If you need a dry and rational way to think of making stocks, sauces, preserves, or say...infused oils or garlic confit, let me propose that you look at them as an investment. Be pragmatic and hardnosed about it! Making such things can take many hours (if not days or say, weeks in some cases), cost a little, and have no “meal” end-result. That can be disconcerting, but think again- you not making a meal but rather an investment with some very significant upside. One that is exponentially more valuable than the individual parts. Take some risks and actually make ahead of time what a recipe calls for- preserved lemons that take 1 month to cook for a lamb meatball recipe, fine! It will take some sacrifice and discipline- as most investment do! Do it. Reap the benefit multiple times over later. You do have to be patient and follow the (recipe) book. Then cash in.
If you don't need the investment rationalization that is even better,welcome to my world! I think about making these things as building blocks and generally just a great pastime watching simple ingredients turn into incredible creations.
Cooking is a matter of attitude. If you want quick, there are quick options, but they will likely not be complex and multifaceted. Nothing wrong with that. My salads are generally quick and simple- butter lettuce, salt, olive oil, and fresh lemon juice. If I feel like I should spice it up, I might shave a little lemon zest in. Simple and quick is great.
There is a time and a place for quick and simple and there is a time for intricate and time-consuming. However, there is never a time or a place for white collar cooking crimes- i.e. cutting corners and polluting perfectly good things with what I refer to as “shortcuts”- i.e. boxed stocks, sauces, and the like. This in-between and compromise of using store-bought stocks/sauces/etc is usually a sham that lessens the end result of your cooking. It very much like the a Wall Street Banker trading in credit swap derivatives- not actually taking the time to make it right Don’t be a Wall Street Chef—and have the integrity to do it right.
Whether you think of making these as building blocks or a wise investment, there are also serious health benefits that go along with “do-it yourself “stock, sauce, preserve. Call me neurotic, a major benefit of cooking at home is that I get to know what goes in my body and what I am feeding my family and friends. I love salt, but find sodium in boxed stock to be a serious health hazard precisely because you are not exactly aware of what and how much extraneous stuff goes in it. Plus, there is something deeply disturbing about say chicken stock sitting on an unrefrigerated shelf at a grocery store for years! Preservatives. Aside from being neurotic about what I ingest and feed to those I love, there is the bigger issue- taste! The store-bought stuff simply can’t resemble what you make at home in flavor, taste, and overall quality.
I realize that some (or more realistically all) of my recipes are the opposite of 7 easy dinners or quick family meals. I mean, I like it. I like watching veal bones come to a simmer slowly and then look at them under a surge of cold water that removes impurities. I like gazing at lamb bones while they roast and turn into great dark colors only to release their attractive brown tint into what is to become lamb jus. Aside from the pleasure I take from the act of making these things, there is yet another consideration that keeps me from cutting corners- making that …other recipe that this one leads to.
More than once I laughed at some of these recipes. Maybe smile is a better word than laugh…it was never that surprising that every Thomas Keller recipe will have in it some sort of sauce, confit, preserve that will take more to make than the actual recipe. It makes me smile. Don’t write off the extra steps as “complicated” but think of it as attention to detail- every single detail that composes a fantastic final dish that will awaken all of your senses.
I will offer an example of one of these 3 steppers - the Bouchon skirt steak…yes, this one.
Recipe on this will follow.
The Skirt Steak recipe seemed easy and straightforward- except for one ingredient, red wine jus. How hard can it be? I reference the red wine jus and realize that it requires veal stock. Now we’re talking something like this (1) make veal stock, (2) make red wine jus, (3) make the recipe you had in mind for dinner- here, the skirt steak. Those couple of extra steps can be impossible if you already bought your meat an were planning on doing this immediately. This is where planning and reading a recipe all the way through pays off. I didn’t have the steak.
And, I made the stock, then the jus, then the skirt steak. And it was worth every second of the process. And on the bright side- I had enough leftover veal stock to use to make the Bouchon beef bourguignon (MMMMMM! I can hardly wait for that one!!!!) and enough red wine jus to keep making that skirt steak 6 more times. And to add to my joy, I was able to share half a cup of this red wine sauce with my best friend- I bet she will still make veal stock- it just won’t be for red wine sauce.
So in the “investment/building blocks” category, I want to share with you the beautiful Bouchon Veal Stock- my version of it. This is a dark veal stock but not because of the bones being roasted but because of tomatoes and tomato paste. In other words- no roasting bones.
5 lbs veal bones;
1 cup (8 oz) tomato paste
6 oz carrots (about 2 large carrots or 1 1/4 cup) cut into 1 inch chunks
4 oz (one large or 2 smaller) yellow onions cut into quarters8 oz leeks (probably 3 leeks) cut into 1 inch chunks (only use the white and light green part of the leek)
half a head of garlic (cut one head of garlic horizontally -save the other half for another use- break the half you are using into pieces, root ends and excess skins removed)
18-20 large springs of parsley (Italian flat leaf is more flavorful)
18-20 springs of thyme
2 bay leaves
8 ounce diced tomatoes- probably about 3-4 roma tomatoes
[Well, if you didn’t ask yourself already, you are not paying attention- where do you get veal bones? This is a very legitimate question because grocery stores or even specialty butcheries simply don’t sell them. I am not trying to discourage you, but rather giving a warming- you don’t want to run from store to store looking for this because changes are you won’t fin them. My suggestion is talk to your local (for more likely success- small independent) butcher. If he can’t bring them in for you, he probably can tell you about someone else who could. Tap into your food friends and connections to figure out where can you score these bones at a reasonable price. One other mistake to avoid- veal osso bucco- too expensive and unnecessarily so. I would make a push to get the real veal bones and I advice you get 10 pounds while you are at it. No need to make both the same day- you can freeze half and no need to make this exact veal stock twice either- there is a white veal stock recipe I absolutely love and will share soon. ]
Rinse the bones in cold water and place them in a large stock pot. Fill with cold water ideally twice as much water as the bones, but I doubt that you have this big of a pot.
Slowly bring the water to a simmer to bring the impurities from the bones to the surface. Don't stir but do gently move the bones around to help with the removal of impurities. Skim.
When the liquid comes to a simmer, remove from heat, drain in a large colander and rinse the bones (while still hot!) with cold water to further remove impurities.
Clean your stock pot and return the bones to it. Add (ideally) 6 quarts of water- but don’t stress if your pot is not this big. The end result should be 2 quarts of stock- so keep that in mind and adjust while cooking so you end up with this quantity. This is NOT a lot- is is half a gallon, but it is beautiful!
Gently bring to a simmer over a low-medium heat and keep on skimming. This will probably take around an hour depending on how much water you added.
When it simmers, stir in the tomato paste, then the remaining ingredients, bring back to simmer and let it be for 4 hours. Read a book, reply to some emails, watch the Olympics (wait, that is over), but do return from time to time to...well, skim again. Keep your eye on the prize- the quantity you want to end up with- 2 quarts and add water during these 4 hours if needed.
After 4 hours, remove from the heat. Allow to cool - maybe in an ice bath but not necessarily.
Strain the stock. The recipe recommends straining first through a colander, then a chinois or fine-mesh strainer. I strained it three times through a fine mesh strainer and that seemed to get rid of impurities. The quality and beautiful appearance of the stock you get depends a lot on how you strain in. If you ladle it out, the cloudiest part of the stock will remain on the bottom of the pot and you can easily discard it. If, however, you pour it, the cloudy part will come tumbling down with the rest of your stock.
A non-cloudy, properly strained stock has a vibrant reddish-brownish color that is rich and very appealing.
Clean out your stock pot- again. Return the stock to the pot and reduce, if needed, to 2 quarts.
Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze (preferably in smaller containers) for longer storage.
4 cups is a good size- 2 could be even better.
You can make this and it will be worth the investment. And when you make it, you must let me know how it comes out!
P.S. For some reason, I was not good about taking pictures this time. Oops. Hope the explanation was clear enough to make you visualize :-)