I never gave much thought to stocks – either the kind that make money or the kind that make soups.  For cooking it always seemed convenient enough to just purchase stock in a can at the grocery store.  If I was making something special I’d spring for the “free-range” or “grass fed” version.  Eventually, however, I took the plunge and make a chicken stock from scratch. After one bite I’ll never go back to the can!

Homemade stocks are not easy, they are not cheap, and they certainly take a big chunk of the day, but they are worth every second and penny.  If you are making a soup or braising meat or vegetables and use homemade stocks, the end result will taste dramatically different.

To make a good homemade stock it’s important to pay careful attention to the main ingredient: bones. If making a beef stock, try for a high concentration of leg bones (these contain the most marrow which in turn adds a tremendous amount of flavoring) and neck bones. You’ll also want to think more about what kind of cow the bones came from.  The better fed, raised, etc the cow, the better the stock will taste. Trust me, you’re about to spend 6+ hours creating it – you won’t want to skimp.

The cooking process itself is fairly simple.  Slowly cook bones, mirepoix, and spices in water.  You want to gently simmer the mixture.  If you boil instead of simmer, your stock will be cloudy.  Here’s the key, from a chef friend of mine:

A simmer is an intimate gathering, more than just you and your spouse, but less than a party and certainly not a frat house on a Saturday night!  Maintaining an intimate gathering in your stockpot is critical to a good outcome.

Ready to make the leap? Read on!

Homemade Beef Stock adapted from Ad Hoc by Thomas Keller
Makes roughly 3 1/2 quarts
Use within 3 days or freeze

You will need:
~ 2 tbsp canola oil
~ 5 lbs beef bones (leg or neck, cut into 2 to 3 inch sections if your butcher will)
~ 2 small Spanish onions
~ ½ teaspoon kosher salt
~ 1 large carrot peeled
~ 1 large leek, cut in half length-wise and cleaned thoroughly
~ a few thyme sprigs
~ a few parsley sprigs
~ 3 bay leaves
~ ¼ teaspoons black peppercorns
~ ½ head garlic, cut through the equator

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.  Place a large roasting pan (I used a baking sheet with a 1-inch lip) in the oven to preheat for 10 minutes.   Coat the pan with 1 tbsp oil and spread out bones on the pan.  Roast for 45 minutes, turning halfway through.  All of the sides should brown.

While the bones are roasting, cut 1 of the onions in half and heat a small sauté pan over medium-high heat for a few minutes.  Add the onion cut side down (towards a side of the pan so its not directly over the flame).  Allow the onion to burn and blacken for 30 minutes.  Set aside when done.  This is what gives the stock a wonderful brown color.

When the bones are done roasting, turn down the oven to 400 degrees.  Drain the bones in a large colander and drain the fat from the roasting pan.  Add one cup of water to the pan and deglaze (use a metal spatula to scrape up the black bits on the bottom of the pan over medium heat).

Place the bones into a large stockpot and add the water and black bits from the roasting pan.  Add enough cold water to slightly cover the bones.  Skim off any fat and then add the blackened onion.  Simmer over medium heat for 5 hours.  Make sure to skim off any fat that rises throughout the simmering process.

Cut the rest of the onions into quarters and slice the carrot into 1-inch pieces. Place the vegetables in a roasting pan and toss with 1 tbsp oil.  Roast the vegetables for 20 minutes or until caramelized.

After 5 hours of simmering and skimming, add the roasted vegetables, thyme, parsley, bay, peppercorns, and garlic to the stock.  Simmer for another hour and then let cool for 10 minutes.

To transfer the stock you first need to cool it fast first.  Make an ice bath and place a large bowl (make sure it can hold the stock) inside.  Add a colander to the large bowl and ladle the stock into through the colander and into the large bowl.  Toss the bones and extra vegetables away.

Strain the stock again, but with a fine mesh colander lined with a cheesecloth.

Viola!  You are done.  If you have more than 3 ½ quarts, then add the stock to a saucepan and simmer to reduce.  You can freeze this for a long time, but make sure to use it within 3 days if you plan to put it in the fridge.