In the last two and half years I have had four major abdominal surgeries and was diagnosed with Celiac disease. This combination of medical issues has forced me to slow down in all aspects of my life. I am finding I love that silver lining; I love that it has taught me that I will heal more quickly, if I just slow down first. I’ve starting slowing down and allowing myself some time to heal. I am even allowing myself to do things that I never thought I’d have time for. Like visiting a nursery on a snowy morning and breathing in the fragrance of the beautiful flowers in their greenhouse, or spontaneously stopping by a used book store I had driven by dozens of times, and yet never noticed until now, and spending time to just browse, or joining a full-blown snowball fight the neighbor kids were having, or spending all day making beef stock.
If you do have any sensitivity to wheat or gluten you will understand hard difficult grocery shopping can be. It is especially difficult to find gluten-free chicken or beef broth, or any broth for that matter. Yes, they do exist, but even if a product is labeled “gluten-free” it still may contain gluten. For example, I recently found a Kroger brand chicken broth and the front of the package was labeled “gluten-free” and then the back stated “may contain wheat”. Hmmm. That resulted in a lot of research. Lots of phone calls to customer service, many wasted cell phone minutes on hold, and many vague, unsatisfying answers. Sigh. There is a brand that I trust to be gluten-free but it is expensive. And that’s just it, gluten-free broth, or any store-bought broth is expensive, and now I am on a tight budget. And so the thought finally occurred to me that maybe I should just suck it up and make my own darn broth! And so I did.
The only thing I knew about making stock was from watching my mother. But apparently I didn’t remember very much because all I could remember was after my mother would roast a chicken, she would throw it in a pot with water, and a bunch of other stuff (why didn’t I pay more attention? oh yeah, because it wasn’t a dessert . . .) and it somehow magically made stock. How long had it taken her? and really, what had she thrown in that huge stock pot? Oh, that reminds me, I actually have a stock pot that I received as a wedding present, and now I will be someone who used a stock pot to . . . make stock!! Ok, back to figuring out how to make it. . . We sure had a lot of meat left from the side of beef we got from my in-laws place, fondly referred to as the “Cow Palace”. So I dug around our deep freeze out in the garage. I grinned as I realized that pre-celiac diagnosis the freezer used to be my husband’s place to store wild game he had hunted and beef from the ‘Cow Palace’, but now, post-celiac diagnosis, his meat was pushed back to make room for gluten-free breads, waffles and my bulk flours! I dug to the bottom and surfaced with a package of beef soup bones. Well, I could start by making beef soup, maybe it would be good practice for making stock. . .
I called my mother-in-law to ask how to prepare beef soup with the bones. After listening to her instructions it sure sounded like the soup would take a long time. I asked if she thought it would take more than an hour. She sounded startled and then I think she realized how clueless I really was about using soup bones and clarified I should start it in the morning and let it simmer all day. Wait, all day to make just soup? She then laughed and said that I probably wouldn’t be able to make the soup until the next day. She explained the best method is to strain the stock after it is done simmering and then refrigerate overnight to allow the fat to separate. Oh, she referred to it as stock! Then it dawned on me; day one was just making the stock. They should be called “stock bones”, not soup bones! As I would come to find out, the very essence of a meat stock is to use the bones.
I’m a little embarrassed that I am so naive about this stock stuff, especially since I grew up in a household with wonderful made-from-scratch cooking. Even though I always loved being in the kitchen, I was always much more interested in the baking, especially the desserts. Then when I got married to a meat-and-potato-guy, our arrangement in the kitchen seemed to work pretty well; my husband handled the meat (and potatoes), and I did all the baking. It was a win-win situation. So basically this ‘cooking’ from scratch is a little new to me. I do feel better though when in talking with my other friends I have discovered that a lot of us have settled into a routine of meals based on pre-cooked and pre-packaged things. A few friends have asked how I made beef stock, so here goes!
If you have never made beef stock and want to challenge yourself to make some, whether for health, to save some money, or to have guaranteed gluten-free stock, (or if you just want to entertained by my revolutionary discoveries) read on . . .
Here’s my mirepoix for the stock. Even though my mother-in-law explained exactly how to make stock, I still needed to look it up. Yes I will admit I do enjoy researching and I scored some great recipes for making homemade stock. It is also how I learned what mirepoix was. Similar to my reaction to learning how simple ganache was when I made it as a topping for my caramel brownies, I was pleased to find that the fancy french word simply meant a mix of chopped onions, carrots and celery. One definition went on to explain that the mix is a 2:1:1 ratio in weight of onions to carrots to celery.
I also added garlic, thyme, rosemary, slightly crushed peppercorns, and two bay leaves. I allowed it to simmer about 10 hours. You can do it in less time, but I was around the house anyways, plus the first few hours I struggled finding the perfect temperature setting on my lovely electric stove. The ideal temp is above 180°F, but below boiling point (which at my house is about 200°F, but at sea level is 212°). One recipe I read mentioned looking for occasional bubbles to surface and then you know you are at the correct temp. Every time I made an adjustment I had to wait for the electric rings to heat up or cool down, and then had to wait for the 8 quarts of stock to adjust as well.
That night I allowed it to cool enough to pour into containers and then into the fridge.
This is what the stock looked like the next morning, with the firm layer of fat nicely separated from the stock. I was surprise how light-colored the stock was and read that to make a darker colored stock I would have needed to add tomato paste.
Once I scraped the fat off with a spoon, there were still bits of fat floating around, so my husband helped me strain the stock one more time. The night prior I had just used the metal strainer, but one of the recipes featured a photo of the author using cheesecloth for the final strain and since I had some cheesecloth (from making frozen yogurt) I used it!
And here is the final product that I had to freeze. It made 4 quarts total. I love the Ball brand 16 oz freezer containers I found at Wal-Mart (later I saw them at Ace Hardware too). The glass jars work fine too, you just want to make sure the broth is cool enough when you pour it in and make sure to leave adequate space at the top to allow the liquid to expand as it freezes. One recipe says to try to use the broth within 3-4 weeks of freezing before it will start to lose its flavor. I left one large jar out to put in the fridge so I could make beef soup the next day.
If you are wondering what the difference between stock and broth is, (and I tend to use them interchangeably), click here to read about the technical difference.