We’re going to be using a lot of basic stocks and sauces in this space, and it pays to use high-quality, homemade stocks whenever possible. At best, canned store-bought broths are vaguely reminiscent of the stocks they are meant to imitate and contain far too much salt to be used in many applications. The good news is that the real thing is easy and inexpensive to make at home.
Homemade Beef Stock
MAKES 3 – 3 1/2 QUARTS
- 4 lb beef bones OR bony beef cuts like short ribs
- 2 carrots, 2 stalks celery, 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 1 bunch parsley
- 1 Tbs whole peppercorns
- 2 cloves
- 1 Tbs dried thyme
- 2 bay leaves
Recommended supplies: Stockpot, roasting pan, tongs, skimmer, strainer, cheesecloth, mason jars and lids
You may have noticed that there is no salt listed above. We did not add any salt at all to this homemade stock and instead will just adjust the seasonings when adding stock to a dish. Even a little bit of salt added to a stock can become far too concentrated if the stock ever gets reduced to make a sauce, so we will simply sesson when we use it.
The first step is to brown the bones/meat. This helps develop a lot of rich color and flavor in the final product. The oven was set to ‘BROIL,’ the top rack set about six inches from the top heating element in the oven, and the short ribs in a single layer in a roasting pan. Once all that setting was done it looked like this:
Every three to five minutes the meat was turned to brown it on all sides, and after about twenty minutes looked like this:
Meanwhile, the celery, carrots, and onion mirepoix was prepped. These need not be cut too finely or attractively since they are going to be discarded later after they’ve left all their flavor in the stock:
The meat was removed from the roasting pan to the stockpot, covered with all but about a cup of the water, and placed on a medium burner to begin to simmer. Meanwhile, the mirepoix was placed in the roasting pan (with all the drippings and juices from the meat left in) to brown under the broiler:
After starting the mirepoix browning, it was time to get the remaining ingredients ready — peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, cloves, and parsley. The last couple of inches of the stem end of a bunch of parsley is great for stocks since it is stilled packed with great flavor and isn’t really useful for anything else; the rest gets saved for another use. The end of the bunch was torn off and rinsed clean. Then, aligning the brown tips of the bunch in a line, the last half inch or so go trimmed away, leaving the green stems and a few leaves for the stock:
Just like with the meat before, the broiling vegetables were stirred around with tongs every few minutes so they would brown evenly. After about fifteen minutes the job was done:
The mirepoix and other ingredients were put together in a bowl and put aside until it was time to add them to the stock.
Once the bones began to simmer the heat was turned down to medium-low and we began skimming:
The aim of skimming is to remove the pinkish-gray coagulated proteins that float to the surface. These continued to surface for about half an hour, at which point it seemed like the scum production had run its course. Until the scum stopped surfacing, the stock was skimmed every couple of minutes, or whenever the opportunity arose between other prep tasks.
A bit of grease comes with the proteins at the surface of a simmering stock. Removing the grease at this point is fine but unimportant, since we will do that later after the finished stock cools. The focus for the time being was on the bits of coagulated proteins from the meat and bones.
After the mirepoix vegetables are browned a lot of fond remains in the roasting pan, so the pan was deglazed by heating it back up over the stove on medium-high and whisking in the remaining water:
Once most of the browned bits were incorporated into the water the resulting liquid was added to the stockpot.
After the skimming was done the mirepoix, parsley, bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns, and thyme were added to the stockpot. This could have been done sooner, but the stock is a lot easier to skim when it is less crowded with things that float. The stock simmered for about three hours total, with the mirepoix and other ingredients incorporated for the last hour and a half.
It was then time to fish out the meat, bones, and vegetables form the stock. Since we used short ribs, which had a good bit of tasty meat left on them, we wanted to be able to salvage what I could for a later use. The meaty chunks were scooped out, pulled off the bone, and set aside:
Most of the solids can be removed with the wok strainer, but the stock still has a lot of chunks of material in it at this point. We like to set up a strainer lined with a couple layers of cheesecloth set over a large bowl (or in this case, another stockpot) to get the rest:
The strained stock was then poured (still hot) into quart-sized mason jars and sealed with lids. The jars were then set on the balcony to cool enough to be put in the refrigerator, about an hour.
Mason jars are great for storing stocks because the air-tight seal and hot packing extend the refrigerator life considerably, up to at least a month in our experience. Left unsealed a stock will only last about a week in the refrigerator. After overnight refrigeration, the grease solidifies at the top of the jar; if you’re careful the solid plug can be pulled off in one piece:
That’s all there is too it. The whole thing took less than four hours, the last half of which is almost completely inactive (unless of course you want to stir the stock a bit and give it a smell). We only need less than a cup for the recipe the stock was made for, so for now we have three jars of this delicious, beefy concoction to add to whatever we want, plus over a pound of reserved cooked short rib meat that can be made into a hash or ravioli filling (or whatever else we decide). We may even come up with something to do with that rendered fat at the top of the jar…