Saturday, December 26, 2015

Cooking Basics- Mastering Beef Stock

Every good cook knows, you have to have the basics down before you can really shine in the kitchen. The basics are simple enough to master- pastry, knife skills, sauces, cooking methods and stocks. While they can seem a bit intimidating at first, you will soon see just how easily you can master them. Today we have a special Guest Cook walking us through the stock-making process so you can get a step by step look at how to make your own. 

I met Rhonda Graham in an online canning group. Like me, she knows what a huge difference homemade stock makes in your cooking. No preservatives, no overly salty fake flavors, just amazing flavors coaxed from slow-roasted and long-simmered bones and aromatic vegetables and herbs. Several other members of the canning group had asked for advice on stock-making and Rhonda stepped up to the plate, not only walking them step-by-step, but sharing pictures so the "students" knew exactly what to look for throughout the process. Both Rhonda and I recommend that you read through this post before starting out. Make sure you have everything you need before you start- bones, veggies, herbs, and away to store the finished stock. We will cover both canning and freezing.

And now, I am turning the blog over to Rhonda........

Stock is the single most effective tool a cook has to impart flavor into a dish. It's the oomph that takes an ordinary dish and makes it extraordinary, like French Onion Soup, for example. From such humble ingredients as bones, onions, bread and cheese, I cannot imagine a more incredibly satisfying dish. 

There are just as many ways to make beef stock as there are cooks in the world, and there is no right or wrong recipe. I started making stock after watching The Frugal Gourmet, Jeff Smith's Chicago-based cooking show on PBS many years ago. His advice was just make it, an no matter what recipe you use, that cup of stock will add more flavor than anything you can buy. He also advised to never even think of using a bouillon cube-  "They are nothing but salt."

Where do you get the bones?

Good beef stock should taste like beef. Since beef bones have less collagen than chicken bones, you need more beef bones to get that same rich mouthfeel that chicken stock has. Use whatever kind of bones you can get. You can usually find bare rendering bones at Asian markets, in the frozen section. If you use those, make sure to also get some meaty bones too. The more meat clinging to them the better. Knuckle bones, shank, shoulder and neck bones are preferred for stock, and you can always save up bones in the freezer until you have enough to do stock.

City Girl's Note: Rhonda recommends some great sources for bones- the Asian market, butcher shops, meat processing facilities. Depending on where you live, you may have different sources- for example where I live there is a small meat locker in a nearby town. I get bones for free there. Shop and call around before you spend much on stock bones- you might be able to score some freebies.

Choosing vegetables for your stock.

Everyone uses different vegetables, but most agree on onions, celery and carrots. Many recipes suggest using leeks, but they can be cost-prohibitive, so I never use them. Some cooks add turnips, use them if you like. Onions are the most critical ingredient, in my opinion. Julia Child and Jaques Pepin always studded the onion with a couple of whole cloves. I personally like to add a little tomato paste. It really enhances the beef taste and adds richness.

Choosing your seasonings

Rhonda's note- Seasonings are not added until after the roasting and we are ready to simmer. Just get them ready and set aside for later.

Many traditional recipes call for a bouquet garni or herb bouquet, basically a few parsley sprigs, thyme sprigs, a bay leaf or two and some whole peppercorns. Don't add salt, you want a stock that is as versatile as possible. In some recipes you will be reducing the stock, and if it's been salted- you will have a very salty reduction.

Add a sprig of thyme, some parsley, bay leaves and black
peppercorns to help flavor the stock.
Garlic is optional. I don't add it but many people do. Since I consider stock as a building block for future dishes, and I don't add garlic to every dish, I just choose to leave it out. Julia Child adds a couple of cloves, smashed, to her stock recipe. Some chefs use the entire unpeeled head of garlic, cut in half crosswise. Again, the choice is yours.

Getting everything ready for stock

Here are the bones we'll be using. I didn't have room in the fridge, so the bones were kept on ice overnight in a cooler. Rinse them off well and dry them. If they are wet they won't brown properly in the oven and you won't have that nice deep color. If desired, you can rub the dry bones with a little olive oil, as chef Hubert Keller recommends. Julia and Jaques do not and I don't either. They will give off fat during the roasting period anyway. After roasting, the bones should be deeply browned. Like searing a roast or a steak, browning is your one chance to get good color in the stock. 

Oxtail and beef soup bones make nice "meaty" additions
Arrange the bones in a roasting pan in a single layer, and don't pack them tightly. If you don't leave room in the pan they will just steam and not brown. You may have to roast in more than one pan or in batches. Roast in a 400 degree oven for an hour to and hour and a half, turning the bones occasionally. You want very well-browned bones but not burned. When you start the bones roasting, this is the time to prep the vegetables. Now, traditionally cooks did not peel any of the vegetables. Since I plan to pressure can my vegetables, I want to make sure I leave bacteria no hiding places so I peel all vegetables. Chop roughly into 2 inch chunks and pieces. Onions can be halved or quartered. Halfway into the cooking time, add the chopped vegetables and this is also when I like to spread the tomato paste on some of the bones. I usually use about half of a 6 ounce can, or a couple tablespoons.

Bones, partially roasted, vegetables and a bit of tomato
paste for richness- ready to go back in the oven

The bones have a beautiful caramelization and look at how
the tomato paste roasted onto the bones, sweet  and rich.

Adding wine or vinegar to the stock

Many cooks use wine to deglaze the stock pots and add that to the stock. I don't add wine. If I'm making a sauce I'll add the wine then. Some people like to add vinegar too- just a tablespoon or two. Again, I do not, but you have that option.

You definitely want to deglaze, even if just with water. There
is so much flavor concentrated on the bottom of the pan that
you don't want to leave behind.
Transfer meat and vegetables to a stockpot. Deglaze roasting pan and add that liquid with the browned bits from the pan to the pot. Cover bones and vegetables with cold water and bring pot to a low simmer. You will start to see scum forming on the top. Skim it off as it accumulates. It will eventually stop.

Once the scum has stopped forming is the point when I add my seasonings- the bouquet garni. You can use a cheesecloth bag or square (tied up), a tea ball or just throw it in. This is why I wait until the skimming part is pretty much over- so any loose aromatics don't get skimmed out. Let the stock simmer, NOT BOIL, at least 12 hours or overnight. You don't have to cover, but if you do, leave the lid ajar a bit.

Add your aromatics now that the skimming is done.
Now that Rhonda has walked you through making stock, we want a way to store it. You have a couple different options here. For shelf-stable storage that doesn't take up valuable freezer space, you can pressure can your stock, and if you don't have a canner or don't want to can it, you can freeze it.

First we are going to strain our stock. Remove as much of the big stuff as you can- bones, vegetable pieces, etc. Line a colander with cheesecloth and place over a large bowl or clean stockpot. Pour in the stock and allow it to drain and drip through.

We also want to remove the excess fat, so pop the stock into the fridge for several hours or overnight. Scoop off the cooled fat and discard. If you are going to freeze your stock, you can just ladle or spoon it into freezer containers, label, date and pop in the freezer. If you want to can the stock you must have a pressure canner. Prepare your jars and lids. Reheat the stock to boiling, ladle into hot jars, seal and process at the correct weight for your altitude for 20 minutes for pints, 25 for quarts. Complete canning instructions can be found HERE

Now you are a stock master! You'll never look at bones the same again, and you also have the base for loads of great meals in the future- soups, roasts, gravies, sauces and braises. 

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