It’s not too early to be thinking about Christmas dinner as it is only a few weeks away. I have many plans to make, but as Christmas dinner at our house involves roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, most of the menu is preordained. Hors d’oeuvres can change from year to year, as can the vegetables, but potatoes are required and they call for a rich gravy.
I make my gravy with home made meat stock, so I usually make up a few gallons of stock in advance. It freezes beautifully, and having some on hand is great for last minute braises, soups or stews.
Meat stocks, beef, chicken or veal, as well as vegetable stocks, have long been part of restaurant cooking, primarily when sauces were used more extensively then they are today. To make a flavorful stock, it is best to use a combination of bones and meat. While both will give off gelatin into the stock as their collagen breaks down, bones give off more than meat, but meat gives off more flavor. While veal stock is the most gelatinous when made, it has a very neutral flavor. Beef and chicken, on the other hand, if made with some meat, will have decidedly beef or chicken flavor.
Stocks can be white or brown. In a white stock, the ingredients are added in a raw state and the stock remains clear to slightly colored, whereas when the ingredients are either roasted in a hot oven or fried in oil to caramelize their exterior, they produce a brown stock.
A classic stock is clear without cloudiness or gray impurities suspended within the broth. This can only be accomplished if the cook pays strict attention during the stock’s initial phases of cooking. First, if making a white stock, it is advisable to wash the bones and meat, place in a pot of cold water and slowly bring it to a boil. As soon as the water starts to simmer, drain the ingredients into a colander and rinse them well. This step removes surface impurities and coagulates proteins on the meat and bone surfaces, preventing them from making the stock cloudy. If one browns their meat and bones first, this step can be eliminated.
The ingredients are again placed in cold water and slowly brought back to the simmer. The cold water and slow heating allow the soluble proteins to migrate from the solids into the liquid, where they gather together in gray clusters which rise to the surface and are easily skimmed off. At the same time, fats dissolve and rise to the surface, where the attentive cook removes them. During this time, the pot is left uncovered, not only to permit evaporation and thus concentration of the cooking liquid, but also to aid in dehydration of the surface scum, making it easy to skim off.
The stock is then simmered at the laziest pace with only an occasional bubble breaking the surface for three to eight hours for beef, ninety minutes for chicken, and only 30 minutes for fish. When the stock is strained, it should be cooled as rapidly as possible to prevent any bacteria build up.
Brown Beef Stock
10 lbs beef bones
3 lbs shin of beef
1 lb onions, quartered
1 lb carrots, sliced in large chunks
1/2 lb celery, chopped into large chunks
3 bay leaves
A bouquet garni of thyme and parsley
1 Tbl peppercorns, whole
Brown the beef bones, shin and vegetables in a hot (425 degree) oven for 20 to 30 minutes, turning the ingredients over a couple of times so they are nicely browned. Place all the browned ingredients into a large pot, cover with cold water and add the bay leaves, bouquet garni, and peppercorns. Bring to a simmer, skimming any scum that rises to the surface. After 10 minutes or so of simmering, most of the scrum will have risen, however continue to skim and scum and or fat that accumulates on the surface. Simmer partially covered for 3 to 8 hours.
Strain the stock to remove the bones and other ingredients. Cool rapidly and refrigerate. Any remaining fat will congeal on the surface and can be removed. Store the stock in 1 or 2 quart containers. It is best to freeze the stock as soon as possible. If using soon, it will keep in the ice box for 3 days, but should be re-boiled if kept beyond that time.