A series of conflicting emotions and thoughts have been running through my head this week. They include: joy, gratitude, panic, exhaustion, elation, and the constant, silent, internal scream of "help!" I'd be very, very concerned about my sanity if I hadn't experienced this strange emotional series before. It was the same way I felt with the last four cookbooks I undertook writing, researching, and eventually publishing. And, that's where I gratefully am once again.
The next book will be about sauces: classic French sauces with accompanying recipes for putting them to use in readers' kitchens. Yesterday, I began the first round of recipe testing for the basis of many reduction and classic French sauces, stocks, or "fonds," as they're called in French. Instantly, I was transported back to my training days in France at Le Cordon Bleu and in professional Parisian kitchens. As I was adjusting the temperature of the beef stock, Chef Renee's voice was echoing in my ear, "Il faut pas troubler la sauce, Holly." Or, as I was skimming the fat off the top of the chicken stock, another joked (in slightly more foggy French), not to over-skim or there would be nothing left.
That's one of the things I love most about cooking. It's constantly transporting me to other times and places and loved ones, even as I'm completely immersed in the moment. Naturally, with this book these memories will largely be about France, one of my most favorite places on the planet.
There, sauces are so revered you're encouraged to sop them up with bread and drink them with wine. Oui!
Many sauces begin or end with a stock, fumet, or bouillion. Of these, there are many kinds, but the one I want to address here is a beef stock. The essence of this stock is the flavor derived from meat, bones, vegetables, tomato, wine, and an herb bundle called a bouquet garni. They're quick to put together, but the best are cooked very slowly over many hours (3 to 5) to pull out the rich flavor and color. Getting good roasted color and flavor on the beef bones, beef, and veggies is the most important first step. I do this by beginning the sear on the stove and finishing with a good roasting in a hot, 500ºF oven. Finally, this is de-glazed with a good red wine (I used Merlot), reduced, and returned to the stock pan with enough water to just cover the whole mixture.
This is brought up to a boil and reduced to an extremely gentle, uncovered simmer. The water should barely be moving on the top of the stock and there is no stirring required or even suggested. This is the part Chef Renee was talking about, not "troubling" the sauce. If it gets stirred and addled, the proteins and fats start working their way through the mixture, which can lead to a cloudy, murky stock and ultimately, sauce. The only thing you really need to do from here is set up a medium bowl with cold water and a shallow ladle near your stove top. Once the stock comes up to its initial boil (then simmer!) it will produce a lot of foam and fat skin on top. This needs to be removed with the ladle, rinsing it in the water as you go. After that, skimming is only required about every 30 minutes. This is an excellent time to grab a book and soak in the gorgeous aromas coming from your kitchen.
Sure, in today's world we can find good-quality "stocks in a box" and gourmet quality demi-glace, but nothing replaces the slow, steady, fragrant simmer of a homemade stock.
Classic Beef Stock
(Yields about 8-10 cups)
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs butter
2 pounds beef marrow bones
1½ pounds bone-in beef short ribs
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
2 large stalks celery, cut into 2"-lengths
1 large leek, well-cleaned and rinsed, cut into 2"-lengths
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2"-lengths
2 TBS tomato pasted
1 cup full-bodied red (suggest a good quality Cabernet or Merlot)
14 cups cold water
3 cloves garlic, peeled
Bouquet Garni—several sprigs thyme, parsley, and 2 bay leaves tied in a bundle
Preheat oven to 500ºF. In a large, heavy-bottomed roasting pan, heat olive oil and butter together over medium-high heat on the stove top (Note: You may need to use two burners). When sizzling, add the bones and short ribs all at once. Season very lightly with a dash of salt and freshly ground pepper (Note: This is forbidden classically, but I like to give the bones a tiny jump start on seasoning—very, very light on the salt). Allow to brown on the side-down, then stir to toss the bones and beef to brown remaining sides, about 10 minutes. Add the onion, celery, leek, and carrots and sauté together for about 5 minutes.
Put the roasting pan in the preheated oven and roast another 10 minutes. Once the color is starting to become a rich golden brown (like in the picture above), add the tomato paste and stir in to combine. Roast another 10 minutes or so, until the bones are a deep golden brown, but not burned.
Remove from the oven. Deglaze by pouring the wine over the hot meat and veggies, stirring to pick up any brown bits. Reduce the wine to half its quantity over high heat on the stove top. Pour all of the ingredients into an 8-quart stock pot or Dutch Oven. Add the cold water (just enough to cover), garlic, peppercorns, and bouquet garni. Bring up to a boil and reduce to a very gentle simmer, following "skimming" advice provided above.
Simmer for at least 3 and up to 5 hours. Strain through a strainer, and later a finer strainer (Chinois) if any solids made it through the first pass. Stock will store well in the freezer for several months and in the refrigerator for up to one week. It's best to store it in containers that correlate with the size batches you will need in the future on an as-need basis.
(Note: Do NOT waste the flavorful beef on the short ribs. It will be fall off the bone tender. Pull it off, when cool enough. I tossed mine with a little barbecue sauce and had it with a salad for dinner. Amazing! You can share one of the bones with your dog if you like. Mine was very, very happy I did. The cat was not.)
(Main photo courtesy of Zester Daily)