Brown Beef Stock
When I mentioned to a friend on the phone the other day that I was making beef stock, there was silence on the line for a moment. Finally she responded, “Why? Doesn’t that take a long time?”
My reasons are simple. Besides the fact it’s the only way I can get stock made with local ingredients, the flavor of homemade stock is light years better than any commercial products I’ve tried.
Answering about whether stock takes a long time is more complicated. The answer is both yes and no. Yes, on the clock it takes many hours to make stock. However, nearly all of that time it’s simply simmering on the back of the stove. The time I spend actually working on the stock is around 45 minutes. I end up with about a gallon of richly flavored beef stock for the freezer. I could double or triple that amount without spending more time, but a gallon is a convenient amount for my purposes.
Making brown beef stock is all about extracting maximum flavor from soup bones, and complementing it with some herbs and simple vegetable flavors. Soup bones are typically either the vertebrae of a cow, or the shank (shin bone) cut into pieces. Ideally there will be some meat attached. Soup bones may be hard to find in grocery stores because most people don’t use them–another good reason to buy beef directly from a farm.
Stock making is simple. Here’s how I do it.
Assuming there is some meat on the bones, I first quickly sear them in a hot skillet, and then oven roast them for about an hour. The goal is a well browned exterior–flavor! Some of the fat will melt off during roasting, too.
While the bones roast, I chop vegetables for the mirepoix. Mirepoix is a basic vegetable mixture traditionally made using a ratio of about half chopped onion, one quarter chopped carrots, and one quarter chopped celery. The vegetables used can vary according to your personal taste, though, or according to what’s in season and what you have in your refrigerator. For instance, for the batch of stock I made for this article, I had some extra tomatillos on hand but no celery, so I made a mirepoix of onions, carrots, and tomatillos. If you choose to use a different vegetable, try to avoid anything bitter or strongly flavored. Also, I never omit the onions. Mirepoix provides flavors that enhance the beef flavor–it shouldn’t overpower.
I also prepare an herb bundle. If you’re using fresh herbs, you can tie the stalks together. If you’re using dried herbs, cut a piece of cheesecloth (2-3 layers), put the herbs in the center, and tie the edges together around them.
After the roasting is done, I move the bones to a stock pot for the next step. However, some of the goodness will be left in the bottom of the roasting pan. We want no flavor left behind, so after pouring off the fat for later use, the pan is deglazed with a little water. “Deglazing” is the process of using a little liquid and a wooden spoon to scrape loose any bits stuck to the bottom. The deglazing liquid then goes into the stockpot with the bones, and more water.
While the water comes to a boil, I saute the mirepoix in a skillet with the saved fat until it carmelizes and is browned. Then I add chopped heirloom tomatoes and cook for another 5-10 minutes. The mirepoix mixture and herb bundle are then added to the stockpot.
That’s it! Once the pot starts to boil, I turn the heat down to low and walk away for 6-8 hours. When the cooking time is over, I pour the stock through a strainer, cool it, and freeze it. Job done.
You may be tempted to save some of the meat, but trust me–there’s no flavor left. Also, note the absence of salt in the recipe below. I sometimes put a small pinch of salt on the mirepoix as it sautes to help the veggies release their flavors. Other than that, no salt is added. The finished beef stock will be used as a foundation flavor in a soup or other recipe. Seasoning should be added then.
- 5 lbs. beef soup bones (Second Wind Farm, Everson)
- 1 gal. cold water
- 10 oz. chopped onions (Full Bloom Farm, Lummi Island)
- 5 oz. chopped carrots (Full Bloom Farm, Lummi Island)
- 5 oz. chopped tomatillos (friend's garden, Lummi Island)
- 8 oz. chopped sauce tomatoes (Full Bloom Farm, Lummi Island)
- tiny pinch dried habanero pepper (friend's garden, Lummi Island)
- Herb bundle:
- ½ tsp dried thyme (Half Acre Farm u-pick, Ferndale)
- 2 Tbsp dried parsley (friend's garden, Lummi Island)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Meanwhile, sear the bones in a skillet over medium high heat. Brown all sides.
- Put the browned bones into a roasting pan in a single layer, and put into the oven to roast for about an hour, turning occasionally. Be careful they don't burn on the bottom. Use more than one pan, if necessary to keep from crowding the bones.
- Move roasted soup bones to a large stockpot.
- Pour off the fat and save for later. Deglaze the roasting pan(s) with about a cup of the water. Add deglazing mixture to the stockpot along with the rest of the water and the herb bundle tied in cheesecloth. Bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer.
- Saute mirepoix ingredients in reserved fat until well browned. Add the chopped sauce tomatoes and habanero. Saute another 5-10 minutes until tomatoes soften and release their juices. Add all to stockpot.
- Simmer for 6-8 hours.
- Strain through cheesecloth or fine strainer and chill the stock. Can be frozen for later use.
Brown Beef Stock can be used as the basis of many other recipes, such as Squash Cider Soup. It can also be used to add a flavorful liquid to a recipe instead of plain water.
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad and Chestnut, Bellingham
Friend’s garden, Lummi Island
Full Bloom Farm, Centerview and Tuttle, Lummi Island
Half Acre Farm U-pick at Boxx Berry Farm, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale
Second Wind Farm (Paul Chudek), Everson