January 5, 2008
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of ten pounds or so of assorted veal and chicken bones must be in want of a stock.* However little known this necessity may be to such a man upon acquiring this meaty goodness, this truth is so fixed in the minds of food bloggers that stock is considered the rightful end result.
Bones like this; bones in this quantity.
And why not, I say? Stocks are delicious, economical, and sensible. Say you, Gentle Reader, roast a chicken. Now pretend that, having roasted the chicken, you have eaten it, and now its bones grace your table like the ribs of a half-finished yacht. Don’t throw that out, Reader! Don’t be a fool; make a stock. Some water, some bones, a cover and a couple hours, then some aromatic vegetables sometime later for not-that-long, and you’ve got delicious wonder.
Stock is your friend. It is everywhere, and making your own saves a lot of money. Now, I’m not advising Thriftiness Above All Things; Ruth Reichl, for example, says, “never buy meat on clearance”, or something to that effect. Trust this woman. Cheap meat means cheap fresh meat; stews are your friends, too, if you handle tough meat in a sensible way. A chuck roast is not a tournedo of beef. Consider, if you will, the difference between a soufflé and a fruitcake, at least in their stereotypical depictions. You can kick around a chuck roast much like you could a fruitcake. Be nice to your squishy meat; whisper to your tenderloin and don’t play the trumpet when it’s on the grill, because it’ll cave in (I’m kidding. Soufflés don’t do that, either). But treat your rough meat rough to get that flavor out. But not that rough. Low and slow; low heat, slow cooking. This is probably conventional wisdom.
This leads us to demi-glace, which is about as low and slow as it gets. Ever made a brisket that takes three days to cook? I didn’t think so.
Over break, Dad and I made demi-glace, which is sort of like the deoxyribonucleic acid of classical French cuisine. It is, put simply, the meatiest thing you will ever not taste. … What? you say, perplexed. Demi-glace is a very subtle flavor-enhancing stock base. It doesn’t hit you in the head with a side of beef. It is a dark, almost nutty flavor.
I am no recipe-developer of great repute, and I don’t think something like demi-glace is something I’m French enough to alter. I used Jacques Pépin’s recipe from his omnibus La Technique et La Méthode cookbook.
I present it here, permit the pun, in a bare-bones version. … Sorry.
Begin by roasting your bones in the oven for about 45 minutes at 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Take the bones out and flip them; fat and marrow will have rendered off and out of the bones and your house is gonna start to smell like meat. This is only the beginning. Your house will smell of meat for the next three days. Put them back in the oven for another 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare about four pounds total of chopped aromatics – carrots and onions are cool. Throw them in the roasting pan with the bones for about 30 minutes.
Take the whole sizzling mess out of your oven and start spooning everything into a big stockpot. I mean a huge one. Biggest one you have.
Once you’ve taken everything out of the roasting pan, put that pan across two burners on your stove, pour hot water over the pan, and start scraping all the gunky brown bits off the bottom. Gross, you say? Well, Sir Or Madam! That is where the flavor lives. And I think it’s called the fond. I wanted to call it fondant, but then I thought that was mostly for cakes. My French is not perfect. Melt that stuff down and pour it over your bones in the stockpot. Then fill it with water, and throw in your spices: some peppercorns, some bay leaves, some leeks. Not too much, though.
I happen to think this is really pretty – it looks like late Van Gogh to me – a sort of Starry Night done in meat and water. See! Food is art. And you don’t even have to try fancy plating. I went through a phase of fancy restaurant plating, and I think I’m mostly out of it, except some things may not leave me for a while yet. Like pasta nests. How cute are those? Too cute, Reader. Too cute.
I’ll spare you the messy details here, but this needs to boil all night long. And soon it’ll look like this.
Gross. Skim that. Take out the bones, skim out more fat, put the bones into a new stockpot and add more water to make a second reduction. Take the newly-skimmed first reduction, add more water, and then boil it down again, and skim again, until you have about 3 quarts or so of fluid.
And then it’ll look like this.
And when it’s boiled down enough, and cooled a little, you can actually pour it into ice cube trays for ease of use.
Isn’t that cute? I will touch upon the many uses of demi-glace in another entry, for they are legion.
* Jane Austen, I apologize.