06 Jan Homemade beef stock: Your perfect go-to stock recipe!
Homemade beef stock is about the most beautiful and rewarding culinary project you will ever undertake…
“There is something almost meditative about reducing love into a stock” said friend, fellow blogger and out-doorsy cooking wizard Jakob “Gourmensch” Nusbaum once. And he’s right, you know?
Ladies and gentlemen: I give you perfect homemade beef stock in all its gelatinous glory!
Homemade stock is a process and a lengthy one at that, but there truly is something strangely meditative about devoting an entire 24 hours or so of your busy life to slowly and meticulously transforming a pile of less than attractive looking bones and solids into one of the most beautiful building blocks of the culinary world: homemade beef stock.
And the reward is nothing short of breathtaking: Through the magic of time and tender loving care, the very fabric of grizzly looking bones is rendered into a silky, gorgeous and fragrant liquid – clear, flavorful, intensely seductive, complex and overwhelming. Essence of beef like you’ve never tasted it before with an amazing viscosity and mouthfeel that can be achieved only through the investment of time, dedication and patience.
Yet, we’ve become a society obsessed with convenience and hardly anyone takes the time out of their busy schedules to make stock these days.
Maybe it’s because upwards of 24 hours is a long time to spend on any sort of project in this day and age. Maybe it’s because the process seems unnecessarily complex. Maybe the time and planning factors are exactly why the beauty of stock making has become a dying art form. If ready-made stocks or stock, bouillon cubes and concentrates are so readily available, why would you – after all – bother to make your own dark beef stock in these busy and modern times?
Homemade beef stock: Why even bother?
Time-consuming as it may seem, homemade beef stock is superior to store-bought in so many ways. And worry not, if only we play our cards right and exercise a bit of expert planning and timing, we can easily fit stock making into our busy schedule. All we need is a day off (preferably a gray and/or rainy fall or winter variety thereof), a perfect beef stock recipe, a bit of planning and a few good reasons. The recipe and planning aspects, we will get to (you can cheat and jump ahead by clicking here), but first: here are the perfect reasons to make your own beef stock.
Homemade beef stock is an all-natural product
Have you ever had a look at the ingredients list of a store-bought beef stock? If not, I encourage you to inspect the ingredient list and prepare to be amazed – but not in a good way! Most store-bough stocks, fancier brands included, will sport an ingredient list that reads more like a chemistry book than an actual food product. Key ingredients usually include more salt than is good for you, a slur of flavor and texture enhancers that sound more like Great Old Ones of Lovecraftian horror lore than actual food ingredients plus a number of more or less natural aromas.
The upside to making your own beef stock? All-natural ingredients and full control over the cooking process!
Compare in contrast the ingredients below: beef bones, vegetables, herbs, spices, tomato paste and water…? Seems more natural, right? More safe? Like something you’d actually want to eat? Let alone be proud to serve. Even if, for whatever curious reason, you don’t subscribe to the fact that processed foods are bad for you, I’ll give you another very good reason for picking homemade stock over storebought: flavor!
Homemade beef stock offers unique levels of flavor
The difference in flavor between homemade beef stock and store-bought is like the difference between night and day:
Homemade beef stock has a much cleaner, more natural flavor than store-bought: it actually tastes of beef! Beef with clear underlying notes of the vegetables, herbs and spices used in the mix. It’s not a vulgar, artificial, overpowering flavor like you get with many store-bought products, but rather a complex, intense yet sophisticatedly subdued flavor, that adds depth to the dish in which it is used instead of overpowering it.
Admittedly, this clarity of flavor surprises and sometimes even underwhelm some modern palates who are raised on the overwhelming and chemically engineered flavors of processed foods, but believe me, try it on for size and you will never go back to store-bought beef stock. Once you get in the hang of cooking your own stock, trust me, you’ll miss the complexity and purity of flavor whenever you are forced to revert to store-bought stock.
Homemade beef stock has superior viscosity and mouthfeel
Because homemade beef stock is made by carefully simmering real bones for hours on end, it has a far superior texture and mouthfeel. A texture and mouthfeel that can only be achieved from the slow breakdown of connective tissue (known as collagen) in the bones into gelatin, the gelatinous and oily substance that gives soups, stocks and stews their viscosity and unique silky mouthfeel.
Try a spoonful of homemade stock right from the pot and you’ll find that it coats the inside of your mouth and stays present in terms of flavor in a way that the engineered store-bought stock or bouillon cubes (usually) doesn’t. This may seem like a trivial property, but believe me, it’s one of the greatest wonders of homemade stock and you will realize once you try it yourself.
Homemade beef stock is a complex and time-consuming work of art, and a silky viscosity and clingy mouthfeel is a sign of greats success and time well spent. It’s the true hallmark of success that you probably wouldn’t miss until the day you’ve made your own stock from scratch and experienced the remarkable difference in texture and perceived taste sensation that the slow transformation from collagen to gelatin provides.
Homemade beef stock is kind of a fucking cool party trick
Alright, let’s be honest here. Obvious advantages like health factors, flavor and textures aside, there’s one more obvious advantage of spending 24 hours making your own beef stock: It commands respect! Think of the admiration you’ll receive from dinner guests when you inform them that the sauce or stew they’re eating was based on your own homemade stock. If they’re anything like most people I know, they’ll be blown aback. Not to mention you’ll feel pretty damn accomplished yourself!
The sauce? Oh, it’s just a little something I whipped up completely from scratch over the course of a few days!
Really, think about that, but mainly do think about the advantages in terms of taste and texture and knowing what’s in the food you’re eating.
Five tricks to a perfect homemade beef stock
Homemade beef stock has not been the easiest culinary technique for me to master, I’ll admit that much. But that also means I’ve made the mistakes so you don’t have to! Also, throughout years of trial and error, I’ve come up with a number of tips to ensure perfect beef results every time. Here now are my five best tips for perfect homemade beef stock.
Finding the proper bones for homemade beef stock
The primary flavor of beef stock comes, not too surprisingly, from beef (or veal) bones. What may be a little more surprising, though, is that when it comes to stock-making, not all bones are created equal and some bones provide better results and more flavor than others. As a general rule, joint bones provide more flavor and the busier the part of the animal, the better.
Good choices for stock-making include shoulder, knee or neck bones and they don’t need to be pretty. Au contraire, mes amis! Good bones for stock are large, chunky and irregular, full of marrow and remnants of muscles and connective tissue. Such bones will provide just the right amount of flavor for our homemade beef stock as well as the right amount of collagen needed for that silky mouthfeel we so desire. Granted, they’ll provide a fair bit of fat, too, but worry not, fat equals flavor, too, and we’ll skim most of it off near the end of the cooking process anyway.
The thing about the perfect bones for perfect homemade beef stock is… Well… They’re not very perfect-looking!
If, unlike this guy, you don’t happen to be connected to people who slaughter their own animals regularly, beef bones may be a bit of a hassle to come by. Try asking your local neighborhood butcher for starters, they may be more than likely to throw you a bone (pardon my bad sense of humor!) and let you have some of their stock bones for a relatively cheap price. If such ventures prove unsuccessful, try your large, local supermarket. They may stock beef bones prewrapped in the cooler or freezer, or – better yet – be willing to part with an excess supply from their daily in-house butchering for next to nothing.
You see, in today’s convenient little world of picky consumers demanding only the best and most widely used of cuts, beef bones are usually considered excess and even garbage. As a home stock-maker this may well work to your advantage, so go befriend your friendly neighborhood butcher and see if he can’t help you out. It never hurts to ask.
A perfect beef stock needs more veggies than you’d think!
Beef may be the primary flavor driver of our homemade stock, but in the world of fine gastronomy, a key player is nothing without an accent. In our perfect homemade beef stock, the accent is played by a selection of vegetation and herbs. That’s right, friends, we will quite literally be building our stock on a bed of vegetables, including the classic mirepoix of onions, carrots and celery, as well as leeks, garlic and a whole slur of herbs.
The aromatic vegetables and herbs add depth and complexity to our stock, but in creating the perfect backdrop, they also help elevate the primary beefy flavors for a richer, deeper and more complex overall flavor profile. In other words, if you want your beef stock to really sing, add vegetables, and add more than you’d think. They won’t overpower the beefiness or dilute the intensity of the stock. On the contrary, they’ll make a world of difference in terms of complexity and flavor of your homemade stock.
Brown! Everything! Thoroughly!
One important aspect that I’ve addressed time and time again in relation to traditional beef dishes is that browning adds flavor! You’d be excused for thinking that this golden rule doesn’t apply to stock making, but you – along with many of your peers – would be sadly mistaken. In all honesty, the most important (and oft-forgotten) step to adding flavor and depth to a homemade stock is to take your time in the prep phase to brown your ingredients *well and thoroughly* before starting the long complicated process of turning water and solids into liquid love.
If you want flavor from your stock, you’re gonna have to hurt them bones good, Son!
And, hey buddy, by browning well and thoroughly, I mean something to the tune of upwards to an hour in a 200C oven (watching them as they go so they brown rather than burn) until every single ingredient is well and thoroughly toasted, brown and fragrant. The browning not only adds a ton of flavor, it adds depth and color, too, so as always: take your time and be meticulous – the oven will do the work for you, and our patience will be rewarded.
A slow simmer is the secret to a perfect homemade stock
Once our beef bones and vegetables are thoroughly browned, we need to calm ourselves down and take things slow. Once the initial blast of heat has been bestowed upon our goods, we need to carefully transfer everything to a suitable stock pot, cover with water and cook slooooowly for the remainder of the process.
Why this sudden change of pace? It’s not all just prissy French culinary antics! No, as a matter of fact, a low and slow cook is the key to perfect homemade stock. In stock making, we’re creating flavor by infusion, not by reduction and more importantly: boiling severely decreases the appearance and quality of your stock. You see, our stock base is full of fat, impurities and other goodness. During a slow simmer, these impurities (along with the fat) will slowly rise to the surface of the pot where they can be easily skimmed off. If the pot boils too aggressively, the violently bursting bubbles at the top will break up the impurities and dissolve them permanently back into the stock, creating a less clear, less pure-tasting stock.
Perfect homemade beef stock takes a while, so why not take some time and relax with a good book while winding the day away?
To create perfectly clear and flavorful stock, what you as a cook will have to do is ensure a low, constant simmer at the rate of about one bubble per second over the length of the cooking process. Oh, and ensure that the surface of the pot is regularly kept clean of any foam or gunk that raises to the top.
This zen-like attention to detail and perfect results through a long, slow processes is why saucieres are considered the true Kings of the French kitchens: they zealously treat their stocks with the utmost respect, simmer them slowly for hours on end, watching them meticulously as they go to ensure perfect results!
That being said, though, this is probably also the step that drives most people away from making their own stock at home: the perceived time and attention needed to perform the job. A shame, really, because other than a lot of time and maybe a bit of courage, this process only really requires one primary skill: patience – and lots of it!
The only things you’ll need are time, patience and timing
Granted, homemade beef stock is one of the lengthiest culinary journeys, you can embark on. From start to finish, the entire process will take at least 24 hours. Not 24 hours of active cooking time, mind you, but 24 hours of semi-supervised cooking (with rest and sleeping break included, fear not!), so some planning may be involved.
To make a proper beef stock, you’ll first need upwards of 2 hours of prep time followed by twelve uninterrupted hours of simmering and a bit of chill time. You’ll then need to chill the stock overnight and allow at least some 4-5 hours the next day to finish things up. As such, it is best to start your stock making efforts rather early in the morning on a day off, say a Saturday, which will give you ample time for the project. Since you’ll need some time the following day as well, I wholly recommend allotting a whole weekend to the project. Again, please bear in mind that not all of these hours are active, supervised cooking time, but you’ll still have to account for them in your busy schedule.
Perfect homemade beef stock recipe
To make perfect homemade beef stock, you must – aside from patience and timing – be the proud owner of a few pieces of special equipment. First things first, you will need a large oven-safe roasting pan capable of fitting all bones and vegetables.
You will also need a large pot of ten liters or more capable of fitting bones, vegetables, herbs and enough water to cover. If you’re the lucky owner of even larger pots, you can (and should) easily double the amount of bones and vegetables as you see fit, but I’d hold back a bit on the herbs and spices, they’re quite aromatic. Stock is time-consuming labor but stock freezes extremely well, so you might as well make as much as you can.
- 5 pounds of beef bones (or veal)
- 5 large carrots, cut into large chunks
- Stalks of celery (leaves and all), cut into large chunks
- 2-3 large onions, skin on, cut into large chunks
- 1 leek, white and green parts, halved and cut into large chunks
- 5 garlic cloves, skin on
- 3 bay leaves
- 10 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 10 sprigs of flat leaf parsley
- 15 black pepper corns
- 50 grams of tomato paste
- Preheat oven to 200C
- While oven is heating fill a large roasting pan with the vegetables and carefully nestle the bones on top.
- Place the pan in the oven. Check bones every ten or so minutes and turn regularly until they’re well-browned all over.
- Remove bones from oven and brush surfaces evenly with tomato paste.
- Return pan to oven for 5-10 minutes and roast until tomato paste is caramelized and fragrant. Keep an eye on the bones as they will burn easily.
- Remove pan from the oven and carefully transfer the browned bones to a stock pot.
- Toss vegetables in the rendered beef fat, return the roasting pan to the oven and allow vegetables to continue browning for a good ten minutes, tossing once or twice.
- Remove roasting pan from the oven and very carefully pour its entire content into the stock pot.
- Add a bit of water to the roasting pan and carefully scrape any caramelized bits from the bottom and sides of the pan, then (carefully) pour everything into the stock pot.
- Add all herbs and spices to the stock pot along with enough cold water to cover the bones and vegetables.
- Bring the pot to a boil over medium heat, carefully skimming off any foam that rises to the top.
- Once a boil has been reached, quickly decrease the heat to a gentle simmering rate of about one bubble per second.
- Simmer the stock for at least 12 hours, skimming regularly when necessary.
- Turn the heat off, cool the stock to room temperature, cover and refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, return the pot to the stove and bring back to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for at least an additional four hours.
- Carefully remove the bones from the stock and discard, then carefully strain the stock into another pot, discarding the vegetables, herbs and spices.
- Cool, cover and refrigerate until fat congeals on top of the stock, then remove hardened fat with a spoon and reserve for some other use (see notes below)
- Stock can be used immediately or refrigerated for up to five days. Frozen it will keep just about forever.
You have made homemade beef stock: Now what?
Congratulations, you’ve made stock, the culinary building block of haute cuisine. From here on, your possibilities are endless.
You can use it as it is as a base for soups, in stews and braising dishes or countless other applications. Cooking steak? Add a good splash of stock to the pan after cooking, allow to reduce, add cream and/or a splash of booze and you’ve got yourself a simple pan sauce. For a reference technique for such antics, check out my Steak Au Poivre recipe here.
Looking for a perfect pairing for beef stock? Look no further than the sexy beast that is the Rib Eye Steak!
Homemade stock will keep about five days in the fridge and will probably last you way longer than that unless you run an industrial sized kitchen. Can’t use it all in a week, don’t worry! Stock freezes exceptionally well and will keep about forever in the freezer. A good trick here is to make sure that all the fat is skimmed off the stock, then bring it to a boil and reduce it by at least half (or more). This, essentially, removes excess water and intensifies the flavor all while saving you space in the freezer. Once reduced, freeze in smaller portions. When ready to use, simply add it as you would normally and add water as needed if flavor becomes too intense.
If you’re serious about flavor, you can reduce everything down to about a liter of liquid total and freeze in ice cube trays to create little nuggets of homemade stock cubes. Our relentless proof-reader Tina swears by this method and use the resulting stock cubes in everything from stews to quick pasta dishes.
Cook like a pro: Using Homemade beef stock in sauce making
Want the ultimate use for homemade stock? Well, as far as I’m concerned, there is perhaps no greater use for a perfect beef stock than perfect homemade sauces for steaks or roasts. It’s another not exactly quick or uncomplicated culinary venture. But it’s a breeze next to stock, and an incredibly rewarding culinary process that must be mastered. It’s also the theme of the next couple of posts on the blog.
Homemade beef stock is the perfect base for a variety of homemade sauces. Here we see my demi-glace in the making, but that’s another post…
So, keep your eyes peeled on these pages in the coming weeks as we will be exploring the magical transition from humble stock over Sauce Espagnole, Escoffier’s mother of a sauce, to demi-glace, the king of stock-based sauces.