Last post cut to the bone. The Gearhead is licking his wounds, but he’s from good strong stock. He can take it. About stock, though, not taking stock, good grief, that’s an automatic reflex by now, but making stock, it’s an essential cooking skill. Of course, chicken stock is the default: roast a bird, throw the bones in a pot, fill it with cold water, and set it over the lowest possible heat, overnight. I’ve got containers of the stuff in the freezer.
Beef stock, on the other hand, is a project unto itself, and not one I take on lightly. Good marrow bones are key, but they can be difficult to come by. Especially since he latest food craze, bone broth, has caused a run on them. Contrary to some of the recipes for “broth” out there though, I don’t like much in the way of extras added. No tomato paste, no onion peelings, no floating herbs. I want the essential ingredient, the core meat flavour to slide along your tongue, rush up your nose and pull the carnivore up through your body by the roots. Success depends on diligence and patience and deep faith–let’s call it reverence–in the maillard reaction.
But the bone-broth-crazed ignore one of the best byproducts of making beef stock: bone marrow. The details and method of extraction and exsanguination [wife edits: what a fantastic word! Wonder if vampires patented it] [Gearhead edits: that’s not a word] may be found elsewhere, like here. It’s a real culinary rite of passage.
Honestly though, I don’t bother to remove the marrow when I’m making stock [wife edits: I can hear the purists scoffing]. I think it adds to the flavour. The marrow is the best part of what Judy Roger’s calls the “primitive” meal that may be scratched together from the process of making beef stock: warm, tender meat, salvaged after the long boil, accompanied by melting poached marrow. Some crusty bread or boiled potatoes and a drizzling of astringent vinaigrette over the top, makes this meal divine.
This recipe comes from Judy Rogers’ beautiful book, The Zuni Café Cookbook. It’s the only version I make, and now, always with a little sadness because Judy Rogers passed away two years ago. Her book reads like she’s standing beside you in the kitchen, teaching you the essentials of mindful cooking, guiding you with a gentle, authoritative generosity. I miss her and I never even knew her. I have shortened her process here, for the sake of bare bones brevity, but do seek out her book, the The New York Times book critic, Dwight Garner, described it as “a friend you’re going to keep for the rest of your life.”
A combination of 1 ½ lbs (680 g) of beef shank bones (osso buco-style) plus 1 ½ 1bs beef bones and lean chuck in equal proportions (total 3 lbs (1.5 kg) – you could use just bones, but like I said, the meal from this is too good, so I always use the meat).
6 cups (1.4 L) cold chicken stock
6 cups cold water
1 large carrot, peeled
1 large yellow onion, halved
2 stalks of celery, leaves trimmed off
1 bay leaf
a few whole black peppercorns
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Farenheight (230 Celsius). Crowd the meat and bones in a single layer, in a shallow roasting pan or 12 inch (30 cm) skillet. Roast until evenly browned and delicious smelling, 30 – 45 minutes. You may need to turn the bones over half way through to brown both sides.
Transfer the beef, still warm to a deep 8-10 quart (litre) stockpot. Drain all the fat from the roasting pan. If there are any promising caramelized drippings, add about ¼ cup (60 ml) cold water, set over low heat and scrape and stir to reconstitute them. Taste. If the deglazed liquid is bright and beefy tasting, pour it into the stockpot; if it tastes at all burned, discard it. Add the cold chicken stock, then top with cold water to cover by about 2 inches (5 cm).
Bring to a simmer over low heat and skim the foam. Add the carrot, onion, celery, bay leaf and peppercorns and stir them under. Simmer, uncovered, for 4-5 hours, until the stock is full flavoured and is the colour of strong black tea. You may need to add cold water from time to time to keep the bones submerged during the long extraction.
Strain the stock promptly, leaving the meat and vegetables in the strainer. Add a ¼ cup of water to the stockpot and swirl to get the last dregs of syrupy stock clinging to the sides of the pot. Pour over the meat in the strainer. Leave to cool completely before using or freezing. Salvage the warm tender meat [wife edits: I poke out the marrow at this point and add it to the meat] for a “primitive” meal.