When my new favorite butcher sold 25 lbs of veal bones the first thing I ran home to do was make some stock. Ok that is a lie I did not instantly make the stock that moment since I would had to wake up around 4 a.m. to tend to it but hey the next day is close enough.
While the stock was simmering this got me thinking a lot about something that Michael Ruhlman inscribed in a book I own. The phrase was simply “Jeff, Perfect the Basics”. When I first read it I was like ok great whatever. Now, I think I am slowly starting to understand what that means and it is what separates a good cook from a great cook along with what separates a good restaurant from an amazing restaurant even if they are offering the same dishes. It is the basics from making sure everything is ready, the onion pieces are identical in cut size so they cook evenly, understanding of different cook times so you don’t end up with mush for mushrooms and carrots that are rock hard, properly searing of the meat, proper seasoning of everything, placement of everything on the dish, and well this list could go on and on. All these small details combined define the success or failure of a dish.
This then got me thinking how the home cook can achieve this extra edge since it would be unproductive to buy bags of onions just to practice dicing an onion. Where in a restaurant situation it is easy do a couple weeks of prep and you will never forget how to slice an onion perfectly or any veggie for that matter. Only suggestion I could think of is practice and learning and taking every chance to gain a leg up. However, one of those edges starts with making your own stock. I have nothing against canned stock for the record and if you don’t have time to make it yourself no hatred here (I forget being single and kidless how easy it is for me to do items that other people just find undoable). However, if you have the desire you will be amazed with the differences in quality from home made and store bought. Most importantly how amazing your house will smell as the stock cooks.
Stock is a magical beautiful thing in that bones are slowly cooked barely simmering water paired with aromatic vegetables that after hours makes this beautiful rich gelatin liquid. It is also one of those items most people are intimidated with thinking it is overly complicated however, once you make it once you will realize how freaking easy it is and mostly that you more than likely already have everything you need.
For the first stock I decided to document is brown veal. Veal bones can be tricky to find hell let me change that can be downright impossible to find. I got lucky in that my butcher was putting them back so ask your butcher and see if he can be this nice (reason 4000 to help the local butcher because they won’t look at you like your insane when you ask for stuff like this).
A simple recipe I like to use for this stock is for every quart of water you will need 1 pound of veal bones cut into sections (a hacksaw works great for this just make sure to use a clean blade). For each gallon of water you use you will need:
- 1 onion diced
- 1 stalk of celery diced
- 1 carrot diced
- 2 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
- 2 whole cloves of garlic
- 5-6 parsley stems
- 5-6 sprigs of thyme
- 2 TB of tomato paste
I like to keep salt out of my stock making because I find a salted stock makes it really easy to over salt a dish that you add your stock to.
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and oil an ovenproof pan. Place your bones in one layer on the pan and place them in the oven. Let them cook for about 45 minutes shaking the pan every 15 minutes. This should create nicely golden brown bones.
Transfer the bones to a large stock and fill the appropriate amount of water. You want to slowly bring this up to temperature so medium is your friend. You want to bring the water up to about 190 degrees (bubbles should just be breaking the surface every couple of seconds) and this will take about an hour to an hour and a half.
While the water is coming up to temperature there are going to be scum and junk that is going to float to the top. Carefully skim that junk off and discard it. Once the stock has reached 190 degrees transfer it to a 190 degree oven for 9 hours. The stock is pretty much hands off at this point. Every couple of hours I will glance at it to make sure the water is not evaporating and if it does no big deal just bring a small amount of water to a simmer on the stove top and add it to the stock. Basically you want there to always be a couple inches of water between the bones and water.
After 9 hours in the stove, remove the stock and add in the remaining ingredients over medium heat on the stove. Let this simmer for another hour to hour and a half (goal is to maintain that 190ish).
I normally wrap the parsley, garlic, peppercorns, and thyme in cheesecloth to make for easier fishing out later.
After the veggies have done their time in the pot I like to pull the bones out of the stock pot and then strain everything into a large bowl. Put this bowl in the freezer overnight and then remove the layer of fat that has accumulated at the top. Finally, transfer the stock to freezer safe containers for up to 6 months but you will realize it goes extremely quickly.