourgignone for a crowd and end up with a couple of pounds of trimmings from two large chuck roasts.

The trimmings went into a storage bag and sat in the refrigerator while I planned my next move. Finally, inspiration struck, and I was off to Whole Foods for beef bones, a big slice of shank and enough aromatics to fill my stock pot.

A classic meat stock calls for veal bones, but you know what? I didn't have any veal bones. Fortunately, my reference in this venture, La Varenne Pratique, includes an all-beef stock option.

You will need to get a couple of sheet pans dirty. We have several of the commercial variety that just fit in our oven. On one sheet pan, spread out your meat trimmings. Don't worry about any fat that may be on the meat. It will render in the oven. On another sheet pan, distribute 3 pounds beef soup bones or, as in my case, marrow bones, plus a 1-pound slice of beef shank. Place the sheet pans in a 425-degree oven and bake until browned. Turn all the meat pieces and bones and return to the oven to brown some more.

The browned meat and bones can go directly into your stock pot. Drain the fat off your sheet pans.

On one of the sheet pans, place two onions, quartered, with the skins on, and four medium carrots, quartered. Place these in the oven until the vegetables begin to brown or even char a little. Now they can go into the stock pot as well. Ladle some water onto the two sheet pans and scrape up all the brown bits. This may take a few minutes, but eventually your water will look just like beef stock and the sheet pan with be almost clean. Pour this into the stock pot.

Now to the pot add 2 medium leeks, trimmed of the dark green parts, cleaned and quartered. (To clean leeks, I slice them in half lengthwise from a point near the root end so that the two lengths are still held together and run them under cold water to remove any sand and grit.) Also add several sprigs fresh thyme, a fistful of parsley sprigs, two bay leaves, a dozen black peppercorn and 2 cloves garlic, crushed but unpeeled.

Cover everything with cold water to a depth of one or two inches. Over everything place a heavy object such as a ceramic plate to hold the vegetables under the liquid. I use one of those folding, stainless steamer baskets, inverted over the vegetables.

Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, so that bubbles occasionally break the surface. Be careful not to let the pot boil too fast: boiling results in a cloudy stock. You may need to skim the surface occasionally. Let the pot simmer for a good four hours, then remove it from the heat.

Once the stock has cooled enough to handle, you can use a slotted spoon to remove as much of the solids from the pot as possible. Strain the liquid at least twice through a fine-meshed strainer to remove any particles. Refrigerate the stock overnight. The fat will rise to the surface and form a crust that is easily removed with a slotted spoon. You may want to strain the stock again at this point to remove small particles of fat. Allow the stock to rest. Any remaining fat can be removed by carefully laying a paper towel on the surface to soak it up.

Taste your stock. Most likely, it will be so full of flavor you'll want to eat it on the spot. Although I was tempted to plunge my entire face into our stock--it was that good--I've managed some self control. The buzz around the kitchen is that we will be turning this into French onion soup. Stay tuned.

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