Posted by: Part-Time Audiophile | March 2, 2009

Starting with the basics: veal stock

Michael Ruhlman, the author of a couple of books I’ve read, including The Making of a Chef, says that making your own stock is the fastest way for a home cook to bring up their game. I was dubious. But, being a glutton for punishment, I figured I’d give it a try. And guess what? He’s right. Bastard!

So, there are a million recipes for brown veal stock. All are pretty terrifying. The primary problem is time — they all take forever. Unfortunately, there’s really no good way to speed this up. Worse yet, the longer you take with it, the better it gets.

Anyway, this recipe is an amalgam of many different ones. Ruhlman and Chef Thomas Keller both get nods (thank you!), but the color commentary is all mine. πŸ˜‰

What you need

10 lbs “meaty” veal bones
8 quarts water
1/4 lb Carrots*
1/2 lb Leeks*
1/4 lb Celery*
2T Tomato Paste
3 sprigs fresh thyme (~1tsp dried)
2 Bay Leaves
3 sprigs fresh parsley or parsley stems (~1tsp dried)
~10 cracked peppercorns

* See optional Stage 2, way, way below — if you’re going to go for it, double these!

First, about the veal bones. Veal is going to be difficult to find. Veal bones, more so. I’ve looked at Safeway, Giant, Whole Foods … nada. On the off chance you do find “marrow bones”, you’re still not there. You need veal, for one very important reason — collagen. The bones of young animals are full of it. The bones of older animals, not so much. So, regular old marrow bones, being from an older animal, simply won’t do what you need them to do. And no, using more won’t help — the problem with beef (over the age of 2) instead of veal (under the age of 2) is that it tastes and smells, well, beefy. In fact, maybe too beefy.

Veal stock is a medium. It’s going to be a canvas on which you’ll paint the rest of the meal (or sauce, or soup, or whatever). Cook with beef, and it’ll be beefy. Cook it with lamb, it’ll be lamby. Ditto pork. Brown veal stock is freakin’ amazing! LOL. Hopefully you get the point. A good veal stock is “neutral” — not too strong that it over powers everything else in your recipe — but definitely “there”.

Aside: you may have moral objections to veal. Fine, I hear you. Veal is, by definition, a baby cow. Traditionally, this baby cow has been … refrained … from exercising in just about any way. The only food it’s ever been given is milk. And traditionally, this means the veal has a wonderful, white (not red) color and delicate texture, b/c the muscles have never been exercised. Granted, to get this, the veal is treated poorly. And hence, the uproar (feel free to Google here). FWIW, you can’t get this veal anymore. The veal you can get is called “rose veal”, which is just a baby cow. Probably milk fed, but most likely has some grass in its diet. Yes, it’s a baby. But at least it can move around a bit and it’s being treated … better. Moving on ….

So, go get your veal bones. Me, I Googled “butcher” and my zip code, and viola, Google Maps showed me half-a-dozen local shops less than an hour away. I called several and found one that actually had them. BTW, veal bones should be less than $2/lb, otherwise, keep looking. Unfortunately all they had were rib and leg bones. Not ideal, so I kept looking. What you need are articulated bones. Knees, ankles, back, neck. Why, you ask? In a word, cartilage (=collagen, which in turn creates gelatin …). I found what I wanted, ordered my 10lbs (yes, it’s a lot), and had them cut them down to an average of 2″ per (this makes them easier to deal with and also maximizes your extraction potential).

Next up, roasting the bones. This step is optional, and quite frankly, does in fact add a lot of beef flavor to the stock, which some chefs (ok, one) find objectionable. I don’t. Use your best judgment here.

Arrange the bones in a single layer on a couple of baking sheets. Bake them in the oven at 375 until they brown. It’s important that they brown, and not blacken — we do NOT want to burn them. That blackened burn will transfer directly into the stock! Ok, so brown the bones. This could take 45mins to an hour. I’d flip the bones every 15 mins. If you’re using multiple pans, rotate the trays at 30 mins.

Next, you’re going to need a big pot. 20 quarts is not too large. 6 quarts, way too small. Think “biggest pot in the house” and you’re probably not too far off. I had a big ol’ lobster pot, so that’s what I used.

Dump in your bones and cover with water. Leave yourself at least 3 inches of water on top of the bones. If you can’t fit all the bones in the pot and still give yourself that much clearance, remove some bones until you can.

Bring that to temp. Temp, at this point, is about 180 degrees. Do not boil the stock! Use a thermometer — you want a simmer (180-190), not a boil. If you don’t have a thermometer and have no idea what this temp looks like — no bubbles, but occasional wisps of steam. Lazy bubbling starts as you slip out of the ideal range and active bubbling starts just before the boil. Oh, and don’t cover it. Covering manages to trap the heat, which will build and bring the whole thing up out of your range. So, lid off.

Now is the important part. All you have here is bones and water. As the water heats, stuff will start coming off of and out of the bones. Fat. Nasty bits. Get rid of this. I recommend a long-handled skimmer, but a ladle will do too. Just skim the top of the liquid and remove this crap. This is why the water must be over the bones — to give you room to skim. Skim skim skim. You do not want to skip this step — failure to skim will lead this stuff to incorporate into the stock! The stock is going to be on the stove (or in the oven) for a long time. That crap will eventually dissolve into the liquid and muddy it (as well as make it taste “off”). So, skim skim skim. Plan on skimming every 5 mins for the first 30, then stretch that to every 15 mins or so for the first 2 hours and then every hour thereafter. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass.

Periodically, you’ll note that your skimming headroom is decreasing as the water evaporates. You’ll want to periodically refill this to keep the bones submerged.

Let this simmer for 12 hours. LOL. Yes, seriously. Ok, it’s probably overkill, but then, isn’t that part of the point? πŸ˜‰ And no, no one is going to hunt you down if you stop after four, six or eight hours.

However long you choose to go, you’re going to want to prep your “aromatics” about 2 hours before you’re going to end your experiment. First, re-heat your oven to 375. You’re going to have to cut them, roast them, and add them to the stock to simmer for that last hour — and only that last hour (anything longer than that and they’re no longer adding to your stock, but instead just sponging it up).

So, grab your veg — this’ll be your carrots, leeks, celery, tomato paste and spices. Regardless of the actual size of your veg, you’ll want to end up with a ratio of about 50% leek to 25% each carrot and celery (by weight). Note, if you don’t have leeks, regular yellow onions are just fine. You want about two pounds of the veg in total, which gives you a 5:1 ratio of bones to veg.

Take your veg, and chop them down to about 1/4 inch cubes. Precision isn’t important here — size is, so make ’em small. Smaller the dice, the more you can get out of them! And remember, this is for a stock, so all this is going to get strained out, so who cares how regular your cuts are.

In a big bowl, toss the little cubes with about 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. Interestingly, it’s the tomato paste that gives your stock its rich, brown color! Without the paste, it’s just meat broth — kinda thin looking — so don’t forget this part. Anyway, try and coat your veg with the paste, but if it doesn’t happen totally, don’t sweat it. Spread this out in a single layer on a baking sheet you’ve covered liberally with cooking spray. Roast until they start to brown (again, NOT blacken!), say, about 30-45 mins.

Skim the stock! Then dump your veg into the stock. To this, add your herbs. Viola!

Note — we add peppercorns, but no salt. None! Why? Because we’re going to be reducing this stock — and as you reduce, all those flavors intensify … so the last thing you want is to season your stock to taste … and then reduce it down to 1/5th of its original volume and have it taste like a salt lick.

OK, also, at this point stop adding water. Just let it go for another hour.

And then, strain! Congrats, you’re done! If you’re a wuss. LOL. There’s a second stage you can do, but it’s optional. We’ll get to that in a sec. First, a note about the whole straining thing.

You’ll want to remove some bones first — set these aside for now. Take the liquid and run it through a strainer into a really big bowl. Oh, and it really ought to be a fine, fine strainer. If you don’t have a fine, fine strainer (called a “chinois”), use what you have and if possible line it with cheesecloth. You want to get every little thing out and be left with a nice, rich, brown liquid. If you’re liquid has “eyes” — that’s fat, and that’s bad. You should have gotten that fat off there! How? You can skim with a ladle or use a paper towel, laid flat over the surface of the stock, and pull it off quick. Might take 5-6 paper towels …

Now, take this liquid and chill it. Right now, that might only mean putting it on the porch! But otherwise, dump out your freezer ice tray into the kitchen sink and fill it with water — put the bowl into the ice bath, and chill it off. When it gets nice and cold, you can put this into containers for future use. It’ll keep in the fridge for several days and in the freezer for several months. You might need smaller containers to pull this off. I use ice cube trays! LOL. If you’re moving on to Stage 2, put the bones into a container (bag, whatever) and put them in the fridge.

Note that if you’re not moving on, your stock at this point is pretty thin. You should have about 5-6 quarts. If you want to intensify it, simply put it back into a pot on Day 2 and simmer it till you have about half of that. And bingo, you’re in the money. FWIW, there really is not limit on how far you can reduce this. If you’re really feeling quite full of yourself, take it all the way down to a demiglace. This is the stage that’s pretty much water-free, and looks and feels like stick paste. Each spoonful can be added a full cup of water to reconstitute, or simply use it straight up. Talk about a roast on a spoon. :-P.

So, for the adventurous — the remouillage. This is essentially doing the same thing, all over again, with your bones on day 2. I call it Stage 2. Heh. IMO, you’re going to want to do this. There’s still lots of flavor in those bones, and since you’re not doing this every day (or even every month), just gut it up and go for it.

So, the next day (or day after, but don’t put more than 2 days between here), take those bones out of the fridge, put them back in the pot, cover with water, and start over! You’ll be skimming less this time, which is good. Do not add water to top off bones — just let it go. Remember, no boiling, just the occasional bubble, a nice, constant 180 degrees. Note that since we’re not adding water, as the level goes down, there will be more heat in the pot — so keep an eye on it, and turn down the heat as the level drops!

Some folks take Stage 2 longer than the Stage 1 — there’s less flavor left, so you need more time to extract it. Follow your instincts on this. Me, I only take it 6 hours — because we still need to add this second batch to the first, and then reduce them both.

So, 4 hours in, roast another batch of veg (same proportions as above) with another 2T of tomato paste. Add that to the stock with some more thyme, parsley, and cracked peppercorns.

Go another hour, then strain. Discard the veg. Clean the pot again. Add back the fresh stock. Add to that the stock from the day before. That’s why we wanted the giant pot! Now, reduce. Bring it back up to a simmer and let it go another 6 hours. Skimming shouldn’t be necessary, but don’t feel like you shouldn’t if you really want to. LOL.

At the end of this, you should have a nice, rich stock and your whole house should be overflowing with the smell of beef. Did I mention that your vegetarian housemates will not love you at this point? Anyway, remember to chill it fast (don’t let this just sit on the counter to cool — you’ll breed way too many nasty bugs). Just a suggestion, but emptying your ice tray into kitchen sink filled with cold water works great. When chilled — it’ll probably look like meat jello. Do not be afraid! How much you have left at the end will depend directly on how long you reduce and at what temp. I’m guessing you’ll have 2-3 quarts at least.

You’re all done, so go ahead and freeze it. And next time you need a recipe that calls for “stock” or broth, bring some of these bad boys out and toss them in. Hoo boy do they make a difference!

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