Here’s my motto for the foreseeable future: Woman-up. Count my blessings, keep my family safe, be creative and resourceful, do as much as I can for others. Rely on humor. Recall that, if we really think about it, we’ve been through worse in the last twenty years and have so far survived.
What I haven’t counted on is being such a lousy cook. Day after day last week I turned out one blah meal after another. Seasonings were off. Ingredients didn’t mesh together. Meats, fish, vegetables, an attempt at a cake all crisped and not in the good way. I realized I wasn’t alone in feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and unnerved, but it didn’t help. The husband understood and felt lucky to have anything show up on his plate.
Food is the one elementary need we all have, feeding a comfort we can share, especially in troubled times. I finally remembered this and slapped myself together. Then I pulled a large bag of beef bones from the freezer.
My plan was to make beef stock because a good strong homemade one provides a complex flavor to a lot of what I would probably be cooking in the next month or four ahead–namely beans, stews, soups, poached somethings and casseroles. I’m in the habit of saving bones from ribs, shanks and roasts with the intention of brewing stock but the many hours it takes always seemed impenetrably daunting. Now time stretches to infinity and my cooking needs a boast.
In truth, the instructions are easy and, like baking, you don’t need to do anything more than set the timer to tell you to move on to the next step.
The basics are: Throw the bones in a pot with onions, carrots and celery, and, if you like, herbs such as thyme, basil and marjoram. Add enough water to be about 2 inches above the bones. Bring to a boil and then lower the flame to simmer for 5 to 11 hours, depending on the recipe you use. Thoroughly degrease. And there you have it, a beautiful stock.
You’d be on firm ground if this is all you know. But that’s me and my tendency to not follow recipes. For everyone else, I referred to two books for the classic guidance–Mastering the Art of French Cooking (of course) and Soup: A Way of Life (if you don’t have this book and love soups, buy it. It’s amazing). Mastering (the 5 hour version) is straightforward, Soup (the 15 hour version) is more involved. I ended up studying Mastering because the format makes reading the description and directions easier but I incorporated some steps from Soup with the idea that they might provide a little more heft. Both recipes stress the importance of removing all the grease you can to be sure the stock has only a refined meat flavor.
Here’s what I did (I’ll note which parts are from Mastering or Soup):
Take a pile of beef bones, such as from a shank, ribs and roasts, and put them in a roasting pan with garlic, onions, celery and carrots. Roast at 500 degrees for 20 minutes then turn the vegetables and bones and roast for 25 more minutes. (Soup)
Transfer the bones and vegetables along with any juices in the pan to a stock pot and cover with enough water that it rises about 2 inches above the bones. At some point you’ll have to add more water to maintain the level.
Bring to a boil then lower to a gentle simmer for 5 hours. (Mastering) Frequently skim fat and scum off the surface. After 5 hours the stock will be a beautiful light brown and essentially finished.
I thought I’d see what would happen if I continued with Soup and slid the pot into the oven that I preheated to 250 degrees. Soup calls for 11 hours total in the oven. I added 4 hours to the 5 already completed on the stove. That ended up being a total of 9 hours between the two methods. I would have let it go on a little longer but it was close to midnight and the husband had been asleep since 10:30. The color had deepened and it had developed a little more robust taste but not by much.
Take the stock pot off the heat (or out of the oven) and degrease as much as possible. The best way is to let the pot rest in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight until a solid layer of fat forms. You can break the layer apart and scoop it out easily.
Degrease the stock again by pouring it through a fine mesh sieve. I don’t have one so I used a double layer of cheese cloth then put the liquid in the refrigerator again to form another flat layer that removed any remaining solid bits. I repeated this step one more time because I notices some flecks, probably course pepper.
And there you have it.
Stock will last in the refrigerator for 3 days. I froze a portion of it to keep for soups. The rest I used to fill a couple of ice cube trays. The cubes will give me about 2 tablespoons that I can use to pump up rouxs for gravies and make demiglace for bordeaux and bordelaise sauces. If I can gather at least 2 chicken caucuses (with feet) I’ll make a white stock stock. It’s a little early to find the kind of fully ripe vegetables needed for vegetable stock but I’ll write a note and plaster it on the shelf above the counter to remember it.
I’m looking out the window into the cold rainy day rattling New York and the rest of the east coast. According to the weather map, the west coast, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah look to be not much better. It says the heartland is in for a nasty time, too. I can feel our isolated spirits sink a little more. I wish we could all get together on Zoom and chatter about what we’ll all make with our stocks. Tonight, though, I’m planning on onion soup, one of my favorite remedies for alleviating a cooking funk.