Forgive me, cows, for I have sinned. For the past few years, I have had this strange conviction that I do not like beef broth. Or, to be more precise, that I do not like the smell of beef broth being made. I must have had some unpleasant experience in the past, because I have been letting a giant bag of beef bones languish at the bottom of a freezer for more than a year.
Last weekend, Andrew and I did our semi-annual freezer inventory, which inevitably involves a lot of sheepish admissions on my part that no, I had not realized that we harbored quite so much frozen squash, or cantaloupe, or chicken gizzards (for Patou), or anything, really. As per the usual, the inventory concluded with my promising that I would start taking things out of the freezer, rather than putting more in it.
The beef bones were an easy target. Large, bulky, not easily passed off as something I was “saving for a special occasion,” they were among the first things to be pulled from the freezer and slated for preparation. I was none too excited at the prospect of eu de boeuf wafting through the house, but I pacified myself with the thought of French onion soup. Even a beef-skeptic such as myself can’t quibble with caramelized onions and cheese.
Happily, I turned first to Jennifer McLagan’s Bones, sister cookbook to our much beloved Fat (stop laughing!) and therein discovered the secret to good beef stock. Mind you, this is not the secret of the title. Anyway, McLagan advises first roasting the bones along with the aromatics for the stock. I did so, and was pleasantly surprised to note that the smell of bones roasting drew both Andrew and me to the oven with anticipatory chops-licking. This was looking good.
After about an hour, I pulled the roasting tray from the oven and experienced my epiphany. Marrow bones! Among the ribs and vertebrae, I had also roasted marrow bones! For any of you who have not experienced roasted marrow, please stop reading, preheat your oven, and leave immediately for your local butcher. Oh, and pick up some of those little melba toasts while you are out. As far as I am concerned, marrow bones are reason enough to keep cattle. Heck, they might be reason enough to start a farm. Forget the steak, the ground, the ribs, and the brisket. Give me the bones.
With a chopstick (and, yes, my greasy little fingers) I coaxed the marrrow into a bowl, then happily set to work devouring it on toast, with a light accompaniment of smoked salt (another new fetish).
Marrow is not for the ascetics among us–it is rich, creamy, and utterly indulgent. But take heart! At least according to the cookbook authors I read, it is good for you. Jennifer McLagan notes that marrow contains primarily monounsaturated fat, as well as iron, phosphorus, vitamin A, and thiamin. (I have no idea what thiamin is, but if she mentions it with appreciation, I’ll take her word that it is beneficial.) She also notes that Queen Victoria, who lived to the ripe old age of 81 reputedly ate marrow every day. If I were Kate Middleton, that’s a royal tradition I’d be bringing back.
As greedily as I scarfed down marrow-on-toast, even I was not able to consume all of the marrow that my stock bones generated, so I’m now wrestling with the difficult decision of what to do with the leftovers. Unsurprisingly, McLagan has many suggestions. Marrow Tacos? Marrow in Red Wine Butter Sauce? Marrow Rice Pudding? My life is very hard.
And the stock? It is simmering gently on the stove as I type and the aroma can only be described as heavenly. I apologize, cows, for doubting you.
Jennifer McLagan’s Brown Stock, from Bones
*indicates an ingredient I did not have, and therefore left out.
2 carrots, sliced
1 large onion, unpeeled and cut into wedges
1 celery stalk (I substituted celeriac, as that’s what I have)
1 leek, trimmed and quartered lengthwise*
4.5 pounds beef bones
1 large tomato, halved*
6 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
3 flat-leaf parsley stems *
1/4 t black peppercorns
salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 425. Scatter the aromatics (carrot, celery, onion, leek) on the bottom of a large roasting pan. Rinse the bones, pat them dry, then place them on the veggies. Roast for 1 hour, until bones are well browned.
At this point, reward yourself by consuming as much marrow as you can stomach in whatever form you prefer. Pat yourself on the back for turning an inexpensive thing like beef bones into a most opulent treat.
Using tongs, transfer the veggies and bones to a stockpot.
Pour off the fat that is at the bottom of the roasting pan ( I saved it for frying potatoes or making kale chips). Add 2 cups of water to the roasting pan and bring to a boil, scraping to deglaze the pan. Add the deglazing liquid to the stockpot, along with the tomato, garlic, mushroom trimmings, and spices (no salt yet, though). Add enough water just barely to cover. Bring the stock slowly to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface.
Simmer for 5 hours, uncovered.
When you are satisfied that the stock is finished, strain the stock through a fine seive. Discard the veggies, bones, and spices. If you want, you can boil the stock down to concentrate it at this point. Otherwise, salt it to taste (interestingly, the stock won’t taste like much until you salt it. As soon as you do, however, you’ll be blown away by how delicious it is).
Refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight so that the remaining fat rises to the top, where you can remove it. Refrigerate for up to 3 days, or freeze for 6 months.