The other day I bought a carton of chicken stock in the supermarket. Waiting in line and reading the back of the carton, I learned that stock had been manufactured by this particular American family since before the dawning of civilization using a time-honored secret technique of boiling stuff, and so on, and that stock is an essential first step for all good soups, stews, and sauces. And then I came upon the line emphasized in boldface:
“But who has the time to make stock from scratch?”
Presumably the kind of person who doesn’t believe cooking itself to be a waste of time. It is true that making stock cuts into the time you could spend, say, watching the new DVD release of Ally McBeal, but of all the things you could ‘waste time’ cooking, stock is one of the easiest and most rewarding. Far from taking too much time, stock saves time. You don’t have to peel the carrots, you don’t even have to peel the onions. You just hack lots of vegetables up with a big knife and throw them in the pot. What better way to spend your valuable time? How much more fun can you have?
John Thorne makes the point (in Outlaw Cook) that stock made from supermarket ingredients kind of defeats the point. Originally, stock was made from the oldest, toughest farmyard animals – the ones at the end of their lifetime, full of élan vital and worldly experience, which, since they were too tough to eat any other way, were transformed into broth so one could partake of their health-giving powers. A shrink-wrapped eight-week old chicken breast isn’t going to contain the same magic, nor deep flavor. But beef stock, well, you can’t really beat a marrow bone for flavor, no matter how old the critter.
Start with about 3lb beef bones, sawn into 2” lengths. You can usually find them at the butcher, and don’t worry if they are labeled as dog bones. I guarantee you, they are not dog.
Put the bones in a roasting pan with a little oil or fat, and roast in a 400° oven for an hour. After that hour, add:
I large yellow onion
and let it roast for another hour. Don’t bother to peel the vegetables, just roughly chop them up and throw them in. Shake them around occasionally to make sure they are caramelizing, not burning black.
After everything is richly caramelized, put it all in a stock pot on the stove top. Rinse out the roasting pan with cold water, scraping up any black sticky bits, and add it to the pot, using about 12 cups of water in all. (This is also known as three quarts. I try and remember that conversion by thinking that ‘quart’ is derived from ‘quarter,’ and ‘quarter’ has a four in it, a handy mnemonic that works about as well as all my other handy mnemonics.)
Chop a couple of sticks of celery and add that. Add very little salt, a bay leaf, and some peppercorns. Simmer, covered, for about three hours. After that, strain it into a smaller pot, and reduce it to about 6 cups. Then put the pot in the refrigerator. The next day all the fat will have solidified on top and can be removed like a suet Frisbee, which is fun.
One of the best things you can do with beef stock is make risotto, which is a perfect showcase for its depth and punch. It’s easy to make, but labor intensive, as all my favorite recipes are.
1 yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
½ cup grated parmigiano cheese
1 small beet
beef stock, simmering in a separate pot
Start by softening the onion and garlic in butter and olive oil. Since the aim of risotto is to be creamy, don’t hold back on the butter. When the onions are just beginning to brown, tip all the rice in and mix it around. You want to get a fine coating of oil over each grain, which will then become translucent except for the white germ at its heart. It’s important to use Arborio rice for this because of its high starch content.
Deglaze the pan with white wine. As soon as the wine has all boiled off and the rice is getting dry, start adding the beef stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring the rice around until it has been absorbed. Keep adding stock and stirring. It is this constant massaging of the grains that releases the starches in the surface of the rice and provides risotto with the creaminess it is famous for.
Add the beet, diced, soon after you have started adding stock. It has to be diced fairly small so that it will cook in time. (I think next time I make this, I will try it with the beet grated, not diced.) If your stock is not salty enough, you will need to add salt, too, but wait until the rice is about half cooked so it can absorb it. I used Hawaiian pink sea salt. What kind of wanker uses Hawaiian pink sea salt, I hear you ask? The kind who just happens to live two blocks from a Hawaiian salt importer, is your answer.
It will probably take at least half an hour to be done. When the rice is still al dente, mix in the grated cheese and stir it around.
I served this with lobster tails. Lobsters are awesome because they are like the Transformers of food: you can curl them into a ball and let them uncoil.
It’s easy to cook a lobster tail. With a pair of scissors, snip along the length of the undershell. Cut through the meat, and crack the back shell so the lobster is butterflied. You will need to stick a skewer up one side of it to prevent it curling up when cooking. Grill this under the boiler until the meat is opaque, about eight minutes. Drizzle with melted butter.