Years ago, when I was in college, I was told by my Chinese doctor to make soup from scratch for my health (the reasons too long to go into now). In his words, “get beef bones and boil them”. The good news is that I had one of those food epiphanies – soup stock comes from bones? I hadn’t connected the dots before. (So why was mom simmering that turkey carcass? Never bothered to ask.) The bad news is that I hadn’t the faintest idea what I was doing; I dutifully went to my local butcher, begged some beef bones, and boiled them for hours with a rolling boil until the bones were practically disintegrating. Then I removed the bones, added lentils and salt, and ate it. For those of you unfamiliar with the process of making stock, this is not the way to do it. (Granted, if you are calcium deficient, and don’t care about the taste of your soup, or the grittiness, it is edible.)
No, the trick with stock is to roast the bones first to get some caramelized flavor going, then to slowly heat them in water until a bare simmer, and then let them cook that way, gently, for a good long time. With beef stock, it helps to include some beef scraps or stew meat, as well as aromatic vegetables and herbs. Also a few veal bones will help provide gelatin to the stock.
Why make your own beef stock? If you make a big batch and freeze it, you may save some money. But the main reason is that you’ll get a richness of flavor and texture in your homemade stock that you just can’t buy at the store.
How to Make Beef Stock
- 4-5 pounds meaty beef stock bones (with lots of marrow), including some knuckle bones if possible, cut to expose the center marrow, and include at least a couple veal bones if you can, for their gelatin
- 1 pound of stew meat (chuck or flank steak) and/or beef scraps, cut into 2-inch chunks
- Olive oil
- 1-2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
- 1-2 large carrots, cut into 1-2 inch segments
- Handful of celery tops, or 1 large celery rib, cut into 1 inch segments
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
- Handful of parsley, stems and leaves
- 1-2 bay leaves
- 10 peppercorns
1 Preheat oven to 400°F. Rub a little olive oil over the stew meat pieces, carrots, and onions. Place stock bones, stew meat or beef scraps, carrots and onions in a large, shallow roasting pan. Roast in oven for about 45 minutes, turning the bones and meat pieces half-way through the cooking, until nicely browned. If bones begin to char at all during this cooking process, lower the heat. They should brown, not burn.
2 When the bones and meat are nicely browned, remove them and the vegetables and place them in a large (12 to 16 quart) stock pot. Place the roasting pan on the stove-top on low heat (will cover 2 burners), pour 1/2 cup to a cup of hot water over the pan and use a metal spatula to scrape up all of the browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Pour the browned bits and water into the stock pot.
3 Add celery tops, garlic, parsley, bay leaves, and peppercorns to the stock pot. Fill the stock pot with cold water, to 1 to 2 inches over the top of the bones. Put the heat on high and bring the pot to a low simmer and then reduce the heat to low. If you have a candy or meat thermometer, the temperature of the water should be between 180° and 200°F (boiling is 212°F). The stock should be at a bare simmer, just a bubble or two coming up here and there. (You may need to put the pot on your smallest burner on the lowest temp, or if you are using an oven-safe pot, place it in the oven at 190°F.) Cover the pot loosely and let simmer low and slow for 3-6 hours. Do not stir the stock while cooking. Stirring will mix the fats in with the stock, clouding up the stock.
4 As the stock cooks, fat will be released from the bone marrow and stew meat and rise to the top. From time to time check in on the stock and use a large metal spoon to scoop away the fat and any scum that rises to the surface. (Do not put this fat down your kitchen drain by the way. It will solidify and block your pipes. Put it in a bowl or jar to save for cooking or to discard.)
5 At the end of cooking time (when you want to end the cooking is up to you, 3 hours minimum, 6 to 8 hours if you can do it) use tongs or a slotted spoon to gently remove the bones and vegetables from the pot (discard them, though if you see a chunk of marrow, taste it, it's delicious). Line another large pot (8-quart) with a fine mesh sieve, covered with a couple layers of cheesecloth if you have it. Pour the stock through the sieve to strain it of remaining solids. Let cool to room temperature then chill in the refrigerator.
One the stock has chilled, any fat remaining will have risen to the top and solidified. The fat forms a protective layer against bacteria while the stock is in the refrigerator. If you plan to freeze the stock however, remove and discard the fat, pour the stock into a jar or plastic container. (You can also remove the fat, and boil the stock down, concentrating it so that it doesn't take as much storage space.) Leave an inch head room from the top of the stock to the top of the jar, so that as the stock freezes and expands, it will not break the container.