Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Recipe/Technique: Classic Brown Stock

This one is such a pain in the, well, kitchen, that I only do it a few times a year. But sometimes, you just get a hankering for onion soup. And, I’m sorry but it’s true: you cannot make onion soup without home made brown stock. Oh, you can make a soup with onions, but it won’t be onion soup.

So herewith and forsooth and thusly, the classic brown stock.

Here’s what you’ll need:

bones, at least 5 lbs.
the patience of Job

Here’s how you do it.

Roast the bones. Well, get the bones first. And that can be tricky. You see, the supermarkets have seen us coming. What they used to give away, simply to avoid the cost of disposal, they have now discovered, we’ll pay for, and pay dearly. One local purveyor wants $1.50 a pound! And since they are still in business, I presume they get it.

Anyway. Shop around. Talk to small butcher shops. If any of your supermarkets are locally owned, talk to them as well. Cheap bones make stock just as good as expensive bones.

Since it takes as long to roast 2 lbs. of bones as it does to roast 5 or 10 lbs., you might as well go for the big bucket and make a few gallons of stock. Keep it in the freezer and use it over a few months until the next time you get crazed and decide to roast bones again.

I have not done this often enough to have any defensible advice on just what sort of bones you should roast. Oh, beef, for sure, but big ones, little ones, long ones, short ones, I don’t know. I’ve used them all and can’t tell the difference in the final stock. One time, I had just boned a chicken and threw those bones right in with the beef bones. Worked just fine. So I’d say, get whatever you can for as little cost as possible, and roast on . . .

Pre-heat your oven to around 400 - 425 ° F. Mine runs a little cool at those settings, so I use 425; if yours runs hot, go for 400 – you want to roast the bones, not char them.

Arrange the bones in one layer in a roasting pan and into the oven with them. Let ‘em cook for at least 1 ½ hours, two hours is ok, but no more at this point.

While the bones are in for the initial roasting, whack up some veggies. You don’t really need to trim them up, and be sure to leave the peel on the onions – it will add to the rich dark color of the final stock. Since celery has a very strong flavor, I use about 1 stalk of celery for every 4 carrots, and since my usual supply of onions are little ones, I use the same number of onions as carrots.

Brown Stock Veggies

In this case, I gave the veggies a little rub with some olive oil and then a light sprinkle of Tellicherry and coarse salt. But you don’t have to (and in a classic kitchen, might get yelled at for doing so – this is supposed to be a ‘base’ stock, with no distinct flavor of its own.)

So, after the bones have had their first roast:

Brown Stock Bones

toss in the veggies and stick the pan back in the oven for another hour. When they’re ‘done,’ you can begin the long part of this process . . .

Brown Stock Veggies & Bones

Transfer the roasted bones and veggies to your stockpot using a slotted spoon, so that any fat and drippings remain in the roasting pan.

Brown Stock Veggies & Bones in Stockpot

Next, pour all the liquid in the roasting pan into a cup to cool for a while. When you can handle it, store this ‘glace de viand’ (ok, rendered beef fat; ok, ok, ok, lard) in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Add sparingly to anything in a skillet for wonderful rich flavor.

Brown Stock glace de viand

Get the roasting pan, with all its beautiful brown bits back over some heat on the stove

Brown Stock Gramins

and pour in a cup or three of water to ‘deglaze’ the pan. Bring the liquid up to a boil, scraping all those goodies (‘gramins’ as Emeril would call them) off the bottom of the pan.

Brown Stock Pan Sauce

When you can ‘feel’ that the roasting pan is shiny clean under that pan sauce, add all that liquid gold to your stockpot, and then fill ‘er up with more water.

Brown Stock Cooking

By the way, always use cold water for cooking, especially for something like this. The cold water rule has much less to do with temperature than it does with purity. Running the water until it’s cold flushes out any of the soluble ‘crud’ lining your water pipes or lurking in your hot water tank, assuring that the water you’re using is as clean and pure as it can be in your house. Of course, if your tap water smells like a swimming pool, even after you’ve run it cold, consider cooking only with bottled water. The flavor of chlorine just does not enhance the flavor of anything else . . .

Now, bring that stockpot to a barely there simmer, and let it cook for at least 8 hours; 24 hours if you possibly can. This is where all your work so far becomes kitchen magic that will last for months (unless you’re feeding an army on a strict diet of vegetable beef soup or something!)

You can use high heat and a lid for the first 30 minutes or so, to overcome all that cold water, but don’t bring this to a boil. You’re trying to entice all the flavor out of the bones and veggies, not to scare it out of them! When you get a bare simmer going, make sure the lid stays cracked so that steam can gently waft away, concentrating the flavors as they are extracted. And do remember to check every now and then to make sure all the water hasn’t evaporated!

At some point, you’re going to declare ‘done!’ and remove all the bones and veggie remains from the stockpot. I usually do this with a slotted spoon, rather than trying to dump a 4 gallon pot of hot liquid and heavy thumping bones into a colander, but then, that’s just my approach to non-scalded body parts in the kitchen. You can make your own choice.

Once solid has been separated from liquid, strain the liquid through the finest mesh strainer you have. And then clean the strainer and strain again, pouring more slowly this time. You may be surprised at how much additional stuff you get on the second, slow, strain.

Now I usually split my stock into two portions. One will go into the refrigerator to cool overnight and eventually become classic brown stock for use in the next day or two. The other portion goes back on the stove to be reduced in volume by at least half, maybe two thirds, over the same barely there heat as before. This portion will become ‘demi glace,’ and will get frozen in ice cube trays for long term storage and use over the next few months.

When the classic stock has been chilled overnight, you’ll find a large mass of fat solidified on top.

Brown Stock Cooled

Use a thin knife or spreader or such to very gently cut around the edge of the fat and loosen it from the side of the pot. Then, slide a large spatula underneath, and using the knife or spreader to steady the top, lift the chilled fat out.

Brown Stock Fat Removed

I discard this slab. I won’t tell you what to do. . . Once the demi glace is reduced, it, too, will need to cool in the refrigerator, and have the fat removed. Then you can freeze the thick, jelly-like glace.

Brown Stock Demi Glace Cubes

Of course, if you have enough room in the refrigerator, you can cool the entire batch first, then remove the fat, and then separate the portions for various purposes.

When you’re done, you have a sizeable supply of wondrous basic stock to work with.


  1. Anonymous10:06 AM

    Hi Tommy, thanks for the information. I just made a version of this and am wondering what would be the best recipe to highlight my efforts. What do you enjoy using this for?

  2. Hi Anon.

    Glad you gave it a try!

    I use the frozen cubes in almost anything that involves beef and a sauce or gravy - even the last batch of beef with orange sauce that I did. It certainly goes with with pot roasts, roast beef, prime rib. Use it to expand and/or enhance the au jus from roast meats.

    And don't be afraid to 'cross-over;' add a cube to your roast chicken gravy or roast pork sauce. Use it as a base for a clear mushroom soup (and certainly mushroom sauces). Try adding it to the water in which you cook your rice or pasta; stew some potatoes in it; I've even used it in Italian style tomato sauces.

    The 'fresh' part makes a great base for onion soup, any sort of beef soup (with vegetables, noodles, rice, . . .) or stew.

    Like I've said from time to time, play with your food! You'll stumble across many a wondrous result . . .