January 15, 2011

Beef Stock

Earlier in our marriage, before we had kids, when we lived in a small apartment in Sacramento, a relative gave us a set of three large stock pots.  It was one of those gifts that, when we opened it, I had to keep the what-the-heck-am-I-supposed-to-do-with-this-lousy-gift-look off of my face.  Having no where else to store them, we kept them in the closest off of the patio, digging one out once, to make Corned Beef and Cabbage to serve 12 people on St Patricks Day.

Three moves later I have no idea where those stock pots are, but I have the answer to what-the-heck-am-I-supposed-to-do-with-this?  Duh, make stock.

The largest pot I have is an 8-quart pasta pot.  It's the right size for boiling spaghetti, or making a large batch of soup or marmalade, but it turned out it be a bit small for Julia Child's Beef Stock.


This is the time of year at the farmers market that reminds us how blessed we are to live in Upstate California.  Sure, it was freezing cold earlier this week, with lows in the upper 20s and highs in the low 40s, but today it is suddenly 60º and beautiful.  The perfect weather for meeting a friend and strolling through the market (even if that friend bought only a single Granny Smith apple, because she's leaving town tomorrow).  The farmers market this morning was full of wonderful produce: apples, a great variety of citrus fruits (mandarins, lemons, navel oranges, valencia oranges and blood oranges), kiwi fruit, hachiya persimmons (the larger ones that are eaten when soft), leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, cabbage and broccoli, all kinds of beautiful winter squash, beets, carrots, turnips, leeks, celery, parsley, cilantro (!!),  almonds, walnuts and pistachios... I was even able to find some nice red onions at the booth on the northernmost corner of the market (the one that sells honey and all kinds of flavored almonds).


I make chicken stock every so often, and I've made shrimp stock a time or two, but I can't say that I remember ever making beef stock before.  This past week though, as I planned next week's menu with the cold creeping into our drafty little house, I planned a couple different soups: French Onion Soup, which relies not only on onions, but also on a good beef stock; and a flavorful Black Bean & Pumpkin Soup from Smitten Kitchen, which calls for beef stock as well.  Oh, and I'm also planning to make a Beef Chili...

Beef Stock

Adapted from Julia Child via food.com and unofficialcook
Makes 3 to 4 quarts
If your stock won't be used within three days, portion it out into reasonable amounts and freeze.

The original recipe calls for 2 carrots and 3 ribs of celery.  Since carrots and celery from the farmers market tend to be shorter than their conventional counterparts, I've increased the portions slightly.

Leeks are notoriously difficult to clean.  In this preparation, where you want the leeks in fairly large pieces, trim the root end off, and cut the leek in half approximately where it changes from white to green.  Then, on the white end, make one clean, straight cut right down the center toward the root, leaving about 2 inches at the root-end uncut.  Rinse both halves under cold water carefully separating out the layers and rubbing them with your fingers to clean out the dirt and grit.

The color of your stock will vary based on how much meat is on your bones and on how much you brown them.  For the lightest-colored stock, skip the oven-browning in Step 1, and use well-trimmed beef bones such as marrow bones (have your butcher crack them and, after boiling, dig out the marrow to top a perfectly cooked steak), or even those sold for use as dog bones (check with your butcher first to be sure they are safe for human consumption).  For a darker stock, use bones with some meat still attached (such as shank) and brown them thoroughly in the oven (but be careful not to burn them). 

4 lbs beef bones, with or without meat attached.
2 onions, peeled and quartered
3 carrots, peeled and broken in half
3-5 ribs of celery including leaves, broken into a few pieces
2 leeks, green and white parts, trimmed and cleaned well
a 6" sprig of thyme, rinsed
2 bay leaves
2-3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
2 whole cloves
8 peppercorns
Kosher salt to taste, about a tablespoon

1.  Heat oven to 400º.  Spread beef bones on a rimmed baking sheet.  Bake, turning once of twice until evenly browned, about 30-40 minutes.

2.  Place bones in stock pot and cover by about 2 inches with cold, filtered water.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Be careful not to let it come to a full boil.  Depending on your stove and the size of your pot, this may take a while.  When water has come to a boil, skim off any scum that has risen to the surface.

3.  Add vegetables and seasonings, except salt.  Add more water to cover and bring to a simmer.  Partially cover and reduce heat to keep the pot at a very gentle simmer.  Simmer, checking the water level occasionally and adding more to cover the ingredients if necessary, for 4 to 5 hours.

4.  Strain the stock, add salt to taste, and let chill overnight.  Remove the fat that solidifies on top of the stock.  Reserve the fat for another use if you like.   Use or freeze stock within 3 days.


  1. Great story, Maria. Nice intro...

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I am planning to make stock this week, your article is well timed. I usually don't roast the bones well, this time I will dedicate around 40 minutes or so as you suggest