I think you’ll agree that an autumn kitchen just isn’t complete without the smells of simmering soup on the stove. And at the Smith Homestead, this has undoubtedly been the case for well over a decade. Soups are adaptable and complex, yet simple. It is the food of the wealthy and the poor. It comforts, nourishes, replenishes and soothes the sorest of throats and downtrodden souls. (Think I’m exaggerating? Some genius made millions on books about chicken soup’s miraculous cure for the soul.)
As much as I love soup of all textures, types and flavors, remarkably it is far too easy to eat a terrible bowl. Saltiness is the usual culprit, but I have run across a few gluey, gloppy, briny, watery and gritty soups in my day as well. Bleh. So what makes for a better tasting soup? Bottom line, stock. Homemade stock to be more precise. Yes, you can get a relatively tasty soup from store-bought cartons, and honestly, some of those canned soup companies put out a fairly flavorful product nowadays. But beyond just the flavor factor, soups made with homemade stock have such high levels of nutrients that the old wives tale of eating soup to cure a cold has quite a bit of truth when it’s made the old fashioned way.
There are three components to great homemade stock. No. 1 is gelatin, the trademark of a well-made, full-bodied, gourmet stock. The protein-rich collagen is released naturally from animal bones after hours of slow, steady simmering and is said to have incredible health benefits, like boosting the immune system and assisting with digestion. The second component is flavor. Unfortunately, flavorless, colorless stock is pretty easy to make. Injecting flavor into stock is a bit more complex, often including roasting vegetables, meat and bones ahead of time. Thirdly, well-made stock takes time. A slow cooker can help tremendously in this process, as will a lazy afternoon at home.
Throughout the year I make chicken stock with the remnants of rotisserie chickens we nibble on throughout the month. I save the bones in the freezer along with onion peels, celery tops, carrot ends and other vegetable scraps. When time allows, I pull out a large pot, add the saved veggies and chicken bones, top it with water and simmer it for the day. After a few hours, the clear water darkens to a richly hued broth. The stock is strained through a large sieve into a bowl to cool and then scooped in increments into freezer safe containers and tucked away in the freezer for use throughout the next few weeks and months. Forgoing meat altogether, vegetable stock can be made by simply simmering garden goodies like onions, mushrooms, carrots, celery, garlic and herbs in water for a couple of hours. Again, strain, cool and store.
Until recently, I had steered clear of making homemade beef stock. It’s deemed more daunting and difficult than its poultry or vegetable stock counterparts by most foodies. And since we don’t eat vast amounts of red meat with bones attached in my household, I don’t readily have the ingredients on hand to make a batch. But a recent craving for French Onion Soup (my favorite) sent me on a mission to finally try my hand at homemade beef stock.
The key to homemade beef stock is using bones with marrow, and many butchers around town carry them. Some recipes call for not only the bones but also an entire beef roast. This, in my opinion is overboard. Some recipes also call for adding red wine. Again, a bit over the top for a basic beef stock. Beef bones (veal bones add a great deal of gelatin and are often included in beef stock recipes), carrots, onion and celery are the basic ingredients for a hearty beef stock. Unlike poultry bones that can be thrown in a pot with water and vegetables to simmer, beef bones need an additional boost of oven roasting prior to simmering to release their flavor. Although more time consuming, this step is important to the final product.
Homemade Beef Stock