You have to be in the mood for cooking, when cooking stock. It’s ‘Cooking’ with a capital. Two words: Seven hours.
However, home-made stock is also a capital idea, as our forebears used to say and as with all things requiring Effort (note the capital again), the Rewards are so much Better.
Last Saturday morning I resolved to embark on such a stock mission; I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but there was nothing else on the cards (for a change) and so I hoked out a recipe and off I went.
Remember the ad on TV for the Yellow Pages, once upon a time? It was the one featuring an elderly, affable gent, JR Hartley and he was searching for a copy of his very own publication, Fly Fishing (by JR Hartley). Readers of a certain age will be wondering what the fup the Yellow Pages were, never mind the corresponding ad. This is a brief explanation…
In ye olden days, the Yellow Pages were large, thick books which contained listings of businesses organised by category rather than alphabetically by business name. The Yellow Pages (which were actually yellow in hue, by the way), were first published in 1966 and in short, were the business equivalent of the phone book. For some unknown reason too, the were loathed by strong men of all ilks, burly men who couldn’t resist tearing them to pieces whenever the pages were encountered. It was ye olden days and, times were different: What can I say.
In the ad, aul JR was looking for a copy of ‘Fly Fishing’ and he went through the Yellow Pages ringing every book shop that was listed, vainly it seemed, until at last he found one which had a copy in stock. The twist, ‘Fly Fishing’ was actually his own book, wasn’t revealed until the end. On Saturday, I was a bit like JR Hartley myself.
In the absence of any thick books beloved by affable gents but be-loathed by strong men, I Googled ‘local butchers’ and started making phone calls.
“Hello, I was wondering if you could help me. Yeah, not so bad. Aye, great day out there… I am looking to make beef stock and I was wondering if you might have any bones I could use to make the stock with. You don’t. Thanks anyway.”
I tried five different butchers – FIVE – until I found one that had bones.
I found myself wondering if people make beef stock all the time and it’s only me that’s new to this game. Or maybe it’s a dog thing, whereby people are buying chewables for their hounds. Or, maybe the butchers all have dogs themselves. As healthy as a butcher’s dog?
But, just like aul JR off the ad, I finally found one (a butchers) that had beef bones and the mission was on!
I know what you’re thinking though. Why is this header Devlin making stock when you can buy stock cubes in the shops?
Well, simply put, Herself (being a sensitive being), has discovered that stock cubes don’t agree with her. And me (being an inquisitive and obliging type) happened to be in the mood for cooking.
After the bones were purloined from the Butchers (Molloy’s in Dromore – thanks you very muchly), I was thusly committed.
According to an online recipe, this was going to take up to seven hours but, as the recipe also suggested, the stock would be deep and rich and fragrant and a long ways from the flavours of a ubiquitous stock cube. Here goes!
Also, whilst I know two of the four large bones were of shin in origin, I couldn’t tell you what the others were. One other looked like a ball joint of some kind, but I don’t like to think too hard on that.
2.5 – 3kgs beef bones (rib, leg, shin – whatever)
three onions, unpeeled but halved
1 large head of garlic, unpeeled and halved through the middle
1 large leek, cut into thirds
2 carrots, washed and cut in half
1 stick of celery, cut into chunks
2 big tomatoes, cut into quarters
tsp of sea salt
tbsp of peppercorns
2 bay leaves
pinch of dried thyme
pinch of dried sage
Pre-heat the oven to 200˚C and while that’s happening, sort out all the veg – mise en place, as the French would say.
Hopefully, the butcher will have cleaved the bones into manageable pieces. If not, get the cleaver out.
Place the bones in a large roasting tin, add the three halves onions and the halved garlic head and pour about 10cm of water into the tin. Retire this to the oven for 45 minutes.
Even at this early stage, the smell emanating from the oven will be wondrous and exciting. But that’s nothing compared to what you’ll eventually encounter.
As the bones are roasting, half fill a very large stock pot (you’ll need a big one) with water and bring to a simmer. Fill the kettle also and boil.
When the bones have had their allotted time, remove from the oven and add to the stock pot, with the onions and garlic and scrap any bone residue from the roasting tin for good measure and dump that in.
Add the herbs, the remaining veg and the seasoning and then, if there’s any bones poking out at the top, top up with hot water out of the kettle. Now you play the waiting game.
Let the stock pot gently simmer for the required six hours, keeping an eye on things and poking from time to time (that’s what I do).
Just to be doubly sure the taste was hitting the max, I poked out the marrow from the two shin bones after a couple of hours, although I’m pretty sure this wasn’t entirely necessary. I resisted eating it, don’t worry.
After those couple of hours, I knew I was onto a winner with this stock when I forked out a carrot, seasoning it, blew a while and then gobbled it up. It was the beefiest and richest carrot I’d ever encountered.
The process I followed suggested topping up the water every so often, as it bubbles and steams but I only had to do this once.
One whole newspaper, a chapter of a book, an episode of the Simpsons and two late beers later, the stock was ready – almost.
At the end of the cooking, pull all the bones out of the stock and strain or sieve.
At this stage you’ll probably have a couple of pints of stock. Taste it? Epic, right?
If you wanted it yet more intense and exciting (which I did), reduce it by half and then taste it again. The beefiest beef stock ever, right? The recipe was right: It’s better than anything you can buy in the shops.
After making my stock, I let it sit until completely cool and then I separated the fat from the clear stock.
Half of this stock, I frozen in ice-cube trays and the rest went into a cottage pie (which was also epic).
The fat, a highly seasoning beef dripping, I stuck in a bowl, covered with clingfilm and put in the fridge. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this yet so suggestions are welcome.
I know though, that I won’t be throwing it out. Why? The following day I was making toast and on a whim, I ‘buttered’ one piece with the highly seasoned dripping.
I can’t recall exactly, but I think I audibly groaned in delight.
As regards the stock, I don’t think I’ll ever use a cube again.
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