Making stock is among the core skills of any good cook, and it is a labor or love I embrace wholly. As a hunter, angler and a gardener, I can often make a first-class stock solely with ingredients I’ve grown, caught or shot. This to me is deeply satisfying. Last weekend I extracted some antelope bones and a shot-up duck from the deep-freeze to make a meat broth that will enrich my polenta, risotto, pan sauces or stews.
I rarely use water in my cooking because I always have at least a half-dozen kinds of stock lurking in my freezer: Pheasant stock, duck stock (lots of duck stock), wild boar stock, rabbit stock, fish stock, crab stock – you name it. Makes it easier to match the stock to whatever dish I am making.
While some will make a stock without vegetables, I am not among them. They add so much to the final flavor of a stock and can transform it from an additive into a full-fledged broth suitable for drinking on cold days.Incidentally, while I use stock and broth interchangeably, technically a stock is a base and a broth something you can serve on its own; generally a broth is more flavorful and better seasoned than a stock.
My essentials: Onions or leeks, fennel, carrots, celery. I will add herbs as appropriate, most often parsley and thyme. With venison, I add rosemary and juniper seeds. If I have bay leaves, they go in, too. Secret weapon: parsnips. Their sweetness brings a lot to the party.
First step is roasting the bones. I like darker, fuller stocks and this is what does it. The Vietnamese don’t roast their bones when making broth for pho, which is possibly the world’s most perfect soup, and I occasionally will make stock without roasting. But not often. So I roasted these antelope bones at 400 degrees for an hour or so, untill they were yummy-looking.
Next cram your bones into the stockpot and cover with cold water. Cold water will you produce more collagen, and it’s collagen from the joints and cartilage and skin that builds body in your stock by making it thicker than water. You only get this by letting the water heat gradually. And you won’t get much from roasted bones — you need a pig’s foot or a calf’s foot for this, and these are available at any butcher shop. If you can’t find them, leave it out.
Bring the stock to a simmer and skim off any scum that floats to the surface. After the surface is clear, reduce the heat to a bare simmer. You want it to shimmy, not roil, not even bubble too much. A boiled stock will turn cloudy, and the higher temps can extract bitter flavors from the bones. Let it do this for several hours. How long? One hour for fish, up to overnight for meaty things such as venison.
After the meat has infused the water to your liking — 4 hours is a minimum for me — add your veggies, roughly chopped. Now I am assuming that anyone reading this blog knows not to put tired vegetables into a stock. Right? I thought so. Old, crappy veggies will not improve by cooking them. That said, the ends of things make great stock, as do onion skins, which will help turn a broth a lovely brown. Stir in your nice veg and let it cook for another hour to 90 minutes. No more.
After this, strain everything out. Grab all the big stuff with tongs first, then skim with a spider skimmer (Asia’s great gift to stock makers) and finally pour the liquid through a paper towel set in a fine mesh sieve. Is all of this necessary? Yes. Unless you want a mucky, cloudy stock. And it is more than aesthetics: The impurities are just that – impure, and add off-flavors to your otherwise wonderful brew.
Once your stock is strained, clean the stockpot or pour the strained liquid into another one. Now you can reduce it by boiling if you want to. This is also the time you can salt the stock. Stock gets saltier the longer you boil it down because salt does not evaporate with the water. So add it close to the end and you will know what you’re getting. If you’re doing demi-glace, don’t salt at all.
All of this takes time, but not a lot of it is active. And the process is comforting to me, as much so as the reward.
This is a special venison broth that can stand alone as a broth for pasta or, if you clarify it later, as a consomme. It’s stronger in flavor than stock, so if you use it as a base for stews or soups, remember that — and label your jars accordingly.
Making a good stock or broth is an all-day deal. Don’t take shortcuts, or your broth will suffer. Relax and let things happen as they will.
Makes about a gallon.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: At least 6 hours
- 4 pounds venison bones (or antelope, moose or elk)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon crushed juniper berries
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
- 6 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 4 chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 2 star anise pods
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 3 celery sticks, chopped
- Coat the bones with olive oil and salt well, then roast in a 400-degree oven until brown. If you can stand it, keep some meat on the bones — shanks are ideal for this. It will make a better broth. Put the bones in a large stockpot. I saw the bones into large pieces with a hacksaw; this lets me fit more bones into the pot, again, making a richer broth. Cover with water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.
- Skim the froth that forms on the surface and simmer very gently for 2-3 hours. You want the broth to steam and burble a little, not roil.
- Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for another 2 hours.
- Using tongs, grab out all the bones and large bits and discard. Using a Chinese spider skimmer or slotted spoon, remove whatever else you can and discard.
- Set up a fine-mesh sieve over another large pot and line the sieve with cheesecloth or a paper towel. Slowly pour the venison broth through the cheesecloth-lined sieve. Discard the dregs in the broth pot, with will be loaded with sediment and other bits.
- Add salt to the clarified broth to taste and pour into quart jars and freeze (or steam-can — you cannot can broth in boiling water). If you freeze, leave a lot of space at the top of the jar or the jars will crack when the broth freezes. Use within 9 months.