Archive for January, 2012

Cooking Stock to Enhance Your Social Status

January 2, 2012

At this very moment, I have about six pounds of beef bones roasting in the oven and my kitchen smells nourishing and meaty. I picked up the bones at my butcher’s when I was buying a roasting chicken and some linguiça sausage. The reason? Stock, of course.

Beef, vegetables, and water en route to becoming brown stock.

There are plenty of reasons to make stock. First, there’s the pleasure of telling people you’re making stock which always seems to impress them. Stock? they ask, eyebrows cocked perhaps as they raise you up a notch on their list of People Who Know How to Cook. Your status rises even more when they learn that you’re not simply boiling the dregs of that chicken you had for dinner two days ago but that, instead, you went out and specifically purchased the necessary ingredients for the sole purpose of boiling them.

There is also the fact – nearly as important – that a good stock enhances your cooking. Stocks add depth to soups and sauces or, when reduced, even make for the most simple of sauces in themselves.

What I’m preparing is a brown stock, the color of which is obtained through roasting the ingredients beforehand. In a hot oven, the ingredients caramelize which adds not only flavor but color to the stock. Roast the bones to a nice deep brown and the color transfers gloriously to your stock, enriching whatever you decide to add it to later on. You can roast the vegetables, as well – onions, celery, carrots, for example – adding even more flavor and color although I’m not doing that this time. I want something a little more neutral since I’m making the stock simply to have on hand rather than for a specific dish.

I won’t salt the stock, either, preferring to leave that to whatever dishes I decide to include it but I am adding some seasonings: bay leaves, black pepper corns, a few whole cloves, and a few dried morel mushrooms.

Not to be overlooked, of course, is what is arguably the most important ingredient: water. Cold water. Cold water’s important for a couple of reasons. First, cold water helps to draw the juices from whatever you’ve tossed into the pot (That old reliable, Joy of Cooking, suggests soaking the ingredients in the same cold water before hand to draw out even more flavor). Second, cold water from the tap will be free from many of the odd flavors hot water can pick up as it travels through the pipes to your sink.

How much? The amount of water should be at least equal to the other ingredients. Many recipes will tell you to add enough water to just cover the ingredients; others will tell you to add only a little more, a couple quarts, perhaps. The point of all this, needless to say (and, yet, here I go) is to produce a stock rich with flavor, not something watery and flaccid.

Pot size matters, too. Of course it does. The pot should be large enough to hold all the ingredients so that the liquid simmers and bubbles and flows around them easily. I have two stock pots: a six-and-half-quart and a 24-quart. As six pounds of beef bones, even cut into small pieces, will just about fill the smaller pot by themselves, I’ve chosen to use the larger one. With tremendous presence and self-importance, it occupies a substantial portion of my stovetop, indifferent to whatever need I might have for the other burners. I will roast dinner tonight.

Once all the ingredients are combined in the pot, crank up the flames and bring it all to a boil, skimming off the scum that often develops on the top (There are different opinions about this. If you want a clear stock, the scum must go as it can cloud the liquid but there are nutrients and flavor in the scum, as well, and if you’re not looking for a clear stock – or are simply feeling lazy – stir it back in, I say).

Once it’s reached the boiling point and you’ve decided what you’re going to do with the scum – or not do, as the case may be – reduce the heat to low and leave the stock, partially covered, to simmer gently for a few hours. Maybe even four or five hours. Why not? The liquid will reduce over time and it’s up to you to decide whether you want to replenish it so that you end up with the same amount of stock as the water you began with, or if you want stronger flavored stock, which will be the result of the liquid’s reduction.

Once your allotted time has passed and the stock tastes right, strain it through a fine wire mesh or a couple layers of damp cheese cloth into a bowl and let it cool for a little while. From there, put it into the refrigerator so that the fat will coagulate at the surface and be easier to remove (you can always scrape it off and use it for cooking, adding yet another layer of flavor to whatever else you make). Once that’s done, transfer it to smaller containers of about a cup each and pop into the freezer to be used as needed.

You’ll have a great stockpile of flavor just waiting to be added to future meals as well as the satisfaction of lording it over others.

Relatively Easy Brown Stock

  • 6 pounds raw beef bones, cut to 2-to-4-inch pieces
  • 4 quarts cold water
  • 2 to 3 carrots
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 to 3 bay leaves
  • 8 whole black peppercorns
  • 4 whole cloves
  • Olive oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees

  1. Rough-chop the vegetables into a few pieces each – don’t bother to peel them – and, along with the beef bones, in a large bowl drizzle with the olive oil and toss until everything is coated. Transfer the mixture to a large jellyroll pan or some other large sheet with raised edges (otherwise, the oil and juices from the bone and veg mixture will drain onto the floor of your oven thereby destroying your credibility as A Person Who Knows How to Cook) and place in the middle rack of the oven. It’s important to keep all the ingredients spread out in a single layer so they brown rather than steam, as they will do if they’re piled together.
  2. Let the mixture roast for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending upon how brown you want them to be. When done, remove from the oven and transfer to a large stock pot.
  3. Scrape the brown bits and crunchy pieces from the pan and put those into the pot, too. Snack on any particularly appetizing looking morsels of meat or vegetables as you do so. You’re the cook; this is your right.
  4. Add the water and seasonings.
  5. Bring to a boil, skimming off the scum that may rise to the surface. When the liquid is at a full boil, reduce the heat and let the mixture simmer for the next four or five hours.
  6. When done, drain the liquid through a fine wire mesh or through a couple layers of damp cheese cloth into a bowl and let cool. Scrape off the fat that rises to the surface and transfer the stock to smaller containers that can be frozen. If you choose not freeze the stock, you can keep it in the refrigerator for about three or four days.